High ability children are not being well supported


Schools are still not doing enough to ensure the most able children fulfil their potential, according to a new Ofsted survey.

The most able students report finds that many of the most able children who attend non-selective secondary schools are failing to achieve their potential, compared with students who attend selective and independent schools.

The report follows up on an earlier survey carried out in 2013 – and concludes that very few improvements have been made over the intervening two years.

In the most successful non-selective schools, the most able students thrive because school leaders provide a challenging curriculum and are tenacious in making sure that teaching is consistently good or better for all students. Successful leaders use the information they receive from primary schools to make sure that students are doing work that stretches them as soon as they join Year 7.

This continues throughout the students’ time at the school and culminates in their successful applications to the best universities, training providers and employers.

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director of Schools, said: “This report has focused particularly on those identified as the most able. While inspectors found pockets of excellence, too many of these children are not being challenged sufficiently – and thousands of highly performing primary pupils are not realising their early promise when they move to secondary school.

It is especially disappointing to find that, almost two years on from our first report, the same problems remain. I hope school leaders see this report as a call to action – and raise the bar higher for their most able pupils, so that they can reach their full potential.”

The report concludes that:

  • the most able students’ achievement suffers even more when they are from poorer backgrounds
  • the most able girls continue to outperform the most able boys significantly, and where there is a reasonable proportion of most able students, they do far better than when they are in a small minority in a school
  • many secondary schools are still not giving demanding work to the most able students in their opening years in secondary schools
  • information, advice and guidance to students about accessing the most appropriate courses at universities, or in preparation for demanding apprenticeship and other training opportunities are not good enough
  • students’ classes in key stage 3 are often affected by low-level disruption
  • school leaders are not properly evaluating how to help prepare the most able for universities

As a matter of urgency, Ofsted recommends that school leaders must:

  • develop a culture of high expectations for students and teachers in secondary school
  • make sure that teachers use information provided by primary schools about the most able students to help manage their transition to secondary school
  • appoint staff and governors with responsibilities specifically to champion the needs of the most able students from poorer backgrounds
  • involve universities in training school staff to provide advice to the most able
  • provide training for all teachers so that their teaching challenges the most able students
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