I was dumb to let 'outstanding' schools off inspection

Former adviser to Michael Gove 'very much' regrets Ofsted policy he helped to introduce

Catherine Lough

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Exempting "outstanding" schools from Ofsted inspections, was a “dumb policy”, an architect of the scheme has admitted.

Sam Freedman, a former adviser to Michael Gove during his time as education secretary, revealed today he was partly responsible for an idea he now “very much” regrets.

He told Tes: “Exemption has meant a lot of schools haven’t been inspected for a very long time and that’s not good for accountability for parents or teachers.”

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He said the policy also meant inspectors were not seeing enough “outstanding” practice overall.

Mr Freedman said the exemption was originally “a kind of reward” for “outstanding” schools if they maintained strong exam results over time. In some ways, it was an extension of Ofsted’s previous policies of inspecting schools according to their risk profile, giving more autonomy to high-performing schools.

Nonetheless, he said the process was logically flawed. “If exam results were everything, you wouldn’t need inspections at all,” he said.

His intervention follows Ofsted’s repeat of its call for the inspection exemption for “outstanding” schools to be scrapped, this week.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman asked for the change again as it was revealed that 80 per cent of “outstanding” schools visited by inspectors this year had had their rating downgraded.

The policy of exempting top-rated schools from automatic inspections began in 2011. However, last year Ofsted said some schools had not been inspected for a decade under the policy and that their standards might have declined over time.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Ofsted inspects ‘outstanding’ schools where specific concerns have been raised so while 70 per cent of those schools reinspected are ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, it is only to be expected that in some of these cases schools will have declined, and this shows that its risk assessment approach is working.

“We have also recently asked Ofsted to increase its inspection of ‘outstanding’ schools and to review its triggers for the inspection of these schools.”


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