Of­sted fury as teenagers from poor ar­eas given pri­mary-school texts

Watch­dog’s boss Amanda Spiel­man says she is driven ‘nuts’ by some schools’ ex­pec­ta­tions that dis­ad­van­taged pupils are au­to­mat­i­cally low-achiev­ing

The Observer - - News - Pol­icy Editor

Some sec­ondary schools are fail­ing teenagers from de­prived back­grounds by giv­ing them read­ing ma­te­rial for pri­mary-age chil­dren, the head of Of­sted has warned.

Amanda Spiel­man said she had been an­gered to find schools set­ting lower ex­pec­ta­tions for chil­dren sim­ply be­cause of their back­ground. It fol­lows ev­i­dence that stu­dents as old as 14 are be­ing given English texts de­signed for pri­mary chil­dren.

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view with the Ob­server, Spiel­man said she had been driven “ab­so­lutely nuts” by ev­i­dence that some schools were as­sum­ing that dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren were “au­to­mat­i­cally low-achiev­ing and need a wa­tered-down cur­ricu­lum”.

“We have [seen ev­i­dence this is a prob­lem] in var­i­ous ways,” she said. “One thing that has been pointed out … re­cently is the ten­dency to use texts, even in sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, that only re­quire a read­ing age of 10 or 11.

“Chil­dren can go all the way through sec­ondary school and then go bump when they hit real de­mands in post-16 ed­u­ca­tion or have as­piShe ra­tions for uni­ver­sity, be­cause they just don’t have the ex­pe­ri­ence or prac­tice of read­ing more de­mand­ing texts. Schools can think they are be­ing help­ful by adapt­ing and pro­vid­ing rel­e­vant ma­te­rial. But in fact it hol­lows out ed­u­ca­tion and means that dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren don’t get the ex­pe­ri­ence that they ab­so­lutely should. The job of schools is to make sure that chil­dren get the things they won’t nec­es­sar­ily get at home.”

Spiel­man, who took over as chief in­spec­tor last year, warned that school­ing stan­dards would be put at risk by fur­ther cuts to Of­sted’s bud­get. She said the in­spec­torate was now at the “very limit of giv­ing the level of as­sur­ance that we are ex­pected to give”. It comes af­ter Of­sted was crit­i­cised for fail­ing to in­spect some schools for up to a decade and only spend­ing a day in­spect­ing oth­ers.

The chief in­spec­tor also warned that the schools sys­tem had “stopped act­ing in chil­dren’s in­ter­ests” by al­low­ing thou­sands of un­der­per­form­ing pupils to be ush­ered out of the door to pro­tect exam pass rates.

said some schools were putting them­selves first and stu­dents sec­ond by shuf­fling out un­der­per­form­ing pupils in a process known as “of­frol­ling”. Of­sted found that be­tween 2016 and 2017 more than 19,000 pupils did not progress from year 10 to year 11 in the same state-funded sec­ondary school. Many were dis­ap­pear­ing from school­ing al­to­gether.

“It’s an ex­am­ple of where, to some ex­tent, it looks as if the schools sys­tem has stopped act­ing in chil­dren’s in­ter­ests, that schools’ in­ter­ests are get­ting put ahead of chil­dren,” she said. “We need in­spec­tors to know where a school is los­ing chil­dren at a rate that looks sus­pi­ciously high and have a tough con­ver­sa­tion with the school. There are about 300 where we can see that the num­ber of chil­dren leav­ing be­tween years 10 and 11 looks too high to be sta­tis­ti­cal noise.”

Spiel­man said the prac­tice was cre­at­ing a sys­tem in which chal­leng­ing pupils ended up in un­der­per­form­ing schools. “When you have chil­dren falling out of one school, what is the school that they will get put in if par­ents or lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are look­ing for an­other? It will be the un­der­sub­scribed school, which will typ­i­cally be the school that is do­ing badly, of­ten in a tough area.”

She sug­gested the prac­tice was adding to her con­cerns about chil­dren sup­pos­edly be­ing ed­u­cated at home.

“We found that half of the chil­dren who come off a main­stream school roll at the end of year 10 don’t ap­pear on the roll of any reg­is­tered pro­vi­sion for year 11. That is a very big num­ber dis­ap­pear­ing. Home ed­u­ca­tion gen­er­ally is some­thing I’m re­ally con­cerned about. Those chil­dren dis­ap­pear into the ether.

“No­body re­ally knows what they

‘It looks as if, to some ex­tent, the school sys­tem has stopped work­ing in the in­ter­ests of chil­dren’ Amanda Spiel­man

are do­ing, who is tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for them. At one level par­ents are sup­pos­edly tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity, but is that what is hap­pen­ing? There is a mil­i­tantly in­de­pen­dent group of home­school­ers who are po­lit­i­cally quite pow­er­ful. There is a grow­ing re­li­gious strand of peo­ple who want to pro­tect their chil­dren’s faith and make sure that ev­ery­thing about the child’s ed­u­ca­tion ex­pe­ri­ence hap­pens within the faith.

“Some chil­dren who are sup­pos­edly be­ing home-ed­u­cated are in fact in un­reg­is­tered re­li­gious schools.”

Spiel­man, who has faced hos­til­ity for ac­cus­ing faith schools run by re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives of re­sist­ing Bri­tish values, said she be­lieved some groups were de­lib­er­ately find­ing loop­holes in the rules to en­sure their child’s ed­u­ca­tion was not in­spected.

“Home ed­u­ca­tion takes us into the ter­ri­tory of stuff that is hard to dis­cuss that a lot of peo­ple find ‘undis­cuss­able’,” she said. “We are try­ing to ex­plore what is hap­pen­ing and why it brings you up against peo­ple who re­ally do not want their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion scru­ti­nised. I’m try­ing to make sure that we talk about the tough stuff and that we help make the tough stuff dis­cuss­able, so that peo­ple don’t run away from it. It is dif­fi­cult and it has to be talked about.”

Spiel­man said there must be no re­turn to the time when con­cerns about “cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity” led lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to be re­luc­tant to in­ter­vene in cases of child sex­ual ex­ploita­tion. Of­sted also in­spects chil­dren’s ser­vices of­fered by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

“One of the big­gest fail­ures of chil­dren’s ser­vices in re­cent years hasn’t been about re­sources, it has been about is­sues such as child sex­ual ex­ploita­tion be­ing undis­cuss­able, be­cause of dif­fer­ent kinds of cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity,” she said. “We must make sure we keep up the pres­sure to talk hon­estly about the tough stuff.”

She said the in­spec­torate was do­ing ev­ery­thing it could to keep up school stan­dards. “We are at the very limit of giv­ing the level of as­sur­ance that we are ex­pected to give on the cur­rent bud­get,” she said.

Pho­to­graph by Graeme Robert­son

Amanda Spiel­man, left, says teenagers are given read­ing for 10-year-olds.

St Olave’s gram­mar school in Kent was crit­i­cised for ex­clud­ing pupils who were ex­pected to un­der­achieve.

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