Tone-deaf: Ofsted’s plan to accelerate inspections slammed by school leaders

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Acceleration: "We will now be able to reach all schools, colleges and apprenticeship providers by summer 2025" Chief inspector, Amanda Spielman

"Unhelpful. Strange. Stuck in the past. Tone-deaf.” The profession has reacted with bewildered frustration this week after the announcement of plans to inspect every school at least once by 2025.

Ofsted confirmed in a press statement on Tuesday (November 16) that beginning with last term’s inspections, “all schools and further education providers will be inspected at least once by summer 2025”.

It added: “All college inspections from September 2022 up to September 2025 will be full, graded inspections; these are expected to be enhanced to take account of local skills needs.”

It comes after the government asked Ofsted to give a quicker assessment of how well education is recovering from the pandemic. Ofsted has been given £23.9m to help fund this work.

The inspection arrangements will be confirmed “in due course”, Ofsted said, with additional details updated in the schools and further education and skills inspection handbooks.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Children only get one chance at school. Everyone working in education must do everything they can to give this generation the best possible chance to fulfil its potential. Ofsted will play its part – by giving parents and learners up-to-date information, and by helping schools and colleges shape their plans. I’m pleased that we will now be able to reach all schools, colleges and apprenticeship providers by summer 2025.”

The news came a week after the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) had called on Ofsted to grant inspection deferral requests from schools that find themselves in “crisis mode” due to the sharp increases in Covid-related absence of pupils and staff.

School leaders were incredulous at this week’s news. Given the huge pressure facing schools due to Covid disruption and staff absence, Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the announcement felt “completely tone-deaf”.

He continued: “Ofsted appears to be stuck in the past – dusting off a pre-pandemic inspection framework with little recognition that the world around them has changed. We are still a very long way from business as usual in schools. Ofsted seems to be unwilling to properly take into account the very significant challenges schools are still facing, as well as the impact Covid has had.”

He called on Ofsted to think instead about “how best to support and inspect schools in a post-lockdown world”. He added: “When it comes to inspection, more of the same is an inadequate response to the challenges of today.”

At ASCL, director of policy Julie McCulloch was equally perplexed: “We have to say that the government has some strange ideas about the priority for education recovery. It isn’t Ofsted inspections that will help children to catch-up with lost learning caused by the pandemic but ensuring that schools and colleges have sufficient funding from the government to deliver recovery programmes at the scale required.

“However, the government hasn’t committed anything like the level of investment which is needed for this task, although it has managed to find an extra £23.9m to spend on inspections.

“At the moment, many schools and colleges are still dealing with the disruption caused by the pandemic, and the prospect of also having to deal with a visit from an inspection team isn’t particularly helpful.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, added: “Government ministers are showing, yet again, that they have no understanding of the exhaustion and stress felt by teachers and leaders. Inspection adds hugely to the stress they face coping with high rates of Covid infection in schools and college and with an inspectorate which has failed to understand, or appreciate, that Covid is still causing huge problems in our education system."

Inspections were suspended in March 2020 during the first school lockdown. Ofsted resumed all types of routine inspections this term and between September and the October half-term around 500 have taken place.

  • Ofsted: Ofsted accelerates inspections for schools and further education providers, November 2021:

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