9 Sep '13

News Schools making radical advances, says Ofsted chief

Sir Michael Wilshaw says proportion of schools rated as good or outstanding is rising at fastest rate in Ofsted's history

English state schools are making "genuine and radical advances" and more children are getting a better education as a result of more rigorous inspection policies, according to the chief inspector of schools.

"The unprecedented rate of national improvement that this new data shows is cause for celebration," Sir Michael Wilshaw told a meeting of leading headteachers in Manchester.

Ofsted's annual schools health check shows that by the middle of this year its inspectors had rated 78% of schools in England as either good or outstanding, an increase of 9% in the space of 12 months, which Wilshaw said was the fastest increase in the watchdog's history.

"More schools are getting to good, and doing so more quickly, than ever before. More children are getting a better education as a result," Wilshaw said, citing a figure of 600,000 more schoolchildren in England now getting at least a good standard of education compared with at the beginning of the 2012 academic year.

The rapid improvement was welcomed by the education secretary, Michael Gove, who said: "The chief inspector's words stand for themselves that never in the history of Ofsted in the last 21 years have so many children been enjoying a good education as now."

For Gove the news is vindication of an often controversial policy of school reform since 2010, including the launching of free schools and more rigorous exams. Gove faces a further confrontation with unions this autumn over his plans to overhaul teachers' pay and conditions.

The pace of school improvement was much quicker than in the previous four years, during which the proportion of schools judged to be good or outstanding improved by 1% a year.

"A range of factors contributed to this very rapid recent increase in the proportion of good schools, but I believe the changes to our inspection framework last year have had an important galvanising effect on the system nationwide," Wilshaw told the headteachers.

As of last September, Ofsted inspectors are no longer allowed to rank a school as "satisfactory", with the category being replaced by the more censorious "requires improvement". Wilshaw believes this has forced schools to avoid resting on their laurels.

"Headteachers are using the 'requires improvement' judgment as a way of bringing about rapid improvement in their schools, especially in the quality of teaching. And the national improvement we are seeing is all the better for taking place under the terms of a more rigorous school inspection framework," he said.

The rare burst of praise from Ofsted was greeted as positive news by Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. He said: "Schools don't become good or outstanding overnight – securing and maintaining these ratings takes time and a sustained effort that has been going on for many years.

"The reality is there will be many more schools that have reached the standard for good which won't have had this formally recognised by an inspection. We hope that schools will now be allowed to continue their improvements without excessive interference."

Acknowledging that "the things I have said and done as chief inspector have not exactly made me the most popular person in the education world", Wilshaw said there would be not let-up in the demand for improvement despite the more optimistic figures this year.

"I am determined to use the power and influence of inspection to improve our school system. The message from Ofsted is unequivocal: the acceptable standard of education in this country now starts at good," Wilshaw said.

Nationally, 16,652 state schools were judged to be good or outstanding after their last inspection, while about 4,700 were found to require improvement or were inadequate. Of the schools inspected in the last 12 months, 39% improved their rating, 41% stayed the same and 18% received lower ratings.

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