DfE plans to lift inspection exemption for 'outstanding' schools from September

Gavin Williamson has vowed to send Ofsted inspectors into every ‘outstanding’-rated school in England within five years, as he confirmed an earlier pledge to lift their inspection exemption.

The education secretary announced last September that the exemption, introduced by Michael Gove in 2012, would finally be abandoned. It followed repeated warnings from Ofsted that it was masking poor performance in schools that are currently protected from scrutiny.

Williamson has today confirmed that subject to consultation and a Parliamentary vote, the exemption will be lifted in September this year. Around 3,700 schools and colleges which currently hold the top grade will get a visit from inspectors within five years, the normal timescale for inspections of ‘good’-rated schools.

However, questions remain over how the clampdown will be funded.

Although an additional £10 million in funding was promised to Ofsted by Boris Johnson during last year’s election campaign, this is also supposed to cover a plan to lengthen inspections generally, and also a pilot of no-notice inspections.

Schools Week understands Ofsted believes the lifting of the outstanding exemption will cost between £5 million and £10 million, so additional funding is likely to be needed on top of the cash already promised.

The Department for Education this week said it was not in a position to reveal how much additional money would be sent to the watchdog. That was a matter for the upcoming spending review.

Ofsted’s core funding dropped from £185 million in 2010-11 to £125 million this year.

Despite this, the inspectorate has for the past year been conducting a clampdown on underperformance in schools exempt from inspection, and has already begun hiring additional staff to boost the number of inspections.

Schools Week revealed last November that the proportion of secondary schools that lost their ‘outstanding’ rating almost doubled last year. Just 16 per cent of schools inspected under the clampdown retained the top grade.

Williamson said: “Parents want to know that they are making the best, most informed choices about their children’s education.

“Making sure that all schools are regularly inspected means they will benefit from the expert insight Ofsted provides when making these decisions.”

The move has been welcomed by headteachers’ unions.

Nick Brook, NAHT’s deputy general secretary, said it was important the policy was “applied fairly to all currently exempt schools”.

ASCL deputy policy director Duncan Baldwin added while the original exemption was “well-intentioned”, it had resulted in parents “going too long without the verification of an inspection at a number of schools”.

From September, previously exempt schools that were last inspected after September 2015 will receive short inspections, while those not inspected since before that date will receive full inspections.