"We've made huge strides in the past five years—a million more pupils now in good or outstanding schools."
Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, 6 October 2015
There are over one million more pupils in good or outstanding schools in England since August 2010 (compared to March 2015). This is set against a backdrop of rising pupil numbers. Even accounting for this, the proportion of
pupils in such schools has risen from 66% in 2010 to 80% in 2015.
There's no doubt that schools' Ofsted performance is improving. This progress is partly due to Ofsted's changing inspection practice—which redefined what was expected of schools and placed a greater emphasis on inspecting schools which fell below this expectation.
It's not a case of continuous improvement: the proportion of pupils in outstanding schools has decreased from a peak in 2012.
Schools rated inadequate which close and open as new academies also aren't counted in the statistics until the new school has been inspected.
The 'satisfactory' judgement was replaced with 'requires improvement'
Ofsted's inspection framework underwent major changes in 2012. The judgement of 'satisfactory' was replaced with 'requires improvement'. The inspection schedule also changed for outstanding primary and secondary schools, which no longer had to have a full inspection within five years. This led Ofsted to say that:
"Some of the […] increase in the proportion of good or better schools in England [during the 2012/13 academic year] reflects changes in the inspection selection practice. Nevertheless the statistics suggest that schools have improved more quickly since the changes to inspection made in September 2012?.
Ofsted also prioritised schools previously judged satisfactory for re-inspection in 2012/13 and 2013/14. It noted that the 'requires improvement' judgement had acted as a "sharp catalyst for more rapid intervention" among schools and local authorities.
Some inadequate schools which close and open as new academies won't be counted
Most of the changes in ratings are seen between the 'requires improvement' rating and the 'good' rating. The proportion of pupils in schools rated inadequate increased slightly in 2013 and 2014 (from 3.1% in 2010 to 3.6% in 2014), but is now pretty much back to the same as in 2010 (3.1%).
The proportion of pupils in schools rated outstanding has fallen from a high in 2012 too (from 23% to 21%), so it's not a case of continuous improvement.
The number of schools judged inadequate is also affected by schools placed in a category of concern (such as special measures) which close and become new sponsor-led academies. Their old judgement is not carried through to the new school and the new school is not included in the Ofsted figures until it receives its next inspection.
Numbers aside, Ofsted's last annual report said that primary schools in England were getting better but that improvement in secondary schools had stalled.