In response to official criticism of its work, Ofsted has admitted that some schools that have been rated as ‘outstanding’ may not be as good as the rating indicates.

The National Audit Office (NAO) looked at schools in England and found that 1,620 of them which had been rated as outstanding had not been inspected by Ofsted for at least six years.

The NAO says that 290 schools rated as outstanding had not been inspected for a at least a decade.

One reason for this is that outstanding schools were, from 2011, deemed to be exempt from the normal routine of school inspections.

However, Ofsted now says it can’t tell if any of these outstanding schools has fallen into a lower category.

Inspections can be initiated for any school

They do point out that inspections can be initiated for any school if there is a big drop in exam results or there is a safeguarding concern.

Ofsted says it does not go into top-rated schools regularly.

The director of corporate strategy for Ofsted, Luke Tryl, said: “We can’t tell if the level of education in the schools that were 10 years ago judged as outstanding is the same or has changed to be middling, mediocre or coasting.”

When pressed by journalists on whether he was trying to say that ‘outstanding schools really aren’t outstanding’ he said, “Yes.”

One of the issues is that many of the schools judged as being outstanding will have this label prominently highlighted on banners on school premises and on their websites.

Parents will base their first views of the school on Ofsted rankings

Since many parents will base their first views of the school on Ofsted rankings then this may cause confusion.

The NAO also found that Ofsted’s role has reduced because the Department for Education and the inspectorate had decided not to inspect routinely those good and outstanding schools.

In its defence, Ofsted says it’s been asking the DfE to reinstate the routine inspections for primary schools every six years and for secondary schools, every five or seven years.

Nick Gibb, the schools’ minister, said: “If Ofsted believes the school is not meeting the previous high standards, we expect it to use powers for carrying out a full inspection; as has always been the case.”

Mr Gibbs added that the Ofsted has £40 million a year for the provision of a school inspection regime that focuses on schools in the most need of improvement.

Savvy enough to not just rely on Ofsted rankings

The Association of School and College Leaders’ general secretary, Geoff Barton, said that many parents are savvy enough to not just rely on Ofsted rankings but look at the range of evidence on a school’s effectiveness.

He said the ASCL has been campaigning for inspections to be reinstated for outstanding schools and says that they should be carried out every five years or so.

The government report also highlights that the inspectorate has missed its own targets for  inspecting weaker schools which are those that are rated as inadequate.

Under their rules, reinspection must take place within 24 months and this has been missed in 6% of cases.

Ofsted says that these schools will have weak teaching or leadership and potentially behaviour issues.

Ofsted says it’s finding it difficult to meet its inspection targets

However, Ofsted says it’s finding it difficult meeting inspection targets because of budget cuts and it doesn’t have the inspectors for this purpose.

The reason given for the shortfall of inspectors came about after it brought all inspectors in-house after complaints that inspections had been contracted out to private firms.

Ofsted chief operations officer, Matthew Coffey, says the decision to bring inspectors in-house was taken on quality grounds.

Also, he added, the organisation’s most senior inspectors had left to run multi-academy trust chains that were being formed at that time.