Ofsted is pressing the government to let it routinely visit "outstanding" schools, warning that the current regime is not "sustainable".
The inspectorate says there are schools that have now not been inspected for up to 12 to 13 years and this is undermining parents’ confidence.
Ofsted was responding to a National Audit Office report published today, which highlights that there are now 1,620 schools that have not been reinspected for six years – including 296 that inspectors have not been to in 10 years.
Under current legislation, schools with Ofsted’s highest grade are exempt from routine inspection. This change was brought in in 2011 by the Department for Education to allow inspectors to focus resources on under-performing schools.
Luke Tryl, Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, said today that Ofsted can reinspect "outstanding" schools if there is a safeguarding concern, complaints are made or if there is a serious dip in standards.
Exemption 'not sustainable'
Ofsted had already said it wanted to inspect more "outstanding" schools, within the current rules. It published statistics last year showing that 132 top-rated schools had not been inspected for 10 years or longer.
But it now wants to be allowed to carry out routine inspections of outstanding schools, and is in talks with the DfE about this.
Mr Tryl said: “What we might not pick up is where a school’s quality of education used to be 'outstanding' but is now mediocre.” He said the situation could allow schools rated as 'outstanding' to coast.
He added: "It is a big concern that there are a group of schools where we haven’t been in 10 years. We don’t think this exemption is sustainable.”
Earlier this year, Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director of education, warned that the exemption from inspection could result in "outstanding" schools narrowing their curriculum and focusing more on exams and tests to reduce the risk of losing their rating.
He said today: “Parents want to know that a school has been inspected during the course of their child’s time there. So, in a primary school, every six to seven years.
“The exemption, we feel, is putting schools in a position where they go too long between inspections and that is a concern,
"We think there should be provision to enable us to look at, if not all of them, a greater proportion of them. Parents are concerned that 'outstanding' schools are going too long without an inspection, and we share that concern.”
He estimated that the regulations as they stood meant that in the past five years, around 3 to 8 per cent of "outstanding" schools had been inspected.
Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: "If Ofsted has reason to believe a school is no longer meeting its previous high standards, we would expect it to use its powers to carry out a full inspection - this has always been the case - and remains so.”
The NAO report published today also warns that Ofsted has failed to hit statutory targets for ensuring it inspects all schools, other than those rated as "outstanding", within five years. Ofsted failed to achieve this at 43 schools between 2012-13 and 2016-17.
The NAO says this meant some pupils had gone through their primary or secondary school education without any judgement being made on that school’s effectiveness.
The report adds: “The older an inspection judgement, the greater the risk that it is no longer accurate. This reduces the level of assurance available about the school concerned.
“In addition, exempting 'outstanding' schools from routine reinspection reduces the extent to which Ofsted’s inspectors see 'outstanding' schools, and therefore the extent to which they can compare with and reference outstanding practice.”