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“Troubling” divide in school performance

WHILE the proportion of good and outstanding secondary schools increased overall this year, from 71% in 2014 to 74%, there has been greater improvement in the South, where 79% of schools are now good or outstanding. In the North and Midlands just 68% of secondary schools are good or better.

This indicates that 410,000 children in the North and Midlands attend a secondary school that isn’t good enough.

In his fourth annual report for Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the divide in the performance of secondary schools was “deeply troubling,” and described England as a “a nation divided at the age of 11”.

“The facts are stark,” Sir Michael said. “Compared to secondary school children in the South, those in the North and Midlands on average make less progress in English and maths, perform worse at GCSE and attain fewer top grades at A-level.

“I fear that unless we resolve these divisions our country’s educational progress will be seriously impeded and we will not be able to compete as well with our international competitors.”

The Ofsted report identifies 16 local authority areas where less than 60% of children attend good or outstanding secondary schools and which have lower than average attainment and progress at GCSE. Thirteen of these local authorities are in the North and Midlands.

Bradford is identified as a city where standards have been low for many years across both primary and secondary schools. From a total of more than 200 schools with around 95,000 pupils, just 67% of primary pupils and only 42% of secondary pupils attend schools in the city that are good or outstanding. This means there are almost 40,000 children in Bradford who attend schools that are less than good.

Sir Michael added: “If Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and Newcastle are to be engine rooms of a Northern powerhouse, one of their priorities must be working with the towns on their borders to raise attainment and close skills gaps across a wider area.”

Sir Michael believes that the challenges facing the education system are not structural, arguing that a lack of capacity in leadership, teaching and governance, and an insufficient focus on the disadvantaged must be urgently addressed at a national level. The report also highlights recruitment as a serious problem, particularly for schools in challenging areas, which are facing severe difficulties securing the good teachers and leaders they need.

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