Ofsted has called for a regional version of the City Challenge programme to help tackle underachievement by an “invisible minority” of disadvantaged pupils.
However, the recommendation has frustrated teachers who say that huge funding differences between rural and city schools do nothing to help the situation, and point out that the Challenge programme has been axed by the government.
The chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said this minority of poorer children who attend good and outstanding schools in rural, market and seaside towns are being let behind academically.
He added that while big strides had been made in the inner city areas of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, underachievement had moved to the leafy suburbs and more affluent areas.
The Ofsted chief wants to see a smaller version of the City Challenge initiative, which was credited for turning around failing schools, being introduced regionally.
He also wants a team of National Service Teachers to be created to teach “in schools in parts of the country that are currently failing their most disadvantaged pupils”. The recommendations have been set out in a report published by the inspectorate this week called Unseen Children.
However, responding to the report, teachers’ leaders were quick to point out that the City Challenge initiative, which involved successful schools collaborating with those who were struggling, had been scrapped by the coalition government to save money.
Sir Michael said: “These poor unseen children can be found in mediocre schools the length and breadth of our country. They are labelled, buried in lower sets consigned as often as not to indifferent teaching.
“They coast through education until, at the earliest opportunity, they sever their ties with it.”
He said that many of the
1.2 million children in England on free school meals were underachieving and two-thirds of these were White British.
There were 15 local authorities where just a quarter of pupils receiving free school meals gained five or more A* to C GCSEs, with West Berkshire, Barnsley, Peterborough and Herefordshire among the worst performers.
He said that in future, schools found to be failing disadvantaged children would not get rated as outstanding, and warned that such schools could find themselves inspected ahead of schedule.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it was “deeply regrettable” that the government had axed the City Challenge programme.
She added: “The London and City Challenge was a scheme based on the collaboration and sharing of best practice among schools. Sir Michael’s idea of individual teachers being catapulted into schools to help with pupils’ achievement will not have anywhere near the same impact. It really is time the government and Ofsted stopped trying to reinvent the wheel and just work with what we know achieves results.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, also pointed to huge differences in funding.
“We have poured money into education in our cities. In some cases, schools in, say, Tower Hamlets will receive hundreds of thousands of pounds more per year than a school in, say, Gloucestershire, even when they face the same challenges. It can be very hard for rural schools to keep up. The lesson here is that investment matters and we need fair national funding.”