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Ofsted Annual Report: Steadily improving picture in education and care, but ‘social contract’ remains fractured

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This year’s Annual Report from Ofsted concludes there are reasons for optimism, as education and children’s social care continue to recover from the lingering impact of the pandemic restrictions.

It finds a broadly positive picture in all the sectors that Ofsted inspects and regulates. However, it draws particular attention to a troubling shift in behaviour, attendance and attitudes towards education since the pandemic.

The report looks back at findings from inspection and regulation over the last academic year, from September 2022 to August 2023. Amanda Spielman – in her last Annual Report as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector – also considers the changes and challenges she has seen during her 7-year term.

Amanda writes that the social contract between parents and schools has been fractured. This unwritten agreement expects parents to ensure their children go to school every day and respect the school’s policies and approach. In return, schools give children a good education and help prepare them for their next steps in life.

Since the pandemic, absenteeism has become a stubborn problem in schools and disruptive behaviour has become more common. Poor behaviour affects pupils and teachers’ experience of school and their ability to learn or teach. There is also more anecdotal evidence of friction between schools and parents, who are increasingly willing to challenge school rules. 

Most schools are working hard to address these issues, but the social contract took years to build and consolidate, so it will take time to restore.

Despite these ongoing challenges, the report finds there are reasons to be optimistic about education and social care:

  • There is evidence that the curriculum has improved with many subjects and the teaching of reading in primary schools is significantly better.
  • There has been a marked increase in interest and policy development around further education over the past 7 years. The skills agenda has re-energised the conversation about post-16 education.
  • Improvements in education have been supported and reinforced by the progress in teacher training.
  • Some local authorities are making substantial improvements in social care.

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said:

“In my last annual report, I want to draw attention to the progress I have seen in education and children’s social care, not just over the last academic year but over the 7 years I’ve had the privilege of being Chief Inspector.

“The pandemic, with all its disruptions, has of course overshadowed this period and left a troublesome legacy. This is evident not just in the educational and developmental gaps that some children are still struggling with – but also in a fracturing of the traditional social contract between schools and families. We see its impact in lower school attendance, poorer behaviour and friction between parents and schools. Restoring this contract is vital to sustaining the progress we’ve seen.

“My final Annual Report as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector shows that we can and should be optimistic about education and social care in England. That optimism reflects the remarkable resilience of children and the determination of learners of all ages. And it’s also testament to the talent, commitment and effort of thousands of people working in education and social care.”

Other main findings in this year’s annual report

This year, Ofsted carried out 7,240 inspections of state-funded schools. This is a substantial increase from 4,670 in 2021/22 and is the highest number of inspections completed in the last 5 years. This is largely because of additional funding to catch up on inspections missed during the COVID-19 pandemic and to inspect all schools at least once between April 2021 and August 2025.

Inspections this year resulted in:

  • 88% of schools judged good or outstanding
  • 90% of previously good schools remaining good or improving to outstanding
  • 75% of schools that previously required improvement improving to good or outstanding
  • 97% of previously inadequate schools improving

Overall, 89% of all schools are now judged good or outstanding at their most recent inspection, a slight increase from 88% at the end of last year.

While school inspections show a broadly positive picture, current realities in education and social care include persistent gaps in children’s learning and increasing demands for additional services that are already overstretched. High demand for special education needs and/or disabilities (SEND) and mental health services is particularly straining limited resources.

The report finds continued pressure on social care with increasing demand and limited supply meaning the right provision and support for children and young people is not always available locally. The pressure has led to an increasing number of children ending up in unregistered placements, often deprived of liberty or living too far from home.

The best performing local authorities and providers have mitigated these issues, to provide continually good, and sometimes improved, practice for children and their families. However, there is still too much national disparity in the services and support children receive.

Unregistered homes represent a significant issue in the social care sector. Last year, Ofsted identified 370 such premises that were operating illegally. Most closed when they were challenged.

In addition, the report describes the recruitment and retention issues across education and social care:

  • In the early years, providers are having to either use agency staff and apprentices to maintain child staff ratios or scale down their provision.
  • In schools, staff shortages are reducing expert teaching, increasing stress, limiting intervention when children struggle, and creating a barrier to teachers accessing training and development.
  • In further education and skills, shortages in key industries are tempting tutors back into the workplace because their skills command a premium.
  • Social care providers are competing against roles in sectors like hospitality, and in social work there is an overreliance on agency social workers.

Every Annual Report over the last 7 years has highlighted that some children are invisible to authorities, including children in illegal unregistered schools. Most of these places offer a poor standard of education and many are unsafe. Without new legislation, Ofsted’s powers to investigate and close these schools remain limited.  

As well as illegal schools, there are children in unregistered alternative provision (AP). Currently, not all AP needs to be registered or inspected, leading to a wide disparity of provision for some of the most vulnerable children. Where AP is registered, inspection outcomes are worse than for other schools. Tackling substandard unregistered AP and improving registered provision must be priorities.

  1. The Annual Report is underpinned by evidence from Ofsted’s inspections and visits to education and social care providers. It also draws on findings from research, evaluation, data and analysis published during the past academic year.

