Coronavirus: Ofsted halts inspections for the rest of the week

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Ofsted has suspended all school inspections planned for this coming week and is in discussions with the Department for Education (DfE) about the “longer term picture”.

It comes after the inspectorate has come under intense pressure to call off routine school inspections of schools in England to help schools cope with the coronavirus emergency.

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

In England, however, Ofsted had said on Friday (March 13) that it was “business and usual” and has published advice for schools on how to defer their inspection.

On Twitter on Saturday (March 14), Ofsted confirmed that it would “look very favourably on any requests to defer inspections because of coronavirus”.

However, on Monday evening (March 16), after prime minister Boris Johnson said that everyone in the UK should stop "non-essential" travel and contact with others, working from home where possible, Ofsted appeared to back down.

Andrew Cook, HM inspector and regional director for the North West confirmed on Twitter: “We are putting a hold on all this week’s routine inspections of schools, social care, early years and further education providers. We are in discussions with the DfE about the longer-term picture.”

It is understood that all monitoring visits and inspections that have already begun have been suspended and any planned inspections for this week will not go ahead. The only exception is where there are safeguarding concerns. However, the longer term picture is still unclear.

The deferral guidance published on Friday (March 13) states: “In line with the potential for this to be an ‘exceptional circumstance’, we will carry out a risk-assessment with the providers when we announce the inspection.

"This will give the leaders the opportunity to inform Ofsted about any current coronavirus impact on their provision. Using this information, we will make an assessment and a deferral decision, as appropriate.”

On Sunday (March 15), the National Education Union (NEU) wrote 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 concerns.

They added: “We are very concerned, given the serious challenges that COVID-19 poses for schools, that Ofsted is still planning to conduct inspections. We fail to understand that, in light of the government’s decision to move to the ‘delay’ phase, Ofsted has revised its deferral policy to defer inspections on providers that are ‘affected’.

“We have to ask the question – can you name any school in England which has not been affected by COVID -19? Even if there are no reported cases in schools, all leaders and staff are highly alert and responding to a range of pressing concerns and issues about the management of COVID-19, all of which involve changes to school routines and an intensification of already excessive workloads.”

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.”

Commenting on the developments, Dr Bousted said: “Scotland and Wales have shown England the way. It is unacceptable for Ofsted inspections to be taking place at a time of national emergency. School leaders and staff are straining every sinew to support and protect their students. They should be allowed to focus on this, not have their stress made worse by the threat of an imminent Ofsted inspection.”

The issue of suspending Ofsted inspection was also raised by the Association of School and College Leaders and National Association of Head Teachers during their meeting on Monday (March 16) with education secretary Gavin Williamson.

In a joint statement after the meeting, ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton and NAHT general secretary Paul Whitehead said: “We have asked today that routine Ofsted inspections and school performance tables are suspended this year to allow schools and colleges to focus on the national mission of coping with this unprecedented situation.”

For more on the NAHT and ASCL response following the meeting with Gavin Williamson and for the latest on potential school closure, see our report here.


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