Coronavirus: Ofsted suspends all routine school inspections

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Ofsted has suspended all routine school inspections after coming under pressure to act in light of the growing coronavirus emergency.

The inspectorate had come under intense pressure from trade unions over the weekend to call off non-urgent inspections of schools in England.

This intensified on Monday (March 16) when Wales’ inspectorate Estyn acted to suspend routine school inspections in order to help schools stay open. In Scotland, inspectorate Education Scotland has also paused inspection visits.

Ofsted had said on Friday (March 13) that it was “business and usual”, before publishing advice for schools on how to apply to defer their planned inspection because of coronavirus if necessary.

However, this afternoon (Tuesday, March 17), Ofsted confirmed that education secretary Gavin Williamson had given permission for the temporary suspension of all routine inspections of schools, further education, early years and social care providers. Urgent inspections where specific concerns have been raised, such as for safeguarding, can still go ahead.

An Ofsted statement said: “As far as we are able, we will continue to undertake our important regulatory work to help maintain social care provision for the most vulnerable children, and the registration of vital childcare services. We will operate as a proportionate and responsible regulator, in what we know are challenging times, focused on children’s safeguarding and wellbeing.

“All of our Ofsted Inspectors – those serving headteachers who undertake inspections on our behalf – have returned to their schools. We are in daily contact with the Department for Education to discuss the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact across education and social care.”

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman added: “I’m grateful for the secretary of state’s permission to suspend routine inspections. It’s clearly the right thing to do when teachers and social workers are under pressure as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. We all need to support them in their work.

“We will monitor what’s happening across education and social care and we will reserve the right to inspect where we believe the safety of children could be at risk, or we have other serious concerns. We will also continue to register and regulate social care providers, childminders and nurseries, so that these vital services can continue to support children and their families.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "I recognise that teachers are doing everything they can to support the children in their care and help make sure that key workers can continue going to work. Teachers are on the frontline of our national effort. Given the pressures on our school leaders and their staff, it is only right that Ofsted temporarily suspends its routine inspection timetable. This will help schools to focus on their core functions at a difficult time."

However, Mr Williamson reiterated the government's current position that school closures are not yet necessary: "We are following the advice of our medical and scientific community every step of the way. The Chief Medical Officer has said the impact of closing schools on children’s education will be substantial, but the benefit to public health may not be."

On Sunday (March 15), the National Education Union (NEU) had written to Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman urging her to cease routine inspections. In the letter, joint general secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said that school inspections should be confined only to those schools where there are safeguarding concern

Commenting on Ofsted's announcement on Tuesday afternoon, March 17, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “Following constructive conversations with the secretary of state last night, we’re pleased to see that the government has decided that Ofsted inspections will cease until further notice. We now expect the same to be said of all performance tables and other accountability measures.

"The government has placed a significant responsibility on schools to stay open in order to keep other areas of society functioning, at least in the short term. It would be entirely wrong to hold schools to account in the normal way when the situation we are facing is far from normal.

"The government must move quickly now to provide clarity for the dedicated public servants working in education about what the state expects them to do. NAHT is in daily contact with the DfE to bring this about.”

His counterpart at the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, added: “We are very pleased with this decision. It will be one less thing for schools and colleges to worry about amidst the plethora of problems they face in trying to deal with the current crisis

“We are also pressing for performance tables to be suspended this year because of the disruption being caused by coronavirus and the fact that it is likely to become much worse. Schools and colleges must be free to focus on supporting their students rather than worrying about an accountability system which is not a priority in a time of national emergency.”

The Welsh inspectorate Estyn, meanwhile, said that as of Monday (March 16) school inspections would be suspended. Chief inspector in Wales Meilyr Rowlands said: “I have made this decision to allow leaders and staff in all education and training providers, and those organisations who support them, to focus fully on the wellbeing of their learners, their staff and their families.

“Providers are likely to see increased staff absence during this time. The decision to suspend inspection work will help maintain staffing levels by ensuring that peer and other inspectors are not out of their institutions at this important time.”

Inspections have also been paused in Scotland. In a letter to education directors chief inspector Gayle Gorman said: "During this period, we believe it is vitally important that staff working in education can focus entirely on their establishment, on supporting their colleagues, pupils and local community, and provide support where needed. This pause in activity will continue until your schools' Easter break.”

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