‘The local authority is a highly effective partner in supporting governors and leaders to secure improvements.’
This was one of the strengths listed by Ofsted inspectors as a reason why Coleman Primary School, Leicester, was a good school (April 2016) and why it deserved upgrading from requires improvement.
Four other Leicester primary schools have been similarly upgraded this year. Inspectors praised Leicester’s school support in every one of the reports. 81% of Leicester’s primary schools are good or better – just short of the national proportion of 83%.
At secondary level Madani Boys School was upgraded from requires improvement to good in January. Inspectors again praised Leicester:
‘The school works closely with the local authority in order to secure the highest provision for its pupils.’
Even when secondary schools were downgraded from good to requires improvement last year, inspectors still highlighted ‘targeted’ or ‘continuing’ local authority support. The one note of criticism was that action hadn’t been taken promptly enough when results at The Lancaster School began to decline. Nevertheless, inspectors noted that the school, downgraded from requires improvement to inadequate in January, had been sent a local authority warning letter in November 2015 and had received brokered support.
19 out of 24 Leicester secondary schools are good or better. That’s 79% against a national proportion of 73% for secondary schools.
But neither Ofsted recognition of Leicester’s effective school support nor the higher than the national rate of good or better secondary schools prevented Chief HMI, Sir Michael Wilshaw, from proclaiming:
‘Leicester, meanwhile, has enjoyed great sporting success and is home to the new champions of English football. Yet when it comes to education, its ambitions and achievements are decidedly second division.’
He blames the ‘collective failure by education and political leaders’ in the East Midlands ‘to tackle mediocre provision and a culture of low expectations’.
It’s true that GCSE results for Leicester are lower than the national average for state-funded schools. In 2015, 50.4% of Leicester’s GCSE cohort reached the benchmark of 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English against a national figure of 57.10%. However, this figure alone shouldn’t be sufficient to damn an area. Sir Michael has said in the past that test results shouldn’t be the sole consideration when deciding a school’s future. Presumably this applies to judging schools in entire areas. But, as already noted, Sir Michael has ignored both the high proportion of Good or better schools in Leicester and his own inspectors’ views concerning Leicester’s school support services.
Sir Michael’s criticism of Leicester will be good news for Nicky Morgan. If the Education Bill is passed, she could forcibly convert all Leicester’s maintained schools into academies on grounds of ‘underperformance’. This would be quite a coup as there are very few academies in the city. Only eleven primaries and just two mainstream secondary schools are academies.
The Chief HMI has ignored what Leicester does well – this could have profound consequences for the city’s schools. Unbalanced criticism is not just unfair – it’s dangerous.