Schools that have excellent teaching and provide a rounded educational experience are not being recognised by inspectors unless they have good results.
The new "light touch" inspection regime has led to almost every school visited by inspectors now receiving the same overall verdict from Ofsted as it does for pupils' achievement and standards.
Some have received "inadequate" overall judgements on the basis of below-average results, despite good provision in other areas such as fostering pupil wellbeing. The findings, in a TES analysis of more than 7,000 school inspections, were confirmed by one inspector.
He said: "In an inspection, results are everything. The attitude is: you cannot have good teaching if you only have satisfactory outcomes."
The inspections, introduced in 2005, have replaced detailed lesson observations with shorter assessments. The reports now focus mainly on school leadership and rely heavily on achievement data. Today, The TES magazine discloses how some teachers feel frustrated that verdicts are being reached on their quality without any lesson observations by inspectors.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "If inspectors are going into schools to confirm what test results tell them, this calls into question the millions of pounds spent on Ofsted. It's also clear that schools which have been doing well in difficult circumstances are not having that work acknowledged."
Chris Tomlinson is head of a school judged inadequate overall after below average key stage 3 results and one year's bad GCSE scores. Yet the school, Chafford Hundred Campus in Thurrock, Essex, received a "good" verdict from inspectors on its curriculum. He said: "It seems the decision was made before the inspectors arrived."
Inspectors visited Chafford Hundred as pupils were about to take their GCSEs. Their results four months later made the school one of the most improved in England, which Ofsted acknowledges.
Ofsted visited 6,331 primaries in 2006-07. Of these, 98 per cent had the same verdict overall as they received for "achievement and standards", based on pupils' test scores. In secondaries, 96 per cent of the 1,281 schools visited had the same verdict on pupil achievement as Ofsted reached on the school overall. Not one school of the 7,612 visited had an overall verdict which differed by more than a grade from that received on learners' achievements.
An Ofsted spokesman said the inspectorate had produced unequivocal guidance for inspectors that judgements were based on far wider evidence than test and exam data, including the school's own teacher assessment verdicts and lesson observations.
Look at me, Magazine, page 8.