From education to employment

Sixth Forms squeezed ‘by drive to skills sector and manic rush to create academies and free schools’, former Ofsted chief tells teacher conference

Sir Michael Wilshaw says sector outperforms school sixth forms despite funding pressures but education is ‘running out of road in terms of raising standards’

Former Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has told teachers at a leading Sixth Form that sixth forms in the FE sector are out-performing those in schools despite the enormous financial pressures the sector faces.

Sir Michael, the keynote speaker at a teacher conference at Christ the King Sixth Form,  one of the largest and most successful 16-18 providers in London and the South East, said: ‘The evidence clearly demonstrates that you outperform school sixth forms, especially for youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.

He said political attention had been monopolised by the drive to set up academies and free schools. ‘The thrust has been to set up schools however small and underperforming, as long as they are academies or free schools. Or grammars – I could spend all day on that one.

‘Your sector is being squeezed by drive to skills sector and manic rush to create academies and free schools.’

He told teachers at Christ the King, where some 1,000 students a year progress to university, many in the elite Russell Group, that its achievement was an ‘incredible testimony to your work’.

Speaking after the conference, Sir Michael said: ‘We need more money in education. You [the sector] can’t do much more with the resources you’ve got.’

He added: ‘There is a huge problem about capacity’, adding that not enough time was spent on capacity issues. ‘Have we got enough teachers in every sector? Are they good enough, are they evenly spread? It’s a resource issue. If we carry on like this we’re going to run out of teachers and road in terms of raising standards.

Sir Michael said that the ‘enormous improvements’ in standards were ‘partly because there was money’ via initiatives such as the pupil premium.

He added: ‘It’s not all about money, but money pays a big part.’ 

Sir Michael, who was addressing staff at Christ the King’s annual teaching and learning conference, said he believed that ‘the great, urgent national concern’ is social mobility. ‘Why are we not getting enough poor children to top universities? It can only be done through education.’

Asked about teacher numbers, he said ‘it was no good [politicians] saying it [was top priority] now. It’s never been good in terms of recruitment and retention.’

He said much depended on the perception of teaching as a profession, remaking than none of his three children had chosen teaching as a career. 

He said he was supporting a group of schools in the Midlands in which one had a third of staff on supply or temporary contracts.

‘Is it [teaching] sexy enough?, he wondered.

But he said he thought the expansion in the international schools market was a major challenge in terms of getting – and keeping – teachers into British schools. ‘We’re hemorrhaging teachers abroad – places like Dubai – where the pay is better and the conditions are better.’

Christ the King Collegiate Principal Rob McAuliffe said it had been a thrill to have Sir Michael address the teaching staff at the start of the school year: ‘We’re delighted to have been able to attract such a high-calibre key speaker, and his support for the work of sixth forms such as Christ the King was truly uplifting. Our students achieved some exceptional A-level results this year and are heading off to some of the best universities in the country. While, as Sir Michael said, funding pressures remain a challenge in the post-16 sector, the Christ the King community goes from strength to strength.’  

Christ the King Sixth Form is oversubscribed and is one of the highest performing sixth form providers in south east London with approximately 3,000 students across three sites.

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