Sector Response

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“This report rightly reflects the achievements of schools, which have come against a difficult backdrop post-pandemic – including a cost of living crisis, continued funding challenges, and amid a growing crisis in staff recruitment and retention.

“Pupil attendance and behaviour are of course important, and school leaders see both as significant challenges right now. But they are not just a matter for schools and parents. They are impacted by the government’s failure to invest enough in help for families through social care, mental health services, and to fix the broken, under-funded SEND system, which is failing to ensure children get the support they need.

“However, Ofsted still seems to be in denial about the growing consensus across the education sector that as an inspectorate, it needs fundamental reform. We do not recognise the picture being painted of schools being largely positive about the inspection process – our evidence tells a very different story.

“Ofsted inspections have a damaging, sometimes dangerous, impact upon staff mental health and wellbeing – fuelling difficulties in recruitment and retention – and its single-word judgements are neither fair nor consistent.  The limited changes Ofsted has introduced so far, do not go nearly far enough.

“Our new findings, published today, find that 85% of our members are ‘unconfident’ or ‘very unconfident’ in Ofsted. Nearly two-thirds (64%) disagreed that headline grades are reliable, and Ofsted pressures were most frequently identified as the factor which had the biggest impact on members’ mental health over the last year.

“We stand ready to work with government and the incoming Ofsted chief inspector to discuss the reforms that are so desperately needed.”

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT – the Teachers’ Union, said:

“Ofsted’s Annual Report confirms that although teachers in England’s schools face serious and unprecedented challenges, they continue to provide children and young people with an extremely high standard of education. These achievements for pupils have been secured despite the chaotic and short-sighted actions of the Government and its ministers.

“This Government is responsible for the worst teacher recruitment and retention crisis in living memory. Teacher workload remains at unacceptable levels, not least because on top of escalating administrative duties, many are working with pupils to compensate for a lack of local supporting services in health and social care. The evidence of poor and declining wellbeing across the teaching profession is beyond dispute.

“It is past time that ministers recognise that the high quality of education provision Ofsted highlights cannot be sustained under such severe circumstances. Urgent measures are required to secure the current and future supply of teachers and to ensure that they are fairly rewarded, trained, and supported for the huge differences they make to the lives of children and young people every day.” 

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Amanda Spielman’s observation that the social contract between parents and schools has been fractured reflects what we are hearing from many school leaders. There has indeed been a troubling shift in pupil behaviour, attendance and attitudes towards education since the pandemic, and parents are increasingly willing to challenge school rules themselves.

“This applies to a minority of parents and pupils, but it is a significant problem, absorbing time and energy and putting school leaders and staff under enormous additional pressure and stress. We appeal to parents to understand that school rules are there for the good of the whole school community and to support their schools.

“There also needs to be a much greater focus by the government to address the wider issues which are often associated with these problems. Poor mental health, unmet special educational needs, and a lack of funding and support services are all part of this picture. It will be difficult to rebuild the social contract between parents and schools without also rebuilding the infrastructure of family support services which has been eroded over the past 13 years.

“Ofsted’s annual report also draws attention to the staff recruitment and retention issues in early years, schools and further education. Nothing we heard in the Autumn Statement yesterday encourages us to think that there is any meaningful recognition of these problems on the part of the government. Ministers must take a more strategic approach which addresses pay and systemic workload pressures.

“Finally, we would like to thank Amanda Spielman for the constructive way in which she has engaged and worked with ASCL over the past seven years as Ofsted Chief Inspector. We have not always agreed but she has always listened and responded. The inspection system needs fundamental reform to scrap punitive and counterproductive graded judgements – but that is a decision which lies with the government.”

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“The hard work and tremendous achievement of schools is done against a backdrop of incredible challenges. This Ofsted report highlights these issues, which are not of schools’ making. Teacher recruitment and retention and a lack of support for SEND students is a direct failure by Government to ensure that all children and young people get the education they deserve. It is no coincidence that attendance issues are increasing alongside waiting times for access to SEND specialist and mental health support services. School staff have been raising these issues, and picking up the pieces, for years and have been ignored by a Government intent on saving money not young people’s lives. 

“It is quite clear that pupils and parents have been sorely let down by a Government that refused to fund a proper recovery package post-COVID and have done nothing to address the fact that there is now a significant shortage of people going into the profession. Of those who do enter the profession a quarter of recruits leave within three years of qualifying, and a third within five. The strain that this has put on schools is evident with teacher shortages across the curriculum. 

“The system is also being let down by Ofsted. As was clear from Amanda Spielman’s valedictory interview with the BBC today, this is an organisation incapable of self-scrutiny. Nor is there a listening mode when it comes to feedback from teachers and heads. The Beyond Ofsted report, published this week, shows all too clearly that the current regime is not fit for purpose and Ofsted is out of touch with the profession. 93% of the Beyond Ofsted survey respondents said they experienced high levels of personal stress during an inspection. This is why we need a very different system – one that is effective, supportive and fair.” 

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