The chief inspector of schools hailed an “unprecedented” improvement in standards yesterday as new figures showed almost one in five Yorkshire schools inspected in the past year were rated “outstanding”.
Inspectors found three-quarters of Yorkshire schools they visited in the past year were “good” or “outstanding” compared with two-thirds in the previous year.
That still meant, however, that more than 500 schools in the region “required improvement” or were “inadequate”, the lowest rating.
Nationally there was a nine per increase in schools being rated as good or outstanding, which school standards watchdog Ofsted said was the most rapid rate of improvement in its 21-year history.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, suggested it was down to major changes to the inspection system.
The overhaul included cutting the amount of notice schools were given of an inspection, and replacing the old satisfactory rating with “requires improvement”.
Under the new system, schools judged to require improvement at two consecutive inspections and who are still not providing a good education at the third face being placed in special measures.
In a speech yesterday, Sir Michael said he believed the changes, introduced last September, had had a “galvanising effect” on schools.
“The unprecedented rate of national improvement that this new data shows is cause for celebration,” he said.
Sir Michael hailed the work of “dedicated teachers and outstanding head teachers” who have helped England’s schools system to make some “genuine and radical advances”.
He told the audience: “This morning’s figures illustrate the greater urgency of heads, leaders, governors and teachers to improve their schools to a good standard and not put up with second best.
“Head teachers are using the ‘requires improvement’ judgment as a way of bringing about rapid improvement in their schools, especially in the quality of teaching. And the national improvement we are seeing is all the better for taking place under the terms of a more rigorous school inspection framework.
“I am determined to use the power and influence of inspection to improve our school system. The message from Ofsted is unequivocal – the acceptable standard of education in this country now starts at ‘good’.”
Yorkshire schools were above the national average last year with 70 per cent across the country judged “good” or “outstanding” performers.
The North-East and the West Midlands saw the biggest rises in the proportion of schools achieving the highest ratings.
But teaching unions rejected the idea that rising standards were linked to the way schools are inspected.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said: “The increase in the number of schools ranked good or outstanding by Ofsted is positive news and shows the fine work going on across the country.
“Schools don’t become good or outstanding overnight – securing and maintaining these ratings takes time and a sustained effort that has been going on for many years.
“The reality is there will be many more schools that have reached the standard for good which won’t have had this formally recognised by an inspection. We hope that schools will now be allowed to continue their improvements without excessive interference or damaging rhetoric.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “Improvement is brought about by teachers and school and college leaders looking self-critically at everything they do, constantly working to improve the quality of teaching and learning, and recruiting, training and rewarding the best staff. These inspection grades are a reflection of those efforts.”