Has the percentage of good or outstanding schools risen to 90% under the Conservatives?

6 June 2024
What was claimed

90% of schools are now rated good or outstanding, up from 68% under Labour.

Our verdict

This is technically accurate for England, but the way schools are inspected has changed, making direct comparisons between these time periods difficult.

Schools minister Damian Hinds claimed on Question Time [56:04] on 30 May, that “the number of schools rated good or outstanding [is] up from 68% when Labour were in government to 90% today”. 

A number of Conservative candidates have also repeated this claim on social media. 

While that is technically accurate for schools in England, changes to the way schools are inspected since 2010 means that a direct comparison between these two time periods is difficult. 

It is true, according to the latest data published by Ofsted, that 90% of schools are good or outstanding. This compares to 68% in 2010, when the Labour party was last in government. 

However, as Ofsted’s methodology explains, a number of factors affect the comparability of the most recent inspection outcomes for all schools and should “be used with caution”. 

But the UK’s statistics regulator, the Office for Statistics Regulation, stopped short of calling the claim misleading, saying it could be a useful indicator.

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What has changed with inspections of good or outstanding schools?

There have been several changes to how school inspections in England work since Labour were last in power. For example, between 15 May 2012 and 13 November 2020, primary and secondary schools judged to be outstanding in their overall effectiveness at their most recent graded inspection were exempt from routine inspections. Routine graded inspections of these schools have now been reinstated.

There were also changes in ungraded inspections for certain schools, which Ofsted says means “some schools are still classed as good or outstanding in our data, whereas under the previous policy [...] some of these schools might have then been judged to have a lower grade".

Before September 2015, all good schools received a graded inspection no later than the fifth academic year after their last inspection, including in cases when they continued to provide the same standard of education.

Ofsted said this means “users should be particularly cautious if comparing outcomes from 2015/16, or later, with those of previous years”.

However, Ofsted also said “we do not believe that there has been, since 2010, a notable lowering of this bar [between good and requires improvement/satisfactory] that would entirely account for the substantial rise in the proportion of schools judged good or outstanding at their most recent inspection”.

It’s also worth remembering that during the Covid-19 pandemic, routine inspections of schools were suspended from 17 March 2020 until the summer term of 2021, and the maximum interval for graded inspections was increased from five to seven years. 

Office for Statistics Regulation view

The general secretary of the National Education Union recently wrote to the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) claiming the comparisons of the proportion of good and outstanding schools over time were misleading.

Responding, OSR director general, Ed Humpherson, said the OSR’s view was that “the proportion of good and outstanding schools can be a useful indicator of school performance over time” but noted “as with any high-level comparison, the nuanced nature of any changes may not be fully reflected when used across an extended timeseries”.

The letter also noted that Ofsted’s methodology document “could appear to be conflicting to users” but welcomed an updated line which said: “Users should be aware when examining inspection outcomes over a long time period that this is a high-level comparison and spans a period of change in the education system and multiple inspection frameworks.”

We have contacted the Conservative party and will update this article if they respond. 

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