Ofsted report: Most able students ‘still being let down’

Schools are not doing enough to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers, Ofsted has warned.

In its report, The most able students, the watchdog claims national data shows that too many of the most able students are “still being let down and are failing to reach their full potential”. The report follows a previous review, in 2013, of high ability learners and their achievement.

The report, which is based on government data plus visits to 10 primary schools and 40 non-selective secondary schools, as well as evidence from 130 routine inspections, raises concerns that achievement of the most able students suffers if they are from disadvantaged backgrounds, or if they are at a school with a low proportion of high-attaining pupils.

The report goes on to state: “Nationally, too many of our most able students fail to achieve the grades they need to get into top universities. There are still schools where not a single most able student achieves the A-level grades commonly preferred by top universities.”

This claim is based on students achieving two A grades and one B grade from the ‘facilitating subjects’ list which the Russell Group claims are more often required for admission into elite universities.

For secondary school students at Key Stage 3 the report says not enough is being done to develop pupils’ “broader knowledge or social and cultural awareness”.

At GCSE level it noted: “The gap … between the progress made by the most able disadvantaged students and their better off peers is still too large and is not closing quickly enough.”

The report criticises school leaders for failing to use data from primaries to improve transition and not championing excellence “with sufficient urgency”. It calls on leaders to develop a “culture of high expectations” and to identify individual teachers and governors to champion the needs of the disadvantaged.

It also calls for the involvement of other stakeholders, such as universities and employers, to offer “expert advice and guidance to the most able students” in terms of the options available once they leave school.

Speaking about the findings, Sean Harford (pictured), 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.

“For our part, Ofsted will make sure that inspections keep focusing sharply on the programme made by students who are able and poorer. Inspectors will also report more sharply about how well schools promote the needs of the most able through the quality of the curriculum and the information, advice and guidance they offer to their most able students.

“It is especially disappointing to find that, almost two years on from our first report [on this issue], 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.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are replacing the discredited system which rewarded schools where the largest numbers of pupils scraped a C grade at GCSE.

“Instead we are moving to a new system which encourages high-achievers to get the highest grades possible while also recognising schools which push those who find exams harder.”

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