Primary and nursery schools

In schools receiving full inspections in Key Stages 1 and 2, pupils’ achievements, as judged by inspectors, in English, mathematics and science are good or better in just over half of primary schools. However, the gulf between what pupils achieve in the core subjects and in the rest of the curriculum remains a concern. Pupils’ achievements in art, music and ICT, are good in about four in ten schools. Achievement in geography is good in under a quarter of schools, and achievement in design and technology, history and religious education is only marginally better.

Pupils’ achievements in ICT continue to improve, but there are more schools in which achievement in ICT is unsatisfactory than in any other subject. Nevertheless, over half of schools have made significant progress in ICT since their previous inspection. Pupils at Key Stage 1 can generally use a number of ICT applications confidently, such as when drawing pictures and combining illustrations and text; they are beginning to handle and sort simple data with confidence. At Key Stage 2, pupils find the creative and presentational aspects of ICT motivating and rewarding, including desktop publishing and multimedia presentations. However, only about a quarter of schools make good use of computers to support the work in other subjects.

Quality of teaching

The gulf between the quality of teaching in the core subjects and the other foundation subjects is a cause for concern. For example, in two thirds of schools having a full inspection, the teaching of English and mathematics is good or better, whereas in under half of schools, the teaching of geography, history, design and technology, and religious education was good or better. Too often, in many foundation subjects, teaching fails to enthuse or challenge pupils. Pupils’ achievement is then judged to be no better than satisfactory, when other indicators, such as performance in English, suggest it should be good.

There has again been greater improvement in the teaching of ICT than other subjects. The proportion of schools with good or better teaching in ICT now stands at just over half. The proportion of unsatisfactory lessons (one in twelve) continues to reduce, but is still higher than in other subjects. The lack of application of ICT in other subjects is the main weakness, especially in Key Stage 2; the ineffective application of ICT in other subjects can distract pupils.

Quality of the curriculum

Most subjects continue to be planned and taught separately, particularly English, mathematics, physical education, ICT, religious education and music. The majority of schools use the schemes of work of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to help with the planning. Where these schemes are used most effectively, schools have adapted them to meet their particular needs: for example, to complement the existing curriculum, to align with available resources or to meet the needs of mixed-age classes.

A relatively low proportion – about one in sixteen – of primary schools having a full inspection can demonstrate the ability to combine high standards in the core subjects with a particularly rich and varied curriculum. In these successful schools the curriculum is typically characterised by a strong emphasis on the humanities, physical education and especially the creative arts. The headteacher and the staff of these schools show a willingness to be creative and innovative in designing the curriculum, taking account of statutory requirements and the values and aspirations they have for their pupils. In these schools:

  • the curriculum is usually planned and taught as separate subjects but with effective links between subjects that strengthen the relevance and coherence of the teaching and learning
  • there is good use of first-hand experience, and an extensive range of extra-curricular activities is offered to enhance pupils’ learning and motivation
  • curricular planning makes efficient use of ICT

Provision for personal, social and health education is good or better in almost two thirds of schools having a full inspection. The quality of policies on drug education and sex and relationships education continues to improve. There is a significant increase in the number of schools with policies for dealing with drug-related incidents. Many schools have introduced or developed the work of school councils to promote aspects of citizenship education. However, schools’ approaches to citizenship remain ill-defined and insufficient attention is given to some important aspects.

Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development continues to be a strength in the majority of schools. Provision for pupils’ moral and social development in half the schools inspected is very good or excellent. Provision for spiritual and cultural development, on the other hand, is very good or excellent in only one school in five. As reported last year, schools most frequently fail to take sufficient account of the diversity of cultural backgrounds among their own pupils and within society as a whole.

Secondary Schools

Standards achieved by pupils

The standards achieved by pupils in secondary schools in National Curriculum tests and GCSE/GNVQ examinations continue to improve slowly. Inspection evidence reflects this rise in pupils’ achievements at both key stages. The achievement of pupils is now good or better in two thirds of all secondary schools inspected. It remains higher in Key Stage 4 than in Key Stage 3. In schools having a full inspection, pupils’ achievements are highest in art, physical education and history and lowest in information and communication technology (ICT), religious education and modern foreign languages.

At GCSE, boys achieve almost as well as girls in mathematics, science, business studies and physical education. Girls achieve significantly higher standards than boys in modern foreign languages, English, religious education and some creative or design-based subjects. An HMI study of the achievement of boys confirmed that schools where boys regularly attain as well as girls, or where boys are improving at a faster rate than girls, provide:

  • a positive learning ethos, high expectations and good support for pupils, based on close monitoring
  • carefully structured work, and a variety of strategies to ensure that boys engage actively in their learning
  • freedom for pupils to choose options they value, and good extra-curricular provision.

Leadership and management

There are features commonly associated with the good management of subjects. Effective middle managers:

  • make sure that the teachers in their teams play a full part in the management of the subject by delegating tasks to them
  • have the ability to sustain their own motivation and that of other staff
  • ensure that the development and implementation of subject policies and practices reflect those of the school, with development planning setting appropriate expectations in relation to pupils’ achievement and the quality of teaching
  • analyse attainment data to identify and help underachieving pupils and have effective approaches to assessing, recording and reporting on pupils’ achievement.

