Ofsted chief’s alarm at north-south split

Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector of Schools.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector of Schools.

Just 55 per cent of children in Northumberland attend good or outstanding secondary schools, reflecting a ‘deeply troubling’ national trend.

The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, highlighted this split between the north and south, describing England as ‘a nation divided at the age of 11’ in his annual report today.

Northumberland is not one of the 16 local authority areas in England where less than 60 per cent of pupils attend secondary schools that are good or better AND which have lower than average attainment and progress at GCSE.

Nonetheless, in terms of the percentages attending good or outstanding secondary schools this year, Northumberland’s 55 per cent ranks it in the bottom 20 local authority areas in the country.

Also of concern is that it represents a drop of 11 per cent on 2014.

In terms of the schools to which students in north Northumberland go, King Edward’s VI in Morpeth is outstanding, the Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick is good, while Berwick Academy and James Calvert Spence College in Amble require improvement.

However, the situation is confused by the fact that middle schools are classed as secondary by Ofsted.

The picture at primary (first) level is far rosier with 88 per cent of pupils in good or outstanding schools, meaning the county ranks 50th nationwide (out of more than 140).

Indeed, in October, Northumberland was congratulated by the regional head of Ofsted following the provisional 2015 outcomes for pupils in the county’s primary schools.

The North East education network, SCHOOLS NorthEast, has welcomed Sir Michael’s calls for London Challenge-style education improvement in the north and backed his calls for greater efforts to tackle the growing teacher recruitment crisis.

However, it did question the rhetoric of a ‘deeply troubling’ divide between the north and south, saying that schools in the North East of England had been on a positive upward trend in inspection outcomes and the region was only a handful of positive judgements away from the national benchmark.

Performance in the region ‘remains stubbornly low’

The regional director of Ofsted in the North East, Yorkshire and Humber has offered a stark reflection on the educational picture in the area.

Reacting to the Ofsted national report, Nick Hudson said: “Education performance across the North East and Humber region remains stubbornly low compared to other parts of England.

“The contrast between the performance of the region’s primary and secondary schools is even greater than the national picture.

“Primary school performance, while strong in the North East, is particularly weak across Yorkshire and the Humber.

“Secondary schools are worryingly poor across the whole of the region.

“Variations in school performance and pupils’ achievement are a feature of the region.

“The achievement of the region’s disadvantaged children and young people remain a concern and outcomes for pupils eligible for free school meals are typically poor from the early years through to age 19 - although the gap closes at the end of primary school compared to the national level.

“Too many of the region’s children attend schools that are less than good.

“This is particularly stark across Yorkshire and Humber, where 24 per cent of pupils attend less than good schools compared to 17 per cent in the North East.

“Overall, this means that over 250,000 children in the region are receiving a standard of education below good.”