Sir Michael Wilshaw writes to George Osborne: ‘Don’t focus on cities – small towns need the most help’

Sir Michael Wilshaw writes to George Osborne: ‘Don’t focus on cities - small towns need the most help’

Sir Michael Wilshaw is so worried about schools in towns in the north and the Midlands that he plans to write to George Osborne asking that devolution plans don’t just focus on cities.

In Ofsted’s annual report launched on Tuesday, chief inspector Sir Michael described a “divided nation”, with secondary school performance in the north and Midlands lagging behind the south.

He specified 16 local authority areas in England that performed poorly on a range of indicators and where fewer than 60 per cent of children attended good or outstanding schools.

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He said he would write to the chancellor urging him not to “forget” education, and to highlight that the most needy schools were not in the cities being given additional powers under the government’s plans, but in neighbouring towns.

The situation was “so bad” in Bradford that it required its own commission to investigate the issue.

“Local politicians must be as determined to encourage schools to do better as they are to lobby for fast trains or new motorways. Children in their regions deserve as good an education as children in the south,” he said.

Subsequent analysis by fact-checking organisation Education Datalab, however, found that once differences in prior attainment and pupil characteristics were taken into account, the 16 local authorities only differed by 2 per cent to other authorities.

The north east was also singled out for poor secondary school performance.

But campaign group Schools North East claimed the improvement of just a handful of schools would bring the area into line.

Director Mike Parker said: “We only have 170 secondaries in the region so an upwards shift of just five schools would bring parity.”

Ofsted national director Sean Harford questioned the group’s claims: “I don’t know that the figures are that sensitive, to be honest. I doubt very much whether five schools would tip a whole region.”

Teacher union ATL used the report as an opportunity to highlight the issue of schools “operating in isolation” as more convert to become academies.

But the report notes that underperformance appears unrelated to school type, stating that in low-performing Doncaster all 18 schools were academies whereas in St Helens less than a quarter were.

When asked about the pattern, Sir Michael said: “What really matters is quality of leadership, teaching, the culture of a school and the oversight schools receive … If the whole system is academised, fine, we can then talk about the most important issues.”