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More than 500 schools previously rated “outstanding” were reinspected by Ofsted in the last academic year after a clause was scrapped. The exemption, introduced in 2012 and lifted in 2020, meant schools that had been given the highest Ofsted rating were legally exempt from further regular inspection, unless there were specific concerns.
On average, 13 years had elapsed before the schools were reinspected. Of the schools that required reinspection, 62% were downgraded one tier to “good”, while 21% were judged “requires improvement” (third tier) or “inadequate” (bottom tier). Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said it showed “removing a school from scrutiny does not make it better”.
The watchdog said that while the downgrades seen in the reinspected schools might not be typical of all exempt schools, their performance was still “concerning, and a higher proportion now require improvement or are inadequate than is the case for all schools nationally, especially for the primary schools”.
Ms Spielman added: “Regular inspection gives parents confidence in the quality of their child’s school. Exempting outstanding schools deprived parents of up-to-date information. It also left a lot of schools without the constructive challenge that regular inspection provides.”
“The exemption was a policy founded on the hope that high standards, once achieved, would never drop, and that freedom from inspection might drive them even higher. These outcomes show that removing a school from scrutiny does not make it better.”
Ofsted has said it will inspect all previously exempt schools by the end of July 2025.
Encouragingly, the data also shows that 88% of schools are now rated good or outstanding, up from 68% in 2010. However, the previous inspection black hole underscores the need for parents to look beyond an Ofsted rating when selecting a school for their child.
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