Almost three in four schools previously exempt from Ofsted inspections have been stripped of their ‘outstanding’ status in the first round of published reports.
Those downgraded have not been inspected for a combined 235 years. Ash Church of England Primary School, in Somerset, was rated ‘requires improvement’ across the board after it was inspected for the first time in 15 years.
Nearly all of those downgraded were standalone schools – likely to heighten concerns that schools not able to access curriculum support from larger trusts are disadvantaged.
First reports give glimpse into Ofsted ‘outstanding’ crackdown
Twenty-three reports relating to ‘outstanding’ schools were published yesterday. Of those, 19 were graded, section 5 inspections. Four were shorter section 8 inspections.
Top-rated schools are being routinely inspected this term for the first time since 2010 after an exemption was removed.
All ‘outstanding’ schools last visited before 2015 will get a full inspection, while those awarded the top grade since then will face short inspections.
Seventeen schools lost their ‘outstanding’ status – 74 per cent of all reports. While 12 dropped to ‘good’, five were rated ‘requires improvement’.
It is a small sample size, so it is hard to draw wider conclusions. But Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, suggested earlier this week the number of top-rated schools would halve after visits under the new framework.
She said one in 10 schools achieving the top grade “might be a more realistic starting point for the system”.
Prior to Thursday’s reports, one in five English schools (4,133) were ‘outstanding’.
Which schools are being downgraded?
Of the 17 downgraded schools, all but one is a primary.
The average size of a downgraded primary is slightly below the national average – 226 pupils compared to 282 (the average school size in 2019).
The secondary school that was downgraded is larger than average.
All but one of the 17 downgraded schools are standalone schools, either local-authority maintained or voluntary-aided.
All five schools downgraded two grades were rated ‘requires improvement’ in the ‘quality of education’ section. This is a limiting judgment, meaning schools cannot then gain a higher judgment for overall effectiveness.
At Ash Church, inspectors noted that while “leaders’ plans for improvement have slowed because of the pandemic… the lack of professional development has contributed to a weak curriculum”.
The other two-grade drop schools received ‘good’ ratings in at least two other sections.
Elsewhere, Cove Infant School was pulled up for “weaknesses in the reading curriculum” which “stifled” pupils’ progress.
Natasha Vass, the school’s headteacher, said the judgment was “disappointing” but it has a robust school improvement plan to “turn around the outcome of the inspection relatively swiftly”.
Other schools did not respond to requests for comment.
New inspections ‘challenging and exacting’
Ofsted has sought to soften the blow this week. Chris Russell, the watchdog’s national director of education, said there was “no doubt that under” the current inspection framework that ‘outstanding’ is a “challenging and exacting judgment to achieve.
“So it does mean that you need to be very careful, if, for example, a school that has been judged ‘outstanding’ a good many years ago is inspected again and judged to be ‘good’.
“That doesn’t mean that the school has declined in recent years, in fact the opposite can be the case, so very important, I think, in those circumstances, to read the inspection report really carefully.”
But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), warned this was “not much comfort to the schools inspected”. It is also “not an easy message to get across to parents and communities”, he added.
Section 5 reports of downgraded schools include a caveat immediately below the judgment which makes clear the previous inspection was under a different framework.
Reports added: “This reflected the school’s overall effectiveness under the inspection framework in use at the time… Judgments in this report are based on the current inspection framework and also reflect changes that may have happened at any point since the last inspection.”
Majority of lighter touch visits still ‘outstanding’
Meanwhile, of the four schools with a section 8 visit, three kept their ‘outstanding’ grade.
However, Ofsted found “the inspection grade might not be as high if a full inspection were carried out now” at Hiltingbury Infant School, in Eastleigh. It will now face a full inspection.
Unless Ofsted has serious concerns over safeguarding or quality of education, these follow-up inspections will usually take place “within one to two years”.