'Extra help needed for rural schools'

A NEW approach is needed to help rural school children reach their potential, the government's education watchdog has warned.

Thousands of 'unseen children' from low income backgrounds are being let down by the education system, said Oftsed chief inspector Michael Wilshaw.

Recommendations aimed at closing the attainment gap between England's poorest and better off children were contained in a lecture delivered by Sir Michael in London.

The speech at Church House in Westminster was made on Thursday (20 June).

An accompanying report marked 20 years since Ofsted first published a study into the achievements of the poorest children in the education system and 10 years since a follow-up report in 2003.

Areas where the most disadvantaged children are being let down by the education system in 2013 are no longer deprived inner city areas, says the document.

Instead the focus has shifted to deprived coastal towns and rural, less populous regions of the country, particularly down the East and South-East of England.

These are places that have felt little impact from national initiatives designed to drive up standards for the poorest children, the report says.

In his speech, Sir Michael set out eight recommendations aimed at making a lasting difference in closing the attainment gap for the poorest children.

"The quality of education is the most important issue facing Britain today," he said.

"In the long term, our success as a nation – our prosperity, our security, our society – depends on how well we raise and educate our young people across the social spectrum.

"In the last twenty or thirty years, the performance of schools in inner London, Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Leicester has been transformed.

"The distribution in educational underachievement has shifted.

"Today, many of the disadvantaged children performing least well in school can be found in leafy suburbs, market towns or seaside resorts.

"Often they are spread thinly, as an 'invisible minority' across areas that are relatively affluent. We need new policies and approaches to deal with underachievement in these areas."

The eight recommendations in the report include a call for Ofsted to be tougher with schools that are letting down their poor children.

It also calls for the development and roll-out of sub-regional challenges aimed particularly at raising the achievement of disadvantaged children.

A more strategic approach should be taken to the appointment of National Leaders of Education to ensure that they are matched with schools in need of support, says the report.

Government should ensure that teachers on funded schemes are directed to underperforming schools in less fashionable or more remote or challenging places, it adds.

The government should also review assessment in reception and Key Stage 1, with a view to publishing progress measures from the start of school to end of Key Stage 1.

Inadequate colleges that have grown too large to assure quality across their different activities should be dismantled, recommends the document.

Smaller specialist units, particularly University Technology Colleges, should be created with stronger links to business, commerce and industry.

All recommendations in the Richard Review of apprenticeships should be implemented in full.

And all post-16 providers should report on the rate of progress and outcomes for all young people who had previously been eligible for free school meals.


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