'Outstanding' schools to be spared Oftsed inspections

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The Independent Online

Schools ranked outstanding by standards watchdog Ofsted will be spared future inspections under a Conservative government.

Party schools spokesman Michael Gove told a gathering of headteachers today: “We will radically reform Ofsted so that it focuses on helping those who are failing.

“We will free all outstanding schools from Ofsted inspection.”

His comments drew criticism from Labour’ Schools Secretary Ed Balls and teachers’ leaders who warned of the dangers of giving any school a guarantee it would not be inspected.

Faults which emerged at the school would not be picked up.

Last year’s annual report by Chief Schools Inspector Christine Gilbert revealed that – of the schools ranked outstanding in their previous inspection – 19 per cent had been rated as merely good in the following inspection, two per cent satisfactory and one per cent inadequate.

“We have already reformed the Ofsted inspection system so that weaker schools are inspected more often and high performing schools less often,” said Mr Balls.

“But it would be wrong to say that some schools, even those which are currently doing well, should as a matter of principle never be inspected again.”

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: “We are into chicken and egg territory – if outstanding schools are not inspected who is going to decide they are outstanding and so do not require regular inspections.”

The exemption from inspections was one of a raft of measures aimed at helping outstanding schools.

Mr Gove also encouraged them to take struggling primary schools under their wing to improve standards in the three R’s pointing out that fewer than half the pupils in 1,000 schools reached the required standard in maths and English in national curriculum tests.

He urged them to follow in the footsteps of Haberdasher’s Aske academy in south London which had taken over its weakest feeder primary school and seen it become one of the most improved in the area.

However, he appeared to back-track from a plan to transfer tests for 11-year-olds to the first term of secondary schooling – a move designed to reduce teaching to the test in the last year of primary schooling.

He said he had only “floated” the idea and could see arguments both for and against it.

“We do need to maintain objective testing to discover the level at which children are working,” he added. “There is no way that we will get rid of end of primary testing..”

His comments will fuel the dispute of testing with the National Union of Teachers and National association of Head Teachers – both of who are balloting on boycotting this summer’s tests. The NAHT had seen his earlier comments on transferring the tests to the start of secondary schooling as a potential olive branch.

Mr Gove’s package also included a pledge to introduce an immediate Education Bill on taking office to allow all outstanding schools to opt to become academies by the start of the new school year.