What if Ofsted judged most schools 'good enough'?

'Outstanding' schools will no longer be exempt from Ofsted inspection – but let's go even further, says Michael Tidd

Michael Tidd

Ofsted inspections: Maybe one day we could get rid of the 'outstanding' rating, says Michael Tidd

There must be a fair few teachers – and headteachers for that matter – who were involved in an Ofsted inspection resulting in an "outstanding" grading, and who knew then that it would be their last inspection before retirement.

There will be others who were fortuitous enough to have been appointed to an "outstanding" school, safe in the knowledge that they would be free from unwelcome visitors for the foreseeable future.

But that time has passed, as inevitably it had to do.

The idea of the Ofsted exemption for "outstanding" schools was always a foolish one, and we all knew that sooner or later it would have to come to an end.

Ofsted inspection changes

And so, last week, the Department for Education began its consultation on removing the exemption and bringing all schools back into the routine inspection programme. 

For a few crafty heads and teachers, this may well be their cue to start thinking about a concrete retirement date. 

It appears that the lucky ones will be those inspected just a little over five years ago. Because of the significant backlog of schools – over 1,000 exempt schools at the moment – Ofsted will have to start with those that were inspected longest ago, while also bringing more recent inspections back into line with the normal routine. 

It’s the schools in between – those last inspected in 2014-15 – who will most likely wait the longest for their next section 5 inspection, giving their staff several years to make their exit plans.

'Outstanding' schools

That’s not to say that everyone will be rushing to leave. Most heads and teachers in "outstanding" schools have known this was coming for a while. And many have felt like a sword was hanging over them, with the potential for an inspector to call at any time. All that has changed now and at least everyone knows where they stand.

Politically, this has been a fairly brave move: after years of the DfE proclaiming that there was an ever-increasing number of "outstanding" schools, it now seems almost certain that the number will fall. Not because all "outstanding" schools are failing, but because the only way is down

Many will, I’m sure, have been striving for continued brilliance in the intervening period, and will retain their excellent rating. But no doubt some will have struggled for one reason or another and so will become “merely” "good" schools, or perhaps not even that. 

Under Ofsted's new inspection framework, it seems unlikely that there will be a whole host of previously unrecognised schools waiting to take their place as the new "outstanding" flag-bearers. Presumably, therefore, in the next few years we’ll see a gradual fall in the number of schools still judged "outstanding".

No doubt government ministers will ignore this fact, and focus instead on their favourite category: “‘good’ or 'outstanding' schools’”.

'Good enough' schools

If the new framework also holds true to its aim of not basing everything on data, and instead recognising the strengths of a school’s curriculum and its quality of education, then we might see a similar drop in the number of schools falling into the "requires improvement" and "inadequate" categories. 

All being well, by 2025, we may see the vast majority of schools simply judged as "good enough". And then maybe we can scrap the other grades altogether.

Ofsted has also said this week that it would like to be able to offer more direction and guidance to those "stuck" schools struggling to improve

Perhaps instead of exempting a few schools from inspection for lengthy periods of time, we could instead leave the vast majority to get on with the job.

Inspection could become a light-touch check-up every five years or so, and schools could be freed to focus on what matters.

Now, wouldn’t that be an idea?

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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