How many outstanding schools really are outstanding?
In a recent Trustpilot review one of our members commented that "Ofsted ratings are very infrequent and the gap difference between ratings is huge so it doesn't help much differentiating between good schools, or between outstanding schools."
This comment resonated with something I have seen recently, which is long standing outstanding schools being, sometimes quite severely, downgraded. In fact, Ofsted recently re-inspected forty six outstanding schools and not one retained its top rating; thirty seven were downgraded to “good”, eight were rated “requires improvement” and one became “inadequate”.
When looking at outstanding schools in particular, it's important to check the inspection date - the more recent, the more accurate it is likely to be.
Why the sudden change? Outstanding schools are except from routine inspections and are not inspected apart from in rare circumstances, e.g. where concerns are raised about safeguarding or data suggests worsening pupil outcomes.
Ofsted has however been lobbying the government to lift this exemption, warning that many of these top rated schools will have declined since their last inspection. Whilst not lifting the exemption, in December, the government did tell the watchdog to step up its interventions of so-called “exempt” schools, so that poor standards of safeguarding could be picked up. Hence we are seeing an increase in the number of outstanding schools being inspected.
And with good reason, the average number of years since the last inspection among the 10 per cent of outstanding schools with the longest gap between inspections has increased recently to 11 years! That's hundreds of schools being ignored by inspectors for over a decade, compared to a four and a half year gap between short inspections of ‘good’ schools.
Certainly a lot can change in 11 years, which is why I think we are seeing such big shifts in outcomes upon re-inspection. Ofsted has it's task cut out though; the inspectorate’s gross budget, which includes income, will have reduced from £171 million in 2015–16 to £149 million by 2019–20. That’s a net reduction of £22 million and in 2017 Ofsted missed its target number of inspections of state schools by 17 per cent.
So, what can you take out of this?
Well, I think an important consideration when looking at any inspection report is how old it is and when looking at outstanding schools in particular it's important to check the inspection date - the more recent, the more accurate it is likely to be.
Author: Lewis Tandy