There was a particular tension about Westcliff high's inspection this year.
In its past two inspection reports the Southend-on-Sea boys' grammar was praised as outstanding. And Andrew Baker, its head, wanted to make it on to the list again. He said: "Three successive occasions is not a freak result.
What matters isn't one set of results but success over time."
Mr Baker attributes his school's achievement to a focus on traditional education. "There's nothing old-fashioned about it," he said. "But we encourage pupils to take an interest in subjects for their own sake. We also focus on extra-curricular activities. This vigorous extra-curricular life seeps through into exam results."
The school offers a range of music, sport and debating clubs. Inspectors said that, if underwater sumo-wrestling were available as an extra-curricular activity, Westcliff would probably offer it.
The school is in an affluent area, and few boys have special needs or speak English as a second language. Boys were admitted on the basis of how they perform in a test. Last year, 100 per cent of pupils got five Cs or better at GCSE.
Mr Baker is a firm believer in selection by ability and says it has helped his 1,000-pupil school succeed. "Selection enables us to bring together pupils with a given level of ability, and teachers of academic distinction," he said. "If you put those elements together, you have something very special."
Charles Dormer, head of English, said: "Our older boys work with younger boys. They fill any vacuum. That's not something I've experienced anywhere else."
James Eastwood, 17, travels a two-hour round-trip to Westcliff each day, rather than attending a grammar nearer his home. "Staff are in tune with what we want," he said. "They know how to provoke responses, to make tedious things interesting. It's good to know that we've been recognised three times. You feel part of something good."