By law, outstanding primary and secondary schools are exempt from routine inspection, but they can be inspected if Ofsted has concerns about their performance.
This academic year, Ofsted has substantially increased the number of exempt outstanding schools it inspects. This is partly due to concerns about some schools having been exempt for so long that parents can no longer have confidence in their outstanding grade.
Between 1 September 2018 and 31 March 2019, Ofsted inspected 305 outstanding primary and secondary schools. This represents 8% of all exempt schools and is more than double the number inspected during the 2017 to 2018 academic year.
Given most of these inspections are carried out because the school’s performance appears to be declining, it is not surprising for a large proportion to lose the top grading. The schools inspected are not typical of all outstanding schools.
However, only 49 of 305 (16%) exempt schools inspected so far this academic year have remained outstanding, compared to 49 of 150 (33%) such schools inspected between 1 September 2017 and 31 August 2018.
Among those schools that lost the top rating, 166 were judged to be good (54%), while 76 were found to require improvement (25%) and 14 were rated inadequate (5%).
In keeping with the trend reported in each of the previous 2 years, more primary than secondary schools lost their outstanding grade. Only 31 of 239 of exempt primary schools remained outstanding this year (13%), while 18 out of 66 secondary schools kept the top grade (27%).
Commenting on today’s figures, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said:
Today’s figures are not particularly surprising, but they should still set alarm bells ringing.
The fact that outstanding schools are largely exempt from inspection leaves us with real gaps in our knowledge about the quality of education and safeguarding in these schools. Some of them have not been inspected for over a decade, and when our inspectors go back in, they sometimes find standards have significantly declined.
We believe most schools judged outstanding are still doing outstanding work. But for the outstanding grade to be properly meaningful and a genuine beacon of excellence, the exemption should be lifted and Ofsted resourced to routinely inspect these schools.
Today’s figures also show a slight drop in the overall proportion of schools judged good or outstanding at their most recent inspection; from 87% in August 2017, down to 85% at the end of March 2019. Outcomes continue to be higher for primary schools (87% good or outstanding) than secondary schools (75%).
Ofsted’s 2018 Annual Report identified 490 ‘stuck schools’, which had been judged inadequate, satisfactory or requires improvement at every inspection received between 1 September 2005 and 31 August 2018. Since 1 September 2018, Ofsted has inspected over 100 of these schools, and so far more than half have improved to good or outstanding. However, today’s statistics show that around 430 schools are currently stuck in a cycle of poor outcomes.