Comprehensives a byword for laxity and failure says Ofsted boss

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
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OFSTED’s chief inspector has rejected calls for more academically selective grammar schools but warned that the idea of comprehensive schooling had been tarnished.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said yesterday that comprehensive education was still associated with “mediocrity, laxity and failure”.

However he said he would not support bringing back more grammar schools which select pupils on the basis of their academic ability. In a speech yesterday he said he wanted to reclaim comprehensive education, arguing that it was the only way to educate all youngsters to a decent standard. He said: “What does the country need more of?

“Schools that educate only the top 20 per cent of pupils, 90 per cent of whom get good GCSEs, or schools that educate 100 per cent of pupils, 80 per cent of whom are capable of getting good GCSEs?

“I think the answer is pretty obvious.”

He said that although comprehensive schools had made great strides it would be “foolish to believe that all is perfect” in England’s education system as nearly a fifth of schools still require improvement.

Sir Michael told the Festival of Education at Wellington College, in Berkshire, that in some schools bad behaviour is still tolerated, there is a “half-hearted” attempt to gain high standards in the classroom and competitive sport is not encouraged.

“Despite the enormous strides the majority of our comprehensives have made in the past few years, the name is still associated in the minds of many with mediocrity, laxity and failure.

“For many journalists and politicians in particular, comprehensives remain, to use an infamous label, bog-standard.”

Sir Michael added: “Much of this under-performance, in my opinion, has historical roots.

“Even though the ideology that afflicted so many of the early comprehensives has been largely discredited, its damaging effects remain. They can be seen in the toleration of poor behaviour, the disdain for competitive sports, the half-hearted pursuit of high academic standards and the meagre respect sometimes given to leadership.”

Sir Michael suggested that too many state schools regarded competitive sport as an optional extra.

He also called on school leaders to challenge “the beliefs that have damaged education over the last 40 years.”

He told the conference there were still schools that indulge in practices that were a “throwback to the 60s and 70s”, such as “informal learning”,

Sir Michael added: “’There is more to education than tests,’ some say. Yes, there is. But they are essential passports to further educational opportunity. And for youngsters who cannot rely on family connections, those four little letters - GCSE - are essential to prevent them being saddled with four less useful letters: NEET, Not in Employment, Education or Training.

“Head teachers need to challenge any attitude that implies that a child’s educational potential is limited by their social class.”

The chief inspector then argued against bringing back grammar schools.

“I appreciate that many do a fine job and equip their pupils with an excellent education, But their record of including students from non-middle-class backgrounds is poor. And let’s not delude ourselves. ‘A grammar school in every town’, as some are calling for, would also mean three secondary moderns in every town too, a consequence rarely mentioned.”