Ofsted says 650 state schools failed inspection

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The Independent Online

The education standards watchdog Ofsted has put 650 state schools on its hit list for failing their inspections or causing concern over standards.

The figures show a marked rise in the number of primary schools failing their inspections since Ofsted's short, sharp shock inspection regime came into force last September. By contrast, the number of failing secondary schools is falling.

The figures show that the number of failing primary schools rose from 123 to 140 last term. The number of failing secondary schools dropped from 90 to 81. The list showed that the Ridings School in Halifax, once the most notorious in the country because of its pupils' behaviour but then turned around, was again causing concern.

One of the first schools to express an interest in becoming one of Tony Blair's independently run "trust" schools has also been given notice that it must improve. Thorpe Bay School, in Southend, Essex, though, has been removed from the failing schools list.

Education experts said that primary schools were being "caught out" by the new regime, under which schools are given only two days to prepare for inspections.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said the figures could reflect the difficulties that primary schools were having in recruiting headteachers. "When we looked at the picture, we saw that primary schools were attracting three times as many applicants as secondary schools for every classroom teaching post," he said.

"It was a different story when it came to heads. It was a complete reversal with three secondary school applicants to every one for a primary school. It may be that primary school teachers just do not like the administrative burden that goes with becoming a head - and prefer to keep in touch with teaching.

"One other reason that comes to mind is that primary schools used to prepare very carefully for their inspections.

"They're relatively small and could prepare quite thoroughly. It may be turning up at short notice means that inspectors see things that they didn't before."

Professor Smithers said the fall in the number of secondary schools on the failing list was "a welcome sign that the quality of education in these schools is improving".

Ministers had spent millions of pounds targeting inner-city schools - and had forced those that failed their inspections to undergo a "fresh start", such as closing and reopening as a new school or becoming a privately sponsored academy.

Professor Smithers said he did not think the academies programme itself was responsible for the improvement: "I don't think the business sponsorship does it but that the idea of closing down a constantly failing institution does seem a sound one." He said he believed the Government's "trust" schools plan could help primary schools to improve. The schools can opt out of council control and run their own affairs. "They could form themselves into a federation or partnership and set up an administrative block elsewhere," he said. A head or chief executive could work from there, giving headsmore time to concentrate on teaching.

Ofsted listed 243 failing schools, 120 requiring significant improvement, 242 with serious weaknesses, 44 under-achieving and four with poor sixth-forms.

'Too little enthusiasm and enjoyment of learning': Ridings School, Halifax, West Yorkshire

It was branded the "school from hell" after a devastating report from inspectors a decade ago.

Now the Ridings School in Halifax, West Yorkshire, is in danger of closing after a new damning Ofsted report.

The school first hit the headlines in 1996 when staff refused to teach 60 "uncontrollable" pupils. It had to shut temporarily because it was unsafe for staff. But the things began to look up with the appointment of a new head, Anna White, who masterminded a major improvement in examination results - and was appointed CBE for her efforts in 1999.

The latest report from Ofsted, though, has led to a notice to improve which, under new legislation, could mean closure if it fails to do so. Ofsted says: "Very poor attendance, too many instances of poor behaviour and too little enthusiasm and enjoyment of learning mean that the overall quality of personal development and well-being is inadequate."Under the legislation going through Parliament, a school failing to improve can be replaced by a privately sponsored academy.