96. As last year, learning resources remain inadequate in one in six schools. Shortages of textbooks and computers, together with limited library facilities, are the most common deficiencies. While the ratio of computers to pupils continues to improve, in some schools there are still insufficient computers available to support both timetabled ICT lessons and to provide a reasonable level of access in all subjects.

Quality of teaching and learning

In most schools, few subjects make good use of computers and so most miss opportunities to build on pupils’ ICT skills in a range of contexts. Many schools successfully address particular aspects of ICT in other subjects, for example, control technology in design and technology, but those that try to ensure pupils’ progress across all strands of ICT capability in this way usually fail to do so. This approach uses appropriate and sometimes exciting contexts for ICT, but often only consolidates existing skills, rather than extending knowledge, skills and understanding.

Quality of the curriculum


Most schools made adequate preparations for the introduction of the statutory programme of study in citizenship in September 2002. An audit of existing provision was a common starting-point. The most thorough audits go beyond the logging of coverage to establish where departments have the potential to make an explicit contribution to citizenship objectives, clear to teachers and pupils. However, a minority of schools gave the issue a low priority.

There is still a high incidence of non-compliance with curriculum requirements. At Key Stage 3 only seven out of every ten schools fully comply with requirements; at Key Stage 4 just over half the schools do. The biggest problem remains the provision for ICT, with nearly three schools in ten at Key Stage 3 and four schools in ten at Key Stage 4 still not meeting statutory requirements. Even with the considerable support offered through the National Grid for Learning and the New Opportunities Fund, progress in the use of ICT is still slow in many schools. Provision for religious education at Key Stage 4 also fails to meet statutory requirements in three out of ten schools, although entries for the GCSE short course in religious education are increasing and this subject now has one of the largest GCSE entry rates beyond the core subjects.

As in previous years, less than a quarter of secondary schools comply with the requirement for a daily act of collective worship for all pupils, except those withdrawn by parents. Few schools have the facilities to hold daily assemblies for all pupils under one roof, but many endeavour to overcome this problem by introducing daily or weekly themes to be addressed in tutor time. While this approach can provide good opportunities for reflection, it is often implemented inconsistently, with the ‘thought for the day’ treated as a mere formality in some tutor groups.

Provision for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development has improved. Rarely less than satisfactory, provision is now very good or excellent in three schools in ten, and good or better in more than seven in ten schools. However, weaknesses remain:

  • although planning for spiritual development has improved, it is still unsatisfactory in over a quarter of schools having full inspections
  • in relation to moral and social development, some schools need to do more to provide pupils with opportunities to reflect on issues that affect them, the school and the wider community
  • schools whose populations are drawn largely or solely from one cultural background sometimes need to ensure that their pupils learn more about the ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of modern Britain.


The introduction of a statutory requirement on schools to promote race equality came late in the school year. Many schools, including ethnically diverse schools, were in a position to build on previous work in this area so that pupils could learn about traditions other than their own. Ethnically diverse schools generally recognise that the pupils themselves are a strong resource for teaching cultural awareness and developing an understanding of race.

143. The personal, social and health education (PSHE) curriculum is good or better in three fifths of schools having full inspections. It is often a strong feature of the curriculum in middle schools. Where provision is unsatisfactory, the problem is more often inconsistent teaching than inadequate planning. The most effective teaching is by teachers with a special interest and expertise in the subject, while nearly all the poor teaching is by form tutors in schools where all tutors are involved in providing the programme.

Sex and relationships education is almost always taught within the PSHE programme, although some aspects of it are usually covered in science and religious education. Teaching about sexual health, including sexually transmitted diseases, and about the law in relation to sex, is poor in one in five lessons. Good planning of the curriculum puts the emphasis on pupils to make informed choices and take responsibility for their actions, as well as imparting knowledge to them. The best schemes of work promote continuity and progression by linking PSHE with those made in other subjects, and enabling pupils to revisit and extend their learning throughout their time in school. Under a third of schools actively seek the opinions of their pupils in establishing their programme of sex and relationships education. In those schools that do, the resulting programme better matches pupils’ levels of understanding and needs.

Almost all schools now have policies on drugs education and for dealing with drug-related incidents. Policies are generally good, although they are unsatisfactory in one school in ten. In planning the curriculum, the most successful approaches involve teachers with special expertise, and focus on helping pupils to develop their values and attitudes, and the personal skills they need to make sensible choices. Again, the level of involvement of parents and pupils in reviewing and developing programmes remains disappointingly low.

Post-compulsory education

Leadership and management

Sixth forms are generally well led and managed, and subject leadership is satisfactory. More than half the sixth forms inspected do not, however, meet statutory requirements in respect of religious education.

Teacher training, development and supply

Trainees usually start their training with strong personal ICT skills and most courses prepare trainees to know when, and when not, to use new technologies such as the Internet or interactive whiteboards in their teaching. Newly qualified teachers generally accept that ICT needs to be an integral part of their professional life. However, in-school training in the practical use of ICT in subject-teaching still requires development in many partnerships. Provision for ICT, even in otherwise good subject departments, is too variable, and can result in meagre opportunities for trainees to use computers with classes. Despite this, the best trainees use considerable initiative to ensure that they gain sufficient experience of using ICT with their pupils.


The work ahead

Ofsted will continue to give priority to reporting on the effect of national policies and initiatives, including those concerned with:

  • school implementation of citizenship education (11-16).