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Should you only target outstanding state schools in London?

Should you only target outstanding state schools in London?

Choosing the right state school in for your child will be a top priority when planning your move to London. To get this right you will need to make an informed decision that considers everything from curriculum to class sizes. That’s why many parents rely on ratings by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) to give them confidence during the selection process.

Ofsted inspects state schools every four years or 30 months depending on their status, and grades them accordingly: 1 – outstanding, 2 – good, 3 – requires improvement, 4 – inadequate. London and its surrounding area is home to the highest concentration of them: nine of the ten top towns in England for schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted are in London and the Southeast, according to data produced by property website Zoopla – including Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Richmond upon Thames.

With so many top-rated schools to choose from you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re almost guaranteed to secure a place for your child – but several crucial variables might impact your plans.


Yes, there’s a large pool of top-rated state schools in London to choose from, but quality creates demand – especially in a city the size of London. Amid this competitive admissions landscape, ‘outstanding’ primary and secondary schools are typically oversubscribed – reducing your chances of securing a place compared to lower-rated schools.

So, don’t rule out ‘good’ rated schools altogether. These institutions are adjudged by Ofsted to provide “a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all pupils, including disadvantaged pupils and pupils with Special Education Needs, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.”

‘Good’ schools will usually be inspected within five years of the publication of their previous inspection report. This will normally be a short inspection.

End of inspection exemption

Can you guarantee a school that was inspected a few years ago is still up to standard? Four in five ‘outstanding’ schools inspected in 2022 were stripped of their coveted rating after their exemption from inspection was finally removed – the majority (62%) were downgraded to ‘good’, but over a fifth dropped to ‘requires improvement’ (17%) or ‘inadequate’ (4%).

Schools awarded the top grade were exempt from re-inspection between 2012 and 2020 unless inspectors were concerned about their performance or safeguarding arrangements – a measure that was implemented to free ‘outstanding’ schools from the burden of inspection.

But the exemption was removed in 2020 in a crackdown on low standards after Ofsted warned that over a thousand schools had not been inspected in at least 10 years. Exempting ‘outstanding’ schools left most without the challenge that regular inspection provides and deprived parents of current information.

So, do a bit of research to discover the date of the last Ofsted inspection.


It works the other way too. Schools that are rated ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ are another Ofsted inspection away from proving that they have improved enough to be upgraded. For example, of the schools inspected in 2021 that were previously rated ‘requires improvement’, 70% were considered to now be supplying a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ education.

Good luck securing a place at a London state school that’s right for your child. To give yourself the best chance of being successful make sure an ‘outstanding’ school has been recently inspected, otherwise, it might make more sense to target a ‘good’ school that has recently been given the once over by Ofsted – and is definitely deserving of its status.


Want to learn more about State Schools in London?

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All the information you need to find the right London State School for your child, and apply successfully:

  • The top 10 London neighbourhoods for state schools
  • The top 10 London primary state schools
  • The top 10 London secondary state schools
  • When and how to apply
  • Catchment areas
  • Admission criteria
  • Waiting lists
  • Application websites for all London Boroughs
  • And much more…
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