Challenge for schools

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On the face of it, Ofsted’s first detailed regional review of the performance of Sheffield schools makes gloomy reading.

The bald statistics show that more than 40 per cent of secondary pupils and more than 30 per cent of primary youngsters are being taught in schools which are either failing or require improvement. But statistics rarely tell the whole story.

Over recent months, Ofsted has significantly toughened up its approach to rating schools.

The category ‘satisfactory’ was scrapped, to be replaced by ‘requiring improvement’.

Many schools have been caught out by this. A significant number clearly need to improve in some areas – but that does not mean they fail to provide a decent education for youngsters.

In many ways the changes have been positive. Schools which previously may have been performing reasonably well without pulling up any trees are now being challenged to do even better.

Many of those being given the ‘requiring improvement’ grading are accused of ‘coasting’, drifting along without coming under scrutiny.

That will now have to change – such schools will receive almost as much attention as those on the dreaded ‘special measures’ list.

So how should parents respond to Ofsted’s verdict?

Of course it’s no longer so simple as blaming the council.

The world of education has fragmented into academies, trusts and local authority schools, all operating with levels of independence previously unheard of.

Parents need to challenge schools and their governors directly – while mindful of the important role that mums and dads also play.

The Ofsted report points to poor levels of attendance as a key factor and families themselves must bear a good deal of responsibility.

But there are reasons to be cheerful too – the number of Sheffield schools ranked as good or outstanding is higher than it has ever been.

That is a trend that will need to continue if the city is to hold its head up, both regionally and nationally.