Ofsted is warning that too many secondary schools in England are not making sufficient progress, with almost a third judged not to be good enough.
Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, delivering the education watchdog’s annual report, says that secondary schools have “stalled”.
He says there are now 170,000 pupils in inadequate secondary schools, about 70,000 more than two years ago.
Sir Michael says these schools “need to concentrate on the basics”.
The annual report, looking at the outcomes of inspections in 2013-14, says that the school system continues to improve, with more than four out of five schools now rated good or outstanding.
Much of this progress has been driven by primary schools, with Ofsted saying there are 700,000 more pupils in good and outstanding primary schools than in 2012.
But Sir Michael warns that there are more worrying signs in secondary schools, with 50 more in special measures than last year.
Secondary school head teachers might look at Ofsted’s gloomy annual report as a glass a third empty rather than more than two thirds full.
Because despite the warnings from Sir Michael Wilshaw about stalled progress, the number of both primary and secondary schools graded good and outstanding are at record high levels.
And if this number continues to climb every year, it might raise questions about the inspection equivalent of grade inflation.
But there are big regional differences below the surface. While parents in Haringey can have 100% of their secondary schools which are good or outstanding, it’s only 17% in the Isle of Wight.
In Camden, 98% of primary schools are good or outstanding, but in Medway it’s only 53%.
There are other big issues highlighted. Teacher recruitment is going to be a problem, particularly when the school population is soaring, said Sir Michael.
And once again, says the chief inspector, the group with lowest achievement were white pupils on free school meals. This was “particularly troubling”.
The rate of improvement has slowed and some have declined, with 71% of secondary schools rated as good or outstanding, compared with 82% of primary schools.
It means that for secondary schools, 29% are rated as requiring improvement or inadequate.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Michael said a lack of good leadership was often the key issue, more so than the type of school, such as academy or local authority school.
He also warned the “transition from primary to secondary can be poor” and the “culture of underperforming schools is not good, with low-level disruption”.
Sir Michael said that increased autonomy helped schools to improve, but it also required better leadership.
The Ofsted chief said more school autonomy needed to be accompanied by increased monitoring.
He said that was one of the lessons of the so-called Trojan Horse investigation in Birmingham, where schools rated outstanding were downgraded to inadequate.
In presenting the report, Sir Michael said he was also “increasingly concerned” about problems with recruiting teachers, particularly when there was a population surge.
“This is a pressing issue. More teachers will be needed to match the substantial increase in the number of school-aged children expected over the next 10 years.”
If there were not enough teachers, he warned that the best schools would “cherry pick the best trainees”, with the risk that this would widen the gap between strong and weak schools.
Brian Lightman, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, rejected the “assertion that improvement in secondary schools has stalled”.
“There is no complacency in our secondary schools. Instead there is a steely determination to continue to raise standards.”
The heads’ leader said that Ofsted’s report showed that rather than declining, there were record levels of secondary schools rated as good and outstanding.
The annual report will also highlight concerns about differences in school quality between different areas. The report says there are 13 local authorities in which families have less than a 50% chance of getting a good or outstanding secondary school.
While there are 100% of schools which are good or outstanding in Haringey, Islington, Harrow and Kensington and Chelsea, in the Isle of Wight it is only 17%.
For primary schools, the lowest proportion of good and outstanding schools are in Medway, Doncaster and Bracknell Forest. The highest proportion are Camden and North Tyneside.
|Local authorities with fewer than 50% good or outstanding secondary schools|
|East Riding of Yorkshire 46%|
|St Helens 35%|
|Isle of Wight 17%|
Launching the report, Sir Michael said that the continuing arguments over the structure of schools – such as academies or local authority schools – have become “sterile”.
“Most people recognise that school autonomy is a good thing,” he said.
“Where schools are failing, it is not because they are local authority schools or academies, or because they are part of a multi-academy trust or because they stand alone.
“They are failing because they haven’t got the essentials right – governance and oversight is weak, leadership is poor, misbehaviour goes unchallenged and teaching is indifferent.
“If our education system is to continue to progress we need to concentrate on the basics of why schools and colleges fail and why they succeed.”
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said there needed to be swift action when schools were struggling and her department will make sure they have the right leadership.
“One of my tasks is going to be to make sure we see great leadership across the school system.
“We have many excellent head teachers and now we want to see more of them working with schools that need the next boost to make sure that they are not failing their pupils.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: “This report is clear, there are still too many children receiving a below par education.
“Whilst we have plenty of reasons to celebrate success in our school system, we can see stagnation across secondary school performance. The way to address this is equally clear: by raising the quality of teaching in every classroom, in every school.”