Ofsted strips most ‘outstanding’ schools of top rating in first round of reports

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Ofsted has downgraded the majority of “outstanding” schools – which were previously exempt from inspections – in the first round of published reports.

More than two in three schools previously judged as outstanding have been stripped of their top rating following Ofsted inspections in September, an analysis by PA news agency suggests.

All schools previously judged by Ofsted as outstanding are no longer exempt from routine inspection.

The move follows concerns that hundreds of schools given the top rating have not been reassessed for years – and in some cases more than a decade.

The watchdog began full inspections of previously exempt schools this term, and those that have gone the longest without inspection were prioritised.

So far, 26 reports relating to inspections of outstanding schools have been published. Of these, 18 schools lost their outstanding status (69%), a PA analysis of the first tranche of reports suggests.

The majority of these schools only dropped one rating to “good” while five schools were downgraded two grades to “requires improvement”.

Some of the schools which have been stripped of their top rating this term were last inspected 15 years ago.

In October last year, the Department for Education (DfE) backed removing the exemption from inspection for outstanding schools and colleges – which was first introduced in 2012.

Previous figures have shown that, as of May 2018, there were nearly 300 schools which had not been assessed for more than a decade.

Only a small number of Ofsted reports were published on Thursday and Friday this week, and more reports are expected to be released throughout the term.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It is important to understand that they are being inspected under an entirely different framework than their last inspection and moving from ‘outstanding’ to ‘good’ does not necessarily mean any decline in standards.

“We have asked Ofsted to be clear about this point, and it is endeavouring to do so.

“However, this is a difficult message to convey to parents, and the fact that the result of an inspection may be more to do with the moving of goalposts than any change in standards, is unlikely to be of much comfort to schools that are affected.”

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It’s important to understand that Ofsted has actively chosen to make it harder for schools to get an outstanding grade under its latest framework. The chief inspector herself has been on record as saying that she expects to see a significant reduction in the number of schools being graded outstanding.

“Consequently, despite year-on-year improvement, a school can still find itself losing its outstanding status. These are not schools in decline – far from it – yet the impact of downgrading a school can have a deeply personal impact on leaders and teachers, leading some to consider their future in education.

“At a time when headteacher resilience is at an all-time low we should all be deeply concerned that we risk losing more great people prematurely. Right now, with the pandemic still raging, it is support not sanction that schools need.”

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “We have started to inspect previously exempt outstanding schools this term, prioritising those that have gone the longest without an inspection.

“It would be misleading to draw any conclusions about the overall picture based on the small number of inspection reports published in the last few days.

“We’ve inspected more schools than we have published reports on, so the picture will change.

“However, we expect inspection grades to rebalance over time to a broadly similar proportion of schools achieving the highest grade as was the case before the exemption.”

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