Press release: Ofsted issues warning about education in the East Midlands

Low standards in schools across the East Midlands region of England are exposing the educational fault line dividing the nation, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector said today.

Sir Michael Wilshaw highlighted figures showing the East Midlands as the worst performing region in the country on a range of key indicators.

He blamed a culture of complacency and a lack of clear accountability for the poor educational performance of towns and cities across the region and across all phases.

Sir Michael made his comments on the same day that Ofsted’s Regional Director for the East Midlands, Chris Russell, published an open letter to all those responsible for education in Northamptonshire. In the letter, he sets out his deep concerns about the low standards of achievement across the county.

Chris Russell said that far too many children and young people in Northamptonshire are being deprived of the opportunity to gain a good education, with weaknesses in the quality of provision persisting across every age group.

Sir Michael pointed out that these problems are not confined to this one local authority area, but are mirrored in a number of neighbouring towns and cities, and across the East Midlands region as a whole. For example:

  • the East Midlands is currently the joint lowest performing Ofsted region in terms of inspection outcomes, with almost one in three secondary schools judged less than good at their last inspection
  • the region had the worst GCSE results in England in 2015; nearly 46% of pupils did not achieve the benchmark five or more A* to C grades including English and maths
  • nearly 73% of East Midlands’ pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) failed to achieve this benchmark
  • in the East Midlands children in care did worse than in any other region; just 10.2% of them achieved 5 or more A* to C grades in GCSE examinations, including English and maths.

Across the different phases of education, children in some of the region’s major urban areas and shire counties fare particularly badly:

  • Leicester is the poorest performing local authority in the country for pupil outcomes at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage – with only 51% of the city’s children achieving a good level of development, compared with 66% nationally
  • Nottingham is England’s poorest performer in the phonics screening check at key stage 1 – just 69% of the city’s six and seven-year-olds met the required standard in 2015. In Derby, the figure was just 70%, compared with 77% of pupils nationally
  • Northamptonshire is one of the worst-performing local authority areas in the country for the achievement of disadvantaged children at key stage 2. Only 59% of FSM pupils in the county achieved the expected standards in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of primary school compared with 66% nationally. Their peers in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Derby fared nearly as badly, with just 60% achieving the expected standards
  • Derby and Nottingham were among the 10 lowest ranking local authority areas nationally for GSCE examinations – only 47.6% and 42.4% of pupils respectively achieved the benchmark five or more A* to C grades including English and maths in 2015

Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

These statistics should serve as a wake-up call. The poor quality of education in many parts of the East Midlands often passes under the radar as attention is focused on underperformance in the bigger cities of the North and West Midlands, like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.

However, in many ways, the problems in this region symbolise more than anywhere else the growing educational divide between the South and the rest of England that I highlighted in my last Annual Report.

The Chief Inspector pointed out that there are very few high performing multi-academy trusts (MATs) in the region, while the support and challenge to schools from local authorities has not led to rapid enough improvement.

Sir Michael argued that there has been a collective failure by education and political leaders in the region to tackle mediocre provision and a culture of low expectations. While this is a particular problem among low income White British communities, the low level of GCSE attainment in places like Leicester – an area with a minority white British population – demonstrates that this extends beyond one ethnic group.

There are some bright spots across the region that are bucking these trends. Babington Community College, Leicester; Dronfield Henry Fanshawe and Chapel-en-le-Frith, both in Derbyshire are all outstanding secondary schools doing their best for their students. Meanwhile, outstanding primaries include Christ the King Primary School in Leicester City, Norbridge Primary in Worksop, Nottinghamshire and Carlton Road Academy in Boston, Lincolnshire. However, examples such as these are too scarce in the East Midlands.

Sir Michael said:

National politicians and policymakers must start to worry more about what is happening north of the Wash. They should be asking why schools in large parts of the East Midlands aren’t doing better.

Derby, the home of Rolls Royce, has a proud history of engineering excellence, but local secondary schools are failing to deliver top rate GCSE results.

Nottingham has three widely respected initial teacher education providers on its doorstep, but at primary level its phonics results are the worst in the country. At secondary level, its schools are amongst the poorest performers for GCSE examinations.

Leicester, meanwhile, has enjoyed great sporting success and is home to the new champions of English football. Yet when it comes to education, its ambitions and achievements are decidedly second division.

Our future prosperity as a nation depends on us delivering a better quality of education to all our children, wherever they live. As things stand, too many schools in the East Midlands are failing to equip young people with the knowledge and skills the country needs to keep pace with its international competitors.

As Chief Inspector, I am calling on local politicians across the region to do significantly more to challenge and support their local schools, regardless of whether they are academies or under local authority control.

Sir Michael’s view is echoed by Ofsted East Midlands Regional Director Chris Russell in his letter to the main education players in Northamptonshire.

Mr Russell says:

Across Northamptonshire there are too many early years providers and schools of all types and phases that are not good enough.

As a result, children do not achieve as well as they should. Disadvantaged children in the county are performing particularly poorly. There needs to be greater oversight and co-ordinated action from those accountable for educational provision in the county.

Note to editors

Read the letter from Chris Russell.

Yesterday, Chris Russell addressed the East Midlands Challenge conference in Nottingham, where he spoke about Ofsted’s views on what inspectors look for. Mr Russell also discussed priority learner groups and what good practice inspectors have seen around the region. This conference was aimed at Teaching School Alliances.

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