Almost 40 new free schools have received “outstanding” judgements from Ofsted and exemption from future inspection before they achieved any formal results, a TES analysis has revealed.
Inspectors have judged 43 new mainstream free schools “outstanding”. However, all but five of these schools were inspected before they had pupils in all year groups – and before they had exam or test results.
Critics are concerned about this absence of performance data for schools that could now have “outstanding” judgments in perpetuity, due to Ofsted's inspection exemption rule for top-rated schools.
“People complain that the whole inspection judgement is too data-driven,” said Robert Coe, professor of education at Durham University. “But we don’t have any data for new schools. I think that’s a problem.
“We know that schools change. After two-to-three years of existence, the stability of a school is less than schools that are up and running. You’d want to check again, once they’ve been running for longer.”
'A different establishment'
Under the rules laid out in Ofsted’s school-inspection handbook, schools that are given an “outstanding” rating are exempt from future inspection unless a subsequent risk assessment raises concerns about their performance.
Of the 38 “outstanding” schools without results, 25 were inspected with only two year groups in place.
Michael Tidd, TES columnist and deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary in Nottinghamshire, said: “It strikes me as odd to say that these schools are fine with 60 children, so they’ll be fine for ever.
“How can you judge those schools, when later they might have 450 or 620 pupils? That’s a different establishment, really.”
Ofsted maintained that it was possible to make a judgment about a school that has only two or three year groups and no exam results.
A spokesperson said: “Examination outcomes are only one of the pieces of evidence used by inspectors. They also consider pupils’ progress through the school’s curriculum, their personal development, behaviour and welfare, the effectiveness of the school’s leadership and management, and the quality of its teaching and learning, before reaching an overall judgment.
She added that, if there were concerns about the performance of an outstanding school, it could be inspected again at any time.
This is an edited version of an article in the 17 March edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.