Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector of Schools, has warned of an educational north south divide between levels of schooling in England.
Wilshaw called the situation “deeply troubling” as Ofsted highlighted that pupils in the south are more likely to attend a good or outstanding secondary school than their peers in the north or the Midlands.
More than 400,000 pupils in the north and Midlands are attending secondary schools that fall below Ofsted’s ‘good’ rating. Of 16 poorly performing schools in a new Ofsted report, just 3 are in areas outside the north and the Midlands. This is the latest in a series of scathing reports from Ofsted, who recently criticised some head-teachers over careers advice.
But what is behind this divide?
Sir Michael will explain that relative wealth cannot be used as a factor, as he calls for a London Challenge-style campaign to improve achievement and school standards in weaker areas. The London Challenge was launched in 2003 by the Labour government in order to improve secondary school performance in the capital. The campaign was particularly successful among the most disadvantaged pupils.
The problems seem to be most evident in the smaller satellite towns in the north and the Midlands, and Sir Michael is calling for schools in larger cities to help out.
He explained, “What we are saying very clearly in this report today is that the successful schools, and there are many of them in the north of England and the Midlands in those major towns, need to help those under-performing secondary schools in those satellite towns. So Leeds, for example, where there are a lot of good secondary schools, needs to help the languishing secondary schools in Bradford.”
Sir Michael said that funding could not be blamed for the divide either, as he noted, “It’s not so much a money thing because the differential in funding is not that great between the north and south. We’ve done some research on that. What makes the difference in school performance as everyone knows is the quality of leadership and the quality of teaching.”
The problem then, it seems, is in recruiting talented teachers to help improve the culture of the schools.
If we can get good leaders into those schools,” Sir Michael asserted, “if we can get good teachers into those schools, if the culture of those schools improves, particularly if behaviour in those schools improves, then we will see better institutions.”
One such solution could be to move teachers from highly performing schools to those that are under-performing.
However, finding teachers in certain subjects is increasingly difficult, with maths, science, and technology teachers being in short supply, as many newly-qualified teachers leave the country to teach abroad or move into the private sector.
Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that a fundamental change needs to happen to make teaching a more attractive career. She stated that,
the teaching profession has become unattractive to many graduates,” adding, “alongside pay and unmanageable workloads, the punitive nature of Ofsted inspections are also contributing factors and need to be addressed.”