Ofsted’s annual report for 2015/16 finds that there are now almost the same proportion of good and outstanding nurseries in the most deprived areas of the country as the least deprived.
For the sixth year in a row, the proportion of good and outstanding nurseries, pre-schools and childminders has risen and is now at 91 per cent.
Quality in primary schools has also greatly improved with the proportion of them graded good and outstanding up from 69 per cent to 90 per cent.
Sir Michel Wilshaw, launching his fifth and final annual report as outgoing chief inspector, hailed the ‘remarkable gains’ made by children under 11 over the past five years.
‘We have seen some significant improvements even over the 5 years that I have been chief inspector. There are 1.8 million more pupils attending good or outstanding maintained schools and academies today than in August 2010,’ he said.
‘The gains for children under the age of 11, in particular, are remarkable. For this younger age group, we are now closer than we have ever been to an education system where your family background or where you live does not necessarily determine the quality of teaching you receive or the outcomes you achieve.
‘Our schools have also become great forces for social cohesion. We forget what an incredible achievement this is. Whatever cultural tensions exist outside of school, race and religion are not barriers within them. In the main, schools aim for all children to be taught equally and for all children to benefit equally.’
Last year’s annual report raised concerns about the gap between the proportion of children eligible for free school meals and their peers achieving a good level of development at the end of the EYFS, but as of this year Ofsted said that the difference between children eligible for free school meals and their peers is ‘clearly diminishing’ – 3.5 percentage points narrower than in 2007.
However, there are gaps at local authority level – the gap in attainment between children who are eligible for free school meals and their peers has increased in 44 areas.
In contrast, in Hammersmith and Fulham, the gap has nearly closed – down from 18 percentage points to 1 percentage point in 2015.
Sir Michael also highlighted issues in the education system that were not working, including a quarter of secondary schools in the North and Midlands which were ‘still not good enough’, and problems with recruiting good teachers and leaders in isolated and deprived areas where educational standards are low.
He added, ‘Many FE colleges are facing a period of continuing turmoil while the quality of apprenticeship programmes remains patchy.
‘The country is facing serious knowledge and skills gaps that threaten the competitiveness of our economy. The decision to leave the European Union has thrown this issue into even sharper relief. As a nation, we can either intervene to inject the system with the vision, skills and energy it needs, or we can be content with the status quo and the consequences of our failure to improve the quality and status of technical education over many years.’
The report also acknowledged early years providers’ concerns about funding and capacity in the sector, and noted that there were now around 240,000 more children under five in England and 50,000 fewer childcare places in 2016 than there were in 2009.
Early years organisations welcomed the report’s highlighting of high quality provision.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘At a time when there has been much focus on ensuring the financial stability of the 400 maintained nursery schools in England, this report serves as an important reminder of the 50,000 PVI providers currently providing “good” or “outstanding” early years education and care to thousands of children across the country.’
‘We share Ofsted's concerns about the lack of capacity in the early years sector. At a time when the need for childcare places is at is highest, we continue to see providers - and particularly childminders - exit the sector. If this continues, it is likely that many families across the country will find it increasingly difficult to find and secure childcare places. With so many providers warning that they will not be able to remain sustainable unless funding levels improve, we hope this acts as a stark warning to government. Neither they, providers nor parents can afford for this trend to continue.’
Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, ‘It is a major achievement for 91 per cent of providers to be graded as good or outstanding; a testament to the hard work and dedication of childminders, nurseries and pre-schools everywhere. Looking ahead, the key question is how this can be sustained when costs are rising for providers whilst the quality training and support they receive is reducing. Government needs to work with the sector now to focus on sustaining the quality and quantity of childcare places available to children and families. Central to this is getting funding right for funded early education places before we roll out the 30 hours offer.’
National Day Nurseries Association’s chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, ‘Sir Michael Wilshaw’s report says that the Government, local authorities and providers must plan further to ensure enough funded places are available to make 30 “free” hours a success.
‘We want the Government to take note of this report. Nurseries need to be properly funded to continue delivering high quality childcare that all our children need to fulfil their potential.
‘Having been the chief inspector for five years, Sir Michael is well placed to understand the pressures that the nursery sector is under at the moment.
‘These include chronic underfunding of ‘free’ childcare entitlement which is set to double next year, the recruitment crisis caused in part by stringent qualifications requirements for level three practitioners and increased business costs such as the National Living Wage and rising business rates.
‘The Government must respond to these issues, ahead of the free entitlement increasing from 15 to 30 hours per week for three and four-year-olds in September.’