The Sunday Telegraph
Money alone will not help school pupils catch up – reform is needed
No school should be judged by Ofsted as outstanding unless they have shown they are improving the progress of pupils from all backgrounds
How do we create an education system hard-wired to help all children make good progress in school? It’s a question that countries across the world are wrestling with as they try to recover from the devastating disruption of the pandemic.
As ministers prepare for the Government’s spending review this autumn there are many compelling arguments for why schools and colleges should get a funding boost, but if they are serious about levelling up educational opportunities then they also need to reform the central levers that drive behaviour in schools.
No school should be judged by Ofsted inspectors as outstanding unless they have shown they are improving the progress of pupils from all backgrounds in their local area.
Poorer children are less likely to attend outstanding schools, even if they live nearby. And while highly rated schools have better results overall, the gap between pupils entitled to free school meals and other pupils is the same in schools, whether they are judged outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate.
In our view, inspectors should only judge schools outstanding if they can demonstrate that they are making efforts to attract the poorest children in their neighbourhoods, and that they are making progress in narrowing achievement gaps between vulnerable pupils and the rest. They should also be collaborating with neighbouring schools to help raise standards elsewhere on their doorstep. Teams of inspectors should include at least one head teacher who has led a school with high numbers of poorer pupils.
Schools live or die by their Ofsted inspections. These changes would encourage outstanding schools to be engines of social justice and beacons of educational excellence.
Second, the quid pro quo for more money must be greater scrutiny over how funds are used. We should give freedom to head teachers to decide what’s best for the pupils in their own school, but we also need checks on how effectively the money has been deployed. If the Treasury is to channel billions of extra pounds into school budgets, then schools will need to demonstrate they have invested this new money into evidence-informed approaches that have a strong record of working.
Third, we need to closely monitor the impact of the national tutoring programme. While one-to-one and group tutoring is one of education’s best bets, we also know the quality of instruction varies enormously. We need assurances that highquality tutoring is getting to the disadvantaged pupils that have lost most learning. If properly targeted, the programme should become a permanent fixture.
Even before the pandemic hit last year, efforts to help poorer pupils catch up were stalling. Now is our chance to reset the education system. Failure to do so will blight the education of a whole generation.