Progress according to Ofsted but just too slow
The Ofsted report last week found that the National Strategies which are in their last year of delivery, have contributed to a national focus on standards and have helped to focus teachers and others on discussing and improving teaching and learning.
The National Strategies were widely credited by the schools and local authorities visited with contributing strongly to a professional dialogue around the need to improve the quality of teaching and learning, raise standards and narrow the achievement gap for all groups of pupils. In all the local authorities visited by the team, the National Strategies’ learning resources and continuing professional development materials were considered to have the potential to add value to school improvement work and were often recognized as being of high quality. Where used well, the report found, the principles promoted by the National Strategies, and drawn upon by good teachers for many years, had honed teachers’ skills. Almost all the schools visited were positive about some aspect of the National Strategies’ extensive portfolio. The programmes most frequently mentioned were assessment for learning; Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL); the Intensifying Support Programme, and Letters and Sounds.
The aim of the National Strategies is: ‘To raise standards of achievement and rates of progression for children and young people in all phases and settings through personalised learning supported by high quality, well-planned teaching which addresses individual needs with a particular focus on the core subjects and early years.’
The National Literacy Strategy began in 1998. This was followed a year later by the National Numeracy Strategy. The Key Stage 3 Strategy was introduced in 2000, becoming known as the Secondary National Strategy from 2001. Capita Education services are responsible for managing the Strategies on behalf of the DCSF.
While the report said that the Strategies’ initiatives have yielded successes, with individual teachers, departments, groups of pupils and schools, when viewed against the nationally agreed targets for 2011, however, the overall improvements in standards and progress over the last four years have been too slow according to Ofsted. And when asked about the impact of these programmes, the schools often found it difficult to disaggregate the effect of any one initiative or element from the many other actions taken to improve outcomes or from other contextual factors. The rapid pace of the introduction of new initiatives reduced the potential … to have an impact on standards,” said the report. “Typically, schools had several initiatives under way simultaneously. This often made it difficult to evaluate which ones were making a positive difference, and which were not. “The schools and local authorities visited were often overwhelmed by the volume of centrally driven initiatives, materials and communications,” the inspectors said. Ofsted said the Department for Children, Schools and Families should come up with fewer school improvement initiatives, and concentrate on strategies they know to be effective Vernon Coaker, the schools minister, said: “We make no apologies for taking a robust approach to raising performance in schools in the late nineties. A relentless focus on the 3Rs, coupled with record investment and rapid intervention, has led to the highest ever school standards – and Ofsted’s report is clear that the national strategies have made a real impact on teaching and learning. “It’s true that, while secondary results continue to improve, primary results have stabilised – and we’re determined to get them rising again. We’ve laid strong foundations but it is now right to phase out the centralised national strategies programme and give individual heads sole responsibility for driving progress.” The Tories believe that the Strategies have run their course and while keen to maintain a focus on literacy and numeracy in schools believe that some resources have been wasted and could have been better targeted.
They are keen that schools use synthetic phonics to improve literacy and don’t believe that the Strategies have placed sufficient emphasis on this. Gove has promised curriculum reforms too , if the Tories win the election, which will focus on getting back , as he sees it, to the core academic disciplines – too much of the curriculum, to his mind, is about “airy fairy” goals rather than hard facts.