The Sunday Telegraph

Money alone will not help school pupils catch up – reform is needed

- LEE ELLIOT MAJOR and ROBERT HALFON Lee Elliot Major is Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter. Robert Halfon is chair of the House of Commons education select committee

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.

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