Twofold rise in secondaries losing 'outstanding' rating under Ofsted clampdown

The proportion of secondary schools that lost their ‘outstanding’ rating almost doubled last year amid a clampdown on underperforming schools that are exempt from inspection.

Ofsted analysis of inspection data, seen by Schools Week, shows 75 per cent of previously ‘outstanding’ secondary schools inspected during the 2018-19 academic year were downgraded, compared with just 38 per cent of those inspected in 2017-18.

This does suggest it is now harder to achieve and maintain an outstanding grade

At primary level, 86 per cent of schools were downgraded, up from 80 per cent the previous year.

Stephen Rollett, curriculum and inspection specialist at the school leaders’ union ASCL said the increase in those being downgraded, coupled with the “more stringent” criteria in Ofsted’s new framework, “does suggest it is now harder to achieve and maintain an outstanding grade”.

Under a rule introduced by Michael Gove in 2012, ‘outstanding’ primary and secondary schools are currently exempt from routine inspection, but Ofsted can go in if it has concerns about their performance or safeguarding processes.

But Ofsted has upped inspections of ‘outstanding’ schools after a request by ministers, who have since announced that the exemption will be scrapped.

The diktat was handed down following concerns that hundreds of schools had not been inspected for a decade.

Management information published by Ofsted covering inspections up to August 31 this year shows 382 “exempt” schools were inspected in 2018-19, a 156 per cent rise on the 149 inspected in 2017-18. It means Ofsted met its target to reinspect 10 per cent of ‘outstanding’ schools in a year.

Of those inspected last year, just 16 per cent retained their ‘outstanding’ grade, while 55 per cent were downgraded to ‘good’, 23 per cent fell to ‘requires improvement’ and 5 per cent (19 schools) dropped to ‘inadequate’.

Overall, 86 per cent of exempt primary schools and 75 per cent of secondaries inspected in 2018-19 were downgraded. In 2017-18, 80 per cent of primaries and 38 per cent of secondaries lost the top grade, with 67 per cent of schools overall falling to a lower grade.

Analysis of the management information also shows that the proportion of schools rated ‘outstanding’ by the watchdog has fallen from 19 per cent as of August 2018 to 18 per cent as of August this year.

Rollet added it was “important” parents know the “bar has been raised”. “In light of Ofsted’s intention to lift the exemption for all outstanding schools we hope the inspectorate will be clear with schools and communities that the goalposts have moved. It is important that everyone understands that the bar is being raised and that a school moving from outstanding to good is seen in this context.”

Ofsted would not comment on the figures because of the pre-election period, but Amanda Spielman has previously warned that the proportion of ‘outstanding’ schools losing their ratings “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,” the chief inspector said earlier this year.

“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.”

Spielman has stated before that she believes most ‘outstanding’ schools “are still doing outstanding work”, but argued that, “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”.

In September, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, finally gave Spielman her wish as he announced plans to lift the exemption, though the process of making the change, which requires legislation, has not yet begun.

“Every parent wants to know their child is getting a great education and I will leave no stone unturned in my drive to deliver that,” Williamson said at the time.

Later that month, it was revealed that Ofsted had launched a £2 million recruitment drive to hire an additional 30 inspectors to help it deal with the increased frequency of inspections.

Ofsted was due to publish its annual report in the coming weeks, but its publication has been postponed until January because of the election.