Ofsted downgrade of 80pc of outstanding schools prompts backlash from headteachers

Maureen Cobbett, headmistress of Latymer School, a grammar school in north London that was also downgraded to “good”, said: “We felt the team had already made their minds up before they came; in the phone call before they just wanted to talk about the KS3 maths curriculum and nothing else. At the end of day one [of the inspection] the inspector for maths said all was well with maths. The lead disagreed even though he had not been to maths.”

She added: “The experience itself was brutal – inspectors rushing around with a series of questions to get through and no time to spend trying to find out about a school and its staff.”

The school was told by Ofsted that its curriculum in Years 7 to 11 “is not as developed as it is” in other years and said that “some teaching does not progressively reinforce and deepen pupils’ understanding of essential ideas in these subjects”.

Outstanding schools no longer exempt from further inspection

Amanda Spielman, head of Ofsted, said last year that she expected the number of “outstanding” schools in England to fall from 4,133 to around 2,000, similar to the number there were in 2010. The mass downgrading in the last year came after the Government scrapped legislation, introduced a decade ago, which allowed outstanding schools to be exempt from further inspection. 

Ms Spielman said: “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.”

She added: “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.”

Of around 380 outstanding schools inspected last year, 308 were downgraded. Some 17 per cent were rated “requires improvement” and four per cent were rated “inadequate”. The remainder were rated “good”.

‘The process rigorous but fair’

Dr Mark Fenton, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association, said: “Under the new Ofsted framework it is far more challenging for schools to be graded ‘outstanding’ – this was the Government’s intention from the outset. 

“Despite this, a higher proportion of grammar schools have been able to retain a judgement of ‘outstanding’ and most heads have found the process to be rigorous but fair. Some do feel, however, that their school has been tripped up by one relatively minor point and that parents and the public do not necessarily understand just how much harder it has become to obtain the top grade.”

Unions have called for a halt to the inspections. 

Kevin Courtney, joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Far from demonstrating the value of Ofsted, this report shows that the inspectorate makes no material positive difference to schools.  

“Schools must be accountable, but Ofsted is thoroughly discredited in the eyes of school leaders, staff and parents.”


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