Recently, Ofsted inspections of multi-academy trusts (MAT) have become a topic of concern as an increasing number of MAT leaders query the consistency of judgements awarded to schools within the same MAT, where different grades are awarded despite the same approaches to running the schools being taken.
With the increasing prevalence of MATs across the sector, and the drive for schools to form groups, these concerns need to be addressed to ensure confidence in Ofsted’s inspection regime. Some of the concerns which have been raised by Queen Street Group, a network of trusts which includes 36 trust chief executive members, include what is considered to be unfairness in Ofsted’s interpretation of evidence presented to it by MATs, for instance where opinion and comment is believed to have been preferred over objective evidence provided during inspection.
In terms of inconsistency in school judgements across a MAT, some of the concerns which have been raised centre around the varying grades which can be awarded to schools, from Requires Improvement to Good, despite the MAT having applied a consistent approach to curriculum, behaviour and safeguarding across the breadth of its schools.
Concerns have also been raised specifically in respect of the Ofsted complaints process., which some MAT leaders consider is balanced in the inspectorate’s favour. A number of headteachers have stated that they are sometimes reluctant during an inspection to raise concerns for fear of a negative impact on the inspection outcome. Whilst the number of reports amended following a complaint has increased, in the last year only 1.5% of formal complaints resulted in the inspection grade being amended. Some see that this is an indication that Ofsted is reluctant to apply full and proper scrutiny to its inspection processes and outcomes.
In June 2023 Ofsted announced a consultation in respect of changes to its post-inspection arrangements and complaints handling. As part of the consultation Ofsted proposes to:
- Enhance on-site professional dialogue during inspections in an effort to address issues during the inspection visit
- Introduce an opportunity for providers to contact Ofsted the day after an inspection if they have any unresolved concerns
- Introduce arrangements for finalising reports and considering formal challenges to inspection outcomes
- Replace the current internal review process with a direct escalation to the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted, including adding a new periodic review of closed complaints, using external representatives from the sectors it inspects.
The consultation has closed and responses are being considered, but depending on the outcome of the consultation, changes to Ofsted complaints processes and procedures may be a welcome change for schools.
Whilst the outcome of the consultation is awaiting, schools should keep in mind that options which are available to them where there are concerns in respect of the process of an inspection, or the outcome of an inspection. We have produced a separate article explaining the options which are available to your school, which include complaining to Ofsted, challenging the Ofsted report, and in some cases judicial review.
If you would like support with taking any steps following an Ofsted inspection please get in touch.