Only schools with ‘excellent’ vocational provision should be rated outstanding, says charity

The Edge Foundation has hit out at schools for focussing too much on academic subjects and said that Ofsted should save its coveted ‘outstanding’ rating for only those which excel in teaching technical education.

The charity wants the watchdog to limit the top inspection grade to schools “that are able to demonstrate excellence in creative and technical teaching as well as for traditional academic subjects”.

It follows calls from Lucy Noble, the director of the Royal Albert Hall, for the creative arts to be compulsory at GCSE. It also comes after entries to GCSEs in performing or expressive arts subjects nosedived by 40 per cent.

The recommendation from Edge was made in the charity’s Skills Shortages bulletin, which features data from the Department for Education’s employer skills survey and Open University Business Barometer.

DfE data shows that the number of skills shortage vacancies has more than doubled since 2011 to 266,000.

Edge is particularly worried about the decline of creative and technical subjects in the wake of the introduction of the EBacc, a school performance measure which favours academic subjects over the arts and vocational courses. Entries to design and technology GCSE, for example, have fallen by 57 per cent since 2010.

Commenting in the report, Professor Roger Kneebone from Education at Imperial College, London, said: “It is a concern of mine and my scientific colleagues that whereas in the past you could make the assumption that students would leave school able to do certain practical things – cutting things out, making things – that is no longer the case.

“We have students who have very high exam grades, but lack tactile general knowledge so they struggle even to perform chemistry experiments. An obvious example is of a surgeon needing some dexterity and skill in sewing or stitching. It can be traced back to the sweeping out of creative subjects from the curriculum; it is important and an increasingly urgent issue.”

The report also recommends that the government restore creative subjects “back into the heart of the curriculum”, and says higher and FE providers must be “properly resourced to deliver creative courses”.

It also calls for the apprenticeship levy to be “tailored to industry needs”.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Outstanding schools are those in which the quality of teaching, learning and assessment is outstanding, where all other judgements are likely to be outstanding and where pupils thrive thanks to the promotion of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

“We have often said that pupils deserve to benefit from a broad and rich curriculum, and that schools should not teach to the test. Our education inspection framework, which will go out to consultation in January, will focus on the substance of education when it takes effect in September 2019.

“We will propose new criteria for outstanding as part of that consultation.”