Secondary School Key Stage

Key stage three pupils too low a priority, chief inspector of schools says

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools.Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

The report concluded that a number of schools give a low priority to the first three years of secondary education, known as key stage three, which affects pupils aged 11 to 14. Instead, many schools assign their best teachers to the pupils who are taking high-pressure GCSE and A-level exams.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said results at GCSE level would not improve until the earlier years were given a higher priority.

He said: “The importance of a good start to secondary school education cannot be overstated. School leaders need to have a clear understanding of their pupils’ achievements in primary school and build on them effectively from the day they start secondary school life.”

Related: Headteachers too soft on unruly pupils, says Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw

School leaders challenged Wilshaw’s claims, arguing that Ofsted largely judges schools based on exam results and ignores investment in younger pupils. Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “The situation is partly of their own making.”

The report – entitled “Key Stage 3: the wasted years?” – was based in part on the findings from 51 inspections in June and July this year, and found significant weaknesses in some subjects, as well as low-level disruption in classrooms. It also used a database of nearly 2, 000 previous inspections, interviews with 100 school leaders and questionnaires from pupils.

The report applauded schools for providing a broad and balanced curriculum – with almost all schools offering the full range of subjects – and for doing a good job of improving literacy.

However, Ofsted said that in just under half of foreign language classes observed, achievement was not good enough, and that was also the case in a substantial number of history and geography classes.

Wilshaw said: “Inspectors have found that pupils often leave primary school with good literacy and numeracy skills, confident and eager to learn, but their progress then stalls when they start secondary school. In too many schools, the quality of teaching is not adequately preparing children for their next stage in education.”

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents mainly secondary school heads, said Ofsted’s conclusions were flawed because its inspectors did not visit schools classed as outstanding.

He said: “It also needs to be understood that the education system demands an intense emphasis on the later years because of the importance of results in GCSEs and A-levels. Schools have no choice but to focus more of their resources in this direction, while balancing this demand against the need to give 11 to 14-year-olds a good foundation.”

Related: Gove considered removing Wilshaw as Ofsted chief, memo reveals

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, noted that Ofsted had changed its inspection regime to improve reliability, letting go of 1, 200 of its inspectors.

She said: “Yet it is on the basis of school inspection reports drawn up under this unreliable framework, many written by the inspectors who were not retained, that Ofsted is now drawing conclusions in this provocative report.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “It is vital that all pupils receive an excellent standard of education at every stage of their school career – and we will not tolerate a single day wasted.

“That is why our new Progress 8 measure will change the way that we hold secondary schools to account – by measuring the progress that all pupils, including the most able and those who have struggled, make throughout key stage three and four.”


Interesting facts:

Often, people are educated through a series of educational stages, such as primary school and university. They vary around the world, and not every person will attend the same stages. Some countries describe the different stages in years, whereas other countries use...

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