Too many of our brightest children are being let down in the state system

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Too many of the most able children and young people are underperforming in our non-selective state secondary schools, according to a new report by Ofsted.

The survey found that too few maintained schools and academies set high enough expectations of what their brightest students can achieve.

Two-thirds of pupils who achieved Level 5 in primary school maths and English tests failed to get A* or an A in both subjects at GCSE.

According to its figures, bright children were well taught in just a fifth of mixed-ability lessons observed by inspectors, even though they were extensively employed by schools.

Around a third of schools taught pupils in mainly in mixed ability groups throughout the first three years of secondary education, while many others only put pupils into sets for some lessons.

And just a third of pupils considered high-fliers at the age of 11 gained A grades in English and maths. This compared with around 60 per cent of those sent to academically-selective grammar schools.

The reason, according to Ofsted, is that most teachers aimed tasks at low and average pupils and set homework that was insufficiently challenging.

The report also said that most schools lacked the expertise to help children apply to leading Russell Group universities, with some teachers even claiming it was not appropriate to push students towards such universities.

In a statement, Sir Michael Wilshaw said: “Too many non-selective schools are failing to nurture scholastic excellence. While the best of these schools provide excellent opportunities, many of our most able students receive mediocre provision.”

The most able pupils were not making the progress of which they were capable in around 40 per cent of schools.

And school work was pitched at the middle and did not extend the most able, the report warned, adding: “Students said too much homework was insufficiently challenging; it failed to interest them, extend their thinking or develop their skills”.

Sir Michael insisted that the achievement of bright pupils in comprehensive schools should be an issue of national concern, with children performing worse than peers in many other developed countries.

But Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: “Yet again the teaching profession and parents will be deeply dismayed to see another ideological report condemning our education system.

“The findings appear to be based on the flimsiest of research evidence."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “The government's league table culture deserves a measure of the blame for this situation. For too long, schools have been forced into the middle ground."

Stephen Twigg MP, Labour's Shadow Education Secretary, said: "The findings of this survey are very worrying. Michael Wilshaw is absolutely right that this cannot go on. Schools must set high expectations for all children. David Cameron and Michael Gove have no plan for gifted and talented children.

"I worry that Cameron and Gove will make this problem worse, by allowing non-qualified teachers to teach in classrooms. Teachers make the biggest difference to educational outcomes. Lowering the benchmark for teaching cannot be good for children who need that extra stretch and challenge."

School Leadership Today
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