Thousands of "outstanding" schools will never have to face an Ofsted inspection again, The TES has learned.
In his first newspaper interview since becoming Education Secretary, Michael Gove has revealed that the coalition Government will go ahead with Conservative pre-election plans to exempt all schools with the top Ofsted rating from further inspections.
Latest figures from the watchdog show that around 2,400 primary, 600 secondary and 300 special schools currently fall into this category - representing around one in six of all state schools in England.
But Mr Gove said that there would also be a fresh commitment to the use of league tables as a method of judging school performance.
The new Education Secretary said: "Outstanding schools will be freed from inspection, (but) if there are certain indicators that flash `danger' then it will be triggered and there is always the parental request for an inspection if there are problems as well.
"But broadly they will be free of that burden so that they (Ofsted) can more effectively focus the work of their inspectors."
The change will mean that the "outstanding" schools which choose to take up the Government's parallel offer of academy freedoms this September will be cut loose from local authority support and control and Ofsted visits all at the same time.
Unions are alarmed at the lack of accountability this could create and say that because of Ofsted's new emphasis on raw exam results the policy could disproportionately benefit schools in middle-class areas.
Sir Paul Grant, head of Robert Clack School, Dagenham, which received "outstanding" Ofsted verdicts in 2004 and 2007, welcomed the trust the policy showed.
"It is a common-sense approach," he said. "I do think there has to be accountability. But the Ofsted process is quite a stressful experience." John Dunford, Association of School of College Leaders general secretary, predicted many schools exempted from Ofsted inspections would choose to hire consultants to review their performance.
"There are potential gains from an external view for even the best schools," he said.
Dr Dunford said the current Ofsted framework did not give a level playing field to schools in tough areas and that schools needed to be held accountable.
"If schools supported by public money are given the independence of academy status, the reasons that require all independent schools to be inspected should apply," he said.
Mr Gove did not give details of how schools released from the inspection cycle will be monitored.
But last year, the Conservatives set out plans for a series of traffic- light indicators covering data on achievement, teacher absences and turnover, the number of repeat temporary exclusions, and truancy.
Schools that moved from green to red on a number of the indicators would be automatically inspected, and parents or teachers with concerns would still be able to trigger an inspection of any school.
The Government believes the change will free up Ofsted to spend more time in failing schools.
Mr Gove said: "Of course things can change, heads and leadership teams can change, there can be changes of intake, changes of staff, changes of funding.
"But there are a number of ways in which lights can flash and we can see what's happening. What we absolutely have to have is public, objective data about how schools are performing."
An Ofsted spokesman said: "Ofsted already focuses inspection on where it will have the greatest impact for children and learners. We will work with the Government on what this means in practice."
Original paper headline: `Outstanding' schools exempted from inspection - for good