June 20, 2013 12:04 am

Ofsted boss calls for elite teaching squad to save poor schools

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Lesson in a UK school©Getty

Ministers should establish an elite group of England’s most talented teachers employed directly by the government as troubleshooters for failing schools in remote or “unfashionable” areas, the chief inspector of schools has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, proposed this corps of “National Service Teachers” as he unveiled the regulator’s report on access and achievement in schools over the past decade.

Key among the findings is the vast improvement of education in cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, while lower-quality provision has shifted to deprived coastal towns and rural areas. In these regions, “unseen” pupils are being let down by the education system, Sir Michael believes.

“The most important factor in reversing these trends is to attract and incentivise the best people to the leadership of underperforming schools in these areas,” he will say in a speech on Thursday. “This may require government to work with teaching schools to identify and incentivise experienced and effective teachers to work in less fashionable, more remote or challenging places.

To attract teachers, it is possible the scheme could offer higher pay and the potential for faster career progression.

Despite the concentration of floundering schools in deprived areas, Ofsted’s research also found many poorer children were being “failed” by schools in more wealthy regions such as Kettering, Wokingham, Norwich and Newbury. These wealthier children in coasting, or sinking, schools are helped by their families, while less well-off children do not have that support.

“Many of the disadvantaged children performing least well in school . . . are spread thinly, as an ‘invisible minority’ across areas that are relatively affluent,” Sir Michael will say. “They are labelled, buried in lower sets, consigned as often as not to indifferent teaching.”

To tackle this problem, Ofsted will recommend targeted intervention similar to the London Challenge – which helped raise standards in schools across the capital.

Teach First, a charity that recruits high-performing graduates for schools, initially focused on sending its staff to London schools, but it expects to hire 1,500 people this year to work in other areas that need good teachers.

James Westhead, the organisation’s executive director, described England as a “postcode lottery” for children from poorer families.

“Where you are born determines how well you do at school, and in life,” he said. “A child on free school meals has only half the chance of getting good grades as their wealthier peers . . . this is wasting young talent on an industrial scale.”

Mr Westhead added that he would like to see more detail on the National Service Teachers proposal, but unions were sceptical.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “instead of setting up a group of elite teachers to parachute into schools facing challenges, it would be better to help existing teachers, who are only too well aware of the problems, to support their most disadvantaged pupils.”

She also said the government and Ofsted should take into account that disadvantaged children need “extensive support” from social and health services, as well as from schools.

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