Stoke-on-Trent ‘failing’ to improve schools, says Ofsted, but KS2 results have ‘improved consistently’. Some mismatch, surely?

Janet Downs's picture
‘Stoke-on-Trent council failing to improve the city’s schools’

Ofsted press release, 25 March 2015

But Ofsted’s letter to the city council acknowledged Stoke-on-Trent’s primary schools had ‘improved consistently for the last three years’. That’s confirmed by school performance tables: 77% of Key Stage 2 (KS2) pupils achieved Level 4 in reading, writing and maths – up seven percentage points from 2012 and just one percentage point below the national average (78%).

The Press Release didn’t mention the positive results at Key Stage 2.

Secondary school attainment is, however, below the national average of 56.6% achieving the Key Stage 4 benchmark of 5+ GCSEs A*-C (or equivalent) including Maths and English. Only 50% of all Stoke's pupils reached this target. But this figure hides a great variation in scores from 86% at St Joseph’s College (admittedly rather low for a selective school) to just 4% in Stoke Studio School for Construction and Building Excellence.

Such a comparison between schools is, however, unfair. St Joseph’s College sets an entrance test – 70% of last year’s GCSE cohort were previously high-attainers and there were no previously low-attaining pupils. The studio school, on the other hand, had no previously high-attaining pupils in the cohort and 37% previously low-attainers. Despite its poor results, however, Ofsted judged the studio school to be Good.

The majority of Stoke-on-Trent’s secondary schools are academies. The Ofsted letter admits if the Council has concerns about academy performance, they can notify the Department for Education via the Regional Schools Commissioner. And that's what the Council does, Ofsted said. Presumably it's up to the DfE and the Commissioner to take the necessary action - the LA doesn't have the power.

Stoke-on-Trent is ‘still one of the worst [areas] in England for the number of good and outstanding primary and secondary schools’. 51 of Stoke’s 69* primaries (74%) are Good or better – that’s less than the national proportion of 82%. The four secondary special schools are Good but the proportion of less than Good mainstream secondary schools is low: 7 of the 15** secondary schools which have been inspected (nearly 50%) Require Improvement or are Inadequate. This is below the national proportion of 71% Good or better secondary schools.

DfE number crunchers say, ‘At present, however, we do not publish a summary of performance at academy chain or local authority level’. This is nonsense, of course, since the performance of local authorities is available in the Department for Education school performance tables. It’s possible to compare LA performance against national averages for such things as results for all pupils, for pupils who speak English as an additional language and those who’ve been eligible for free school meals in the last six years.

It should, therefore, be possible to publish similar at-a-glance data for academies. This would show, for example, that 16 of the 31 Oasis academies inspected are less than Good – slightly worse than the proportion of less than Good secondary schools in Stoke-on-Trent.

But the DfE admits existing measures of performance, such as the 5 GCSEs A*-C (including Maths and English) benchmark, could ‘risk giving a misleading account of the performance of the chain or local authority as a whole’. In which case, why do the Government and Ofsted put such heavy emphasis on exam results? Every Ofsted report contains information about a school’s exam performance against national benchmarks and exhortations to raise attainment at schools below average.

If the DfE knows judging chains and LAs on these measures is ‘misleading’, then why do ministers use these figures to trumpet the performance of their favourite chains and academies? And why does Ofsted slate local authorities for being below the national average on some of these measures if such comparisons are deceptive?

Which brings us back to Stoke-on-Trent.


*Ofsted said there were 71 primary schools in Stoke-on-Trent. I seem to have lost two.
**Ofsted said there were 16 secondary schools. One of these, Stoke Studio School of Manufacturing and Design Engineering which only opened in September 2013, has not yet been inspected
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