MPs attack 'waste of children's potential' in sub-standard schools

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The Independent Online

Nearly one million children are being taught in poorly performing schools, a committee of MPs has warned.

Pupils at 1,500 primary and secondary schools are being denied a proper education despite government investment of nearly £840m in initiatives designed to tackle sub-standard schools, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

The Conservative MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee, said: "To waste so much human potential in this way is a tragedy. The consequences in the long term for the pupils and for our society will be severe."

The report coincided with the publication of data on failing schools from Ofsted, the schools watchdog. Although the number of failing institutions fell by 14 per cent over the past year to 208, the number judged to have serious problems short of failure rose by almost a third to 443. The PAC report was critical of Ofsted for failing to identify many failing schools sufficiently early. New "light touch" Ofsted inspections which require schools to evaluate their own performance may be shielding too many failing schools, it said.

Schools at risk of failing are not receiving enough support from Ofsted to ensure they improved, the committee concluded.

The report also criticised the Government for failing to ensure a strong supply of good headteachers and to give adequate support to those working in the most challenging schools. "The signs of decline in a school need to be picked up early and effective remedies applied," said Mr Leigh.

The PAC's conclusions confirmed the findings of the National Audit Office earlier this year that pupils in 23 per cent of secondaries and 4 per cent of primaries were being let down by the education system. The NAO concluded that 1,577 schools in England were "poorly performing" either because they had failed an Ofsted inspection or because they had poor results. The schools teach 980,000 pupils or 13 per cent of the school population.

David Willetts, the Tory education spokesman, said:"Children in these schools are suffering a huge disadvantage. Raising standards must be the priority for any government."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The NAO report, on which the PAC has based its conclusions, is flawed and therefore it is misleading and damaging. Most of these so-called failing schools serve disadvantaged communities where the school is often the only place that improves life chances."

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The PAC report is a gross simplification of the reality of education in our schools."

Jim Knight, the Schools minister, said: "The report compares apples with pears, mixing together numbers of schools which are failing with numbers of schools which are simply performing less well than others with similar characteristics."