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Under-achieving schools must not use disadvantaged pupils as excuse, says Ofsted

The education watchdog’s chief inspector hit out at the culture of “disadvantage one-upmanship” in her first annual report.

Disadvantaged pupils should not be used as an excuse for chronically under-achieving schools, the head of Ofsted has warned, as it was revealed that more than 130 have consistently under-performed for a decade.

Amanda Spielman, the education watchdog’s chief inspector, said the schools had unstable leadership, problems recruiting, and high proportions of deprived students.

But she hit out at the culture of “disadvantage one-upmanship” in her first annual report, adding: “Schools with all ranges of children can and do succeed.”

Labour said Government policies had created problems with teachers’ pay and recruitment, while education unions said Ofsted could be part of the problem.

More than 500 primary schools and around 200 secondaries have been judged as requiring improvement or being satisfactory at their last two inspections, according to the report.

Of those inspected this year, 135 schools have failed to record a good or outstanding Ofsted inspection since 2005, including around 80 primary and 50 secondary schools, despite receiving “considerable attention and investment”.

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(PA Graphics)

A total of 129 schools were recorded as being open in 2016/17, while six were recorded as being closed.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Ms Spielman said: “There is no doubt that the leadership challenge facing some schools is great.

“But progress is possible and we should all be wary of using the make-up of a school community as an excuse for under-performance.

“I do find myself frustrated with the culture of ‘disadvantage one-upmanship’ that has emerged in some places.”

Calling for greater support for struggling schools, she added: “Fixating on all the things holding schools back can distract us all from working on the things that take them forward.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), welcomed Ofsted’s focus on schools “trapped in cycles of under-performance” and their acknowledgement “this does not mean there is a lack of desire to improve”.

But he added: “Its research needs to include looking at the stigmatising impact of Ofsted judgments and government performance measures, which make it difficult to recruit leaders and teachers, and which deter some parents from sending their children to these schools.

“It may be that our high-stakes accountability system is in itself at least partially responsible for trapping schools in a cycle from which it is very difficult to escape.”

Overall, education and care provided to young people is “better than ever”, the report said, with around 90% of primary schools and 79% of secondaries rated good or outstanding.

But shadow education secretary Angela Rayner criticised the Government for missing recruitment targets and said many teachers were facing heavy workload and a reduction in real-term wages.

“Some of our most vulnerable children … have been failed by this Government’s policies,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We have got to start addressing that issue. Just dealing with the opportunity areas is not enough.

“Ofsted is quite clear that it is not about areas in particular, it’s schools that are still not able to raise their standards and raise their game.”

Education Secretary Justine Greening said the Government would work with schools and businesses to tackle “complex long-term challenges like weak social mobility”.

She told the programme: “We shouldn’t accept that the start that someone gets in life so fundamentally dictates where they finish and how well they’re able to do.”

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said it was identifying areas in need of support and investing £280 million over the next two years to target resources.

Around £75 million is also being invested in teachers’ professional development and £42 million in training.

Mr Gibb said: “The report recognises the widespread good practice and continual improvement across the system but we know there is more to do to tackle consistent under-performance.”

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