The proportion of schools judged “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted has risen to a record high, with 79 per cent of inspections resulting in the top two grades, figures released today show.
Heads’ leaders described the inspection statistics - updated to include the period between October and December last year - as “remarkable”.
They cover the latest Ofsted verdicts on all 21,944 state schools in England that were open at the end of 2013 and show a one percentage point rise in good or better schools since August 2013.
The rate of improvement is slowing as there was a five percentage point rise during the same period in 2012. But the watchdog said this could be explained by the large number of previously “satisfactory” schools inspected during 2012/13, many of which improved.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said: “The fact that so many of our schools are doing well in their inspections is remarkable given the many burdens being placed on them by so much change. There are few sectors where you would see such a high proportion of excellence.”
London is the highest performing area with 86 per cent of schools judged good or better, with the Yorkshire and Humber region the lowest with 74 per cent, followed the East of England with 75.
Tackling such regional differences has been a key Ofsted theme since Sir Michael Wilshaw took over as chief inspector. But Mr Hobby said the figures showed that the differences between the higher and lower performing regions "actually remains quite tight, despite large differences in funding and support".
Of the 1,913 schools visited by Ofsted between October and December with previous inspection results, 27 per cent improved on the last judgement they received, lower than in the previous two years.
Of the nursery schools inspected over the period 56 per cent were judged outstanding, compared to 36 per cent special schools, 23 per cent secondary and 17 per cent of primaries.
The figures have been released at a time of huge pressure on Ofsted, with two separate think-tank reports, which are expected to criticise the watchdog, expected imminently.
Policy Exchange, founded by education secretary Michael Gove, has said it is investigating whether Ofsted is “fit for purpose”, while Civitas has suggested that the government should take away the watchdog’s powers to inspect free schools and academies.
Tensions have also been running high between the watchdog and the Department for Education following Mr Gove’s decision to act against Sir Michael’s wishes and oust Baroness Sally Morgan as Ofsted chair.
The watchdog responded last week by suggesting yet another overhaul of its school inspection regime.
Mike Cladingbowl, Ofsted's national director of schools, said he was “looking seriously” at the possibility of senior inspectors conducting more frequent, but short, monitoring visits to good schools rather than full inspections.
Mr Hobby said: “Ofsted is right to question whether the current system of inspection is fit for purpose. We have so many good schools and yet innovation is stifled by the constant fear of inspection and the uncertainty over the quality of teams.
“We suggest a scaling back of the current pervasive regime to focus on high risk schools.”