City hits back on ‘failing’ schools in Sheffield

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Education bosses in Sheffield have hit back after Government inspectors said thousands of city children are being taught in schools which are not good enough.

In its annual regional round-up, Ofsted said almost a third of the city’s primary schools – 30 per cent – are inadequate or require improvement, the third worst percentage in Yorkshire, the Humber and the North East.

In secondaries, the figure is 43 per cent – with almost half of those schools stuck in Ofsted’s bottom two rankings according to the inspectorate’s annual regional round-up.

But Sheffield Council, the local education authority, said standards were rising and ‘often surpassing national expectations’.The Ofsted picture is almost identical to last year, with the city lagging behind both regional and national averages.

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However, one leading city headteacher said the system was difficult for schools when Ofsted kept changing its inspection frameworks.

Ofsted toughened up its regime in 2012 by scrapping its third inspection category, previously called ‘satisfactory’.

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Those schools are now labelled as ‘requiring improvement’ – and nine Sheffield secondary schools are currently in that bracket, while three are classed as inadequate.

Nick Hudson, Ofsted’s regional director, said the situation in Sheffield had improved to a degree, as more pupils were being taught in good or outstanding schools.

He said: “We do note that schools are not improving fast enough – and in Sheffield as elsewhere there are significant differences between the primary and secondary sectors. We are still very concerned about schools found to be requiring improvement and are monitoring their progress closely to see they are doing the right things.” One bright spot for the city is Ofsted’s inclusion of Tapton in its report – recently named comprehensive school of the year in a national newspaper survey – as a case study for excellence.

Its most recent inspection found it was outstanding in all areas, with most students making excellent progress.

David Bowes, chief executive of Tapton Academy Trust, which also includes Chaucer School in Parson Cross and Forge Valley School in Stannington, said no-one in education wanted pupils being taught in schools that were anything less than good.

He said: “It is difficult when Ofsted constantly changes its inspection framework, so it relies on national statistics compiled by exam boards, who themselves have changed the goalposts quite dramatically.

“When those goalposts are changed with very little notice it just doesn’t seem very fair – as for secondary schools GCSE results form the backbone of their judgements.

“The excellence that is in Tapton’s DNA is being shared with Chaucer and Forge Valley and they will be outstanding.

“But we want to see a level playing field and we want the system to be fair, which is quite a reasonable request.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Standards in our primary schools continue to rise and more children are being well taught and achieving, often surpassing national expectations.

“In fact, 73 per cent of our primary schools have now been assessed as good or outstanding, compared with 59 per cent in 2009.

“Our secondary schools are also improving at a faster rate than the national average with 60 per cent of our secondary schools good or outstanding, compared to less than half in 2009.

“We continue to work closely with schools across the city and 93 per cent are part of a citywide partnership working with us to improve standards across the board, strengthening leadership, governance and teaching.

“The partnership also means good and outstanding schools can share their expertise to raise standards across the bar.”

Rotherham, meanwhile, has improved sharply during 2014, with 91 per cent of secondary pupils in good or outstanding schools - a figure up by 20 per cent on last year.

In Barnsley, the secondary figure was also up by a healthy 25 per cent - but Doncaster schools are shown by the report to be some of the poorest in the country, among the bottom five local authorities.

Nationally almost a third of secondary schools are not good enough, with Ofsted saying previous progress has stalled.

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said such schools needed to concentrate ‘on the basics’.