Ofsted graded judgements 'woefully blunt tool'

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Ofsted’s graded judgements are a “woefully blunt tool” it was said this week after 83% of schools previously exempted from inspection lost their outstanding rating.

Since 2012, schools judged outstanding had been exempt from further regular inspection unless specific concerns were raised. This exemption was lifted in 2020.

Ofsted has now revealed that 308 of 371 exempted schools that had a graded inspection last year have lost their outstanding rating (83%). The majority of these have been graded good (62%), although 17% were graded requires improvement and 4% inadequate.

Broken down by phase, of 266 exempted primary schools inspected last year, 14% retained their outstanding grade, 65% were rated as good, 18% requires improvement, and 3% inadequate.

And of 105 exempted secondary schools inspected last year, 25% retained their outstanding grade, 54% were rated as good, 14% requires improvement, and 7% inadequate.

In total, there were 3,900 outstanding primary and secondary schools when the exemption was introduced in 2012.

Around 1,400 schools remained outstanding throughout the period because they were not inspected. Around 1,900 schools ceased to be outstanding (usually after an inspection triggered by a risk assessment), and 1,500 additional schools were judged outstanding during the exemption period (see figure 1).

This means that there were around 3,400 outstanding schools when the exemption was lifted – of these 43% had not had a graded inspection for at least 10 academic years and 38% had gone five to 10 academic years without inspection.

Figure 1: Changes in the cohort of outstanding exempt schools, 2012 to 2020 (source: Ofsted, 2022)


When broken down by judgement, the 371 schools performed much better on behaviour and attitudes and personal development. Safeguarding was effective in 97% of the schools.

However, only 20% of the schools were rated outstanding for leadership and management, with only 18% judged outstanding for quality of education (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Outcomes of graded inspections of previously exempt schools in 2021/22 by judgement (source: Ofsted, 2022)


Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said this week that the figures show the need for regular scrutiny of schools. She 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.

“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 is working to inspect all previously exempt schools by July 2025. It has begun with those that have gone the longest without inspection and the average time since last inspection of the 371 schools visited last year was 13 years.

However, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has been quick to point out that exempted schools inspected last year were “previously inspected under a different inspection framework with different criteria”.

General secretary Geoff Barton said: “Unsurprisingly, all this shifting of goalposts is leading to changes in the graded judgements of these schools. Most are still rated as either good or outstanding, but some are now rated as less than good, and this will be a very challenging situation.

“Ofsted graded judgements are a woefully blunt tool and where these are negative it is often stigmatising and makes improvement harder to secure. We need to move towards a more supportive and less punitive inspection system as this would clearly be in the best interests of the children and young people served by these schools.”

Ofsted is to publish in the spring a “fuller report” on exempt schools, including an analysis of what inspectors found in the 2021/22 inspections.


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