Inspectors failed 24 per cent more schools last year

The number of schools being failed by Ofsted inspectors rose by nearly one quarter last year, the chief inspector of England's schools will reveal next month.

The annual report from David Bell, the head of Ofsted, will show that his inspectors placed 24 per cent more schools on the failing list during the academic year of 2002-03 than it did in 2001-02. Mr Bell's figures will raise fears of a trend of school failure and show that the Government's progress in turning round failing schools appears to have stalled.

Financial problems and teacher shortages have been cited as possible factors behind the increase in failing schools. Teaching unions have also been infuriated by suggestions from Mr Bell that lessons which are judged "satisfactory" may no longer be good enough, and accused inspectors of moving the goalposts.

The number of schools in England which failed an inspection rose from 129 in 2001-02 to 160 last year.

During the last academic year, a total of 99 primary, 35 secondary, 18 special and eight pupil-referral units failed. This was an increase on the previous year, when 94 primary, 19 secondary, 10 special and six pupil-referral units were judged to be sub-standard.

The rise means that 282 primary and secondary schools are now on the failing list, compared with 272 the previous year.

But an even greater concern for ministers is that the rise in failing schools has accelerated since September 2003, when a new way of conducting Ofsted inspections was introduced. Mr Bell has already disclosed that an additional 46 schools failed an Ofsted inspection during the first half of the school term that began in September last year - a 35 per cent rise on the same period in 2002. In autumn 2002 just 2.7 per cent of schools failed a routine Ofsted inspection. Last autumn that figure had risen to 4.5 per cent.

The number of failing schools reached an all-time high of 515 in the summer of 1998 during the Government's unpopular policy of "naming and shaming" struggling schools, which has since been quietly dropped.

The number dropped steadily to 274 by 2001-02. However, the total rose slightly to 282 in 2002-03 and looks set to reach 350 this year if present trends continue.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, accused Ofsted of "moving the goalposts", causing many good schools to fail.

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