Time for Ofsted school inspections to resume – Jayne Dowle

SORRY Gavin Williamson, but I have another item for your summer holiday to-do list. Can I please make a plea, as a parent and school governor, to get Ofsted inspections back on track?

When should Ofsted inspections be reinstated? Columnist Jayne Dowle poses the question.
When should Ofsted inspections be reinstated? Columnist Jayne Dowle poses the question.

Please ensure that primary schools, secondary schools and colleges are inspected and given the credit they deserve, or the push they need, to maintain, improve and even surpass standards for all our children and young people.

With sympathy to my teacher friends, I wouldn’t wish an Ofsted inspection on anyone really. When I worked at a further education college about 15 years ago, you could smell the impending doom in the air. Late nights, early mornings, staff marching out and tears.

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But then again, I’ve talked to other teachers, such as the former head of my daughter’s academy, who welcomed the chance for the school to prove itself.

Gavin Williamson is the Education Secretary.

In January 2020, just two months before lockdown changed the world, this school upped itself from ‘Requires Improvement’ to ‘Good’ in the space of three years. I actually cried with pride on behalf of all the hard work put in by staff and pupils to achieve this turnaround.

Quite understandably, all inspections were paused when the first Covid-19 pandemic lockdown occurred in March 2020. With children sent home and the need to establish virtual learning, the priority was keeping everyone safe.

However, a few weeks ago Williamson was questioned by Parliament’s Education Committee on the possibility of speeding up the process for schools and colleges left waiting for inspections.

There are two main reasons for this, both of which impact directly on the reputation of everyone concerned in local education. Schools and colleges living on an outdated critical Ofsted judgment – ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ – may well have transformed themselves, in spite of everything that coronavirus has thrown at them. A fresh inspection would provide a huge confidence boost and improve admissions.

When should Ofsted inspections be reinstated? Columnist Jayne Dowle poses the question.

Conversely, a school or college given a glowing Outstanding report some years ago may be coasting along on its laurels, to mix a metaphor typically found on many a pupil’s own end-of-year report.

I’ve heard plenty of parents complaining that the school they fought so hard to get their child into turned out not to be so ‘outstanding’ after all. Whilst you certainly can’t please all the parents all of the time, there is an important point to be made here.

The Ofsted measure is not the be-all and end-all, but it is at least a measure. And of course, we all know of schools which have never been officially Outstanding, but are nevertheless excellent in all respects.

Outstanding schools had been allowed exemption from inspection since 2011 as long as standards were found to have been generally maintained, a light-touch approach. However, the immunity was removed in October following a consultation.

However, it is reported that some schools may have gone without inspection for 14 years, which is almost as long as any child spends in full-time education in total.

It’s difficult to put current precise figures on the number left neglected, but a 2017 investigation by the education publication Schools Week found that 1,283 schools appeared to have not been inspected for more than seven years.

Two years later, a similar investigation by sister publication Further Education Week discovered 30 colleges uninspected for a decade, and this in the midst of colossal changes to post-16 education.

And then, of course, there are the new schools. Countless schools have converted to academy status in the last decade, and also, brand-new schools have been built and opened by academy trusts and charities. They are often left hanging.

Quite a big item for the to-do list, then Mr Williamson. I hear that you are considering a way to accelerate the timetable for inspections in order to address the backlog. You’ve said the Government will now be “looking very closely” at what “further action we can take to ensure that schools are best supported by Ofsted”.

I hope this means more than one of your customary quick cursory glances. It should mean working with Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, to create a credible and effective way forward. By September, a rigorous inspection programme should be in place – Covid restrictions or not.

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