Excess primary school places double over a decade
New government data shows that the number of excess places in primary schools has doubled over 10 years. In 2014-15, there were 65,649 excess places recorded. Now, the figure stands at 130,776, the highest level since records began.
The Department for Education (DfE) explains ‘this is likely to be a result of the continued drop in births seen from 2016 onwards.’ Most school funding is allocated on a per-pupil basis, with every primary school currently receiving at least £4,405 per pupil, and every secondary school at least £5,715. Experts warn that school leaders are already struggling with inflationary pressures, and may struggle to absorb further reductions in their budgets.
Meanwhile, the number of excess places in secondary schools has more than halved in the same time period, falling from 79,629 in 2014-15 to 35,920 for 2023-24. Whilst 92.5% of primary school applicants received an offer from their first preference school, only 82.6% of secondary pupils received their first preference school due to increased competition.
Changes to the inspection system
Pressure has been mounting on Ofsted to change its approach to school inspections since the death of headteacher Ruth Perry, who took her own life after her school was judged ‘inadequate.’ This week, Ofsted announced a series of reforms, after the education secretary recently met with Perry’s family to discuss how the government can take action to offer further support to school leaders.
Ofsted will revisit schools which have been judged ‘inadequate’ due to safeguarding issues, but ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in other areas. Inspectors will return to the school within three months of the report’s publication to determine whether safeguarding concerns have been resolved, which may result in an improved grade overall. If this is the case, any academy orders will also be revoked.
To better support school leaders, Ofsted will give schools more information about the timing of their next inspection. They will still get one day’s notice, but timetables have been published to provide greater clarity about the year they are likely to be inspected. Ofsted has also made it clear that headteachers will be able to share provisional outcome of inspections privately with colleagues, before the report is finalised and shared with parents. In addition, the government will provide extra funding to expand the package of mental health support for teachers, in partnership with wellbeing charity Education Support.
The inspectorate is also launching a formal consultation on changes to the complaints system, with a view to replace the internal review process with a direct escalation to the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO). Furthermore, they have proposed that schools will be allowed to contact Ofsted the day after inspection to raise any concerns. It is hoped this will reduce the administrative burden of making a complaint, whilst improving transparency.
Education Committee launches inquiry into Ofsted
Whilst the changes announced by Ofsted were welcomed by many, others have said they ‘go nowhere near far enough.’ Notably, Ofsted said that it would not change the one-word rating system, despite widespread calls for the system to be dropped. Ofsted claims ‘we believe that one-word ratings are the clearest way to give parents confidence in choosing the right school for their child.’
Robin Walker MP, Chair of the Education Committee, acknowledges that Ofsted has a crucial role to play to ensure standards in education remain high. However, he also draws attention to the growing concern that ‘one-word ratings do not always fully capture the quality of teaching and care that a school provides.’ With this in mind, the committee has launched a new inquiry that will examine the way Ofsted inspects schools. The inquiry will consider whether ratings are conducive to helping schools improve. Additionally, MPs will focus on how the inspection system impacts staff wellbeing and workload, amid concerns that a negative rating can damage a school’s morale and reputation.
Tom Middlehurst, Curriculum, Assessment and Inspection Specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) says he welcomes the inquiry and especially its focus on one-word ratings. ‘We know there are better ways to hold schools accountable and provide information for parents, which are both more accurate and less damaging to the mental health and wellbeing of teachers.’
The Committee is currently calling for evidence relating to the usefulness of Ofsted inspections and reports; the impact of Ofsted judgements on schools and pupils; the impact on workload and wellbeing; the effectiveness of the complaints procedure and the impact of the latest Education Inspection Framework. Evidence can be submitted here.
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