OFSTED Head: Half of Secondary Students Failed by UK Education System


Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw has warned the UK government that a one-size-fits-all approach to secondary education doesn’t help non-academic students get the most that education has to offer them.

Wilshaw says more vocational options would reduce youth unemployment and help students use their non-academic talents. The UK “cannot continue to fail half its future,” Wilshaw said as he addressed the liberal CenterForum thinktank earlier this week.

The secondary education system doesn’t do justice to students that are less academically inclined, Wilshaw said, warning that the one-size-fits-all system does nothing to prepare that slice of students for the modern marketplace. Condemning the government’s work, the chief of Ofsted said the percentage of unemployed youth is largely the result of a lack of vocational training opportunities and support. The Ofsted chief warned:

“Our responsibilities as educators do not end when students fail to attain our targets,” Wilshaw said. “On the contrary, the written off and the ‘failed’ need our help most and we should never forget it.”

Wilshaw said students who are under-performing at 16 or are not interested in an academic path currently have poor alternatives. This has been the case for the last 50 years, he added, arguing that the level and efficiency of vocational training was under scrutiny on numerous occasions. He explained that it’s an ethical and economic imperative to make vocational training more tailored to students choosing further education colleges and technical education.

As Sally Weale reports for the Guardian, when students at 16 get lower than a C grade in Math and English, they’re less likely to have substantial progress at further education schools.

Wilshaw said that an inclusive approach is necessary to ensure all students can adequately prepare for the job market. He characterized the level of career support and marketplace-readiness that schools and colleges provide as ‘uniformly weak’. Disadvantaged students and those failing their exams deserve a second chance and support to pursue a more technical path, The Daily Mail reported Wilshaw as saying.

In his keynote speech, he called for a transformation of vocational training that stops it from being “dumping ground for the disaffected [that] cater just for the lower-ability youngsters.”

Offering the Mossbourne Academy in Hackney as an example, Wilshaw said that about 2 in 10 students not doing well in their exams ended up in further education colleges receiving a generic education that did nothing in terms of offering them skills and know-how that could get them a job later on. He added:

“As somebody who was motivated by moral purpose, I always felt that I was letting down a significant number of good children who deserved better. Talk to any good secondary head and they would say much the same.”

To back up his claims, Wilshaw said that a City and Guilds study shows that efficient vocational training systems are linked to low rates of unemployment, the BBC reports. Compared to the UK’s 12 percent youth unemployment, countries with comprehensive vocational training systems have less unemployed youth, with Germany’s at 7 percent and Switzerland at 3.7 percent.

Commenting on a new study, Wilshaw said that almost half students do not meet academic benchmarks even though the attainment gap has been significantly reduced in the last ten years, The Telegraph says.