We have all been saddened by the recent news of Ruth Perry, a headteacher who took her own life following an Ofsted inspection report that downgraded her school. The pressure on schools to ensure compliance with the sea of regulation, whilst providing high quality education, is significant. Ofsted inspection reports, whilst important, can unfortunately have detrimental impacts on not only the reputation of the school, but on staff wellbeing too.
Inspections can be one of the most stressful times in a school calendar but they remain an important part of the accountability framework. By understanding the scope of the inspection, how your school can prepare, and options available following an inspection, you will be better placed to manage an Ofsted inspection when it takes place.
Preparing for the inspection
Ahead of the inspection, your school will be expected to provide certain practical information to Ofsted, such as a list of staff, anyone working on site who is normally employed elsewhere if you are a multi-academy trust, maps and Wi-Fi details, and the school timetable.
Safeguarding is a key priority for schools, and therefore the inspector will expect to be provided with a copy of your single central record, any referrals made to the designated safeguarding lead and the local authority, and any pupils with open cases with children’s services or social care. To ensure that your school’s position in respect of safeguarding is strong, you should ensure that your safeguarding policy is regularly reviewed and updated in line with Keeping Children Safe in Education, and that all staff are familiar with the Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance.
Our clients often find that, whilst staff can read the safeguarding guidance and policies, frequent practical training delivered by their legal advisor helps them to better understand how to apply the school’s policy on the ground and reassures the Board of Trustees and senior leadership team that there is a practical understanding in respect of safeguarding. If you would be interested in us preparing bespoke training for your school please let us know.
Ofsted will also review the policies which are publicly available on your school’s website. It is therefore important that, as well as ensuring that your safeguarding policy is up to date, other policies including your behaviour, exclusions and complaints policies are regularly reviewed and updated, and the current versions are available on your website.
Before an Ofsted inspection, you should consider whether your school’s governance documents, that is your Articles of Association and Funding Agreement, are up to date and accord with good practice. Any schemes of delegation should also be carefully reviewed by your Board of Trustees.
You should keep in mind that it is possible to ask to defer or cancel an inspection. We have previously prepared an article setting out more fully the situations in which a deferral or cancellation can be requested, and the process to be followed, which can be accessed here.
The Ofsted inspection
When inspecting your school the inspectors will make four key judgements based on the following criterion:
- The quality of education;
- behaviour and attitudes;
- personal development;
- leadership and management.
Inspectors will also make a judgement on your school’s overall effectiveness and, depending on your school, they may also make judgments in respect of early years provision and/or sixth-form provision. In judging overall effectiveness, inspectors will take account of the 4 key criteria above.
Each of these criteria will be rated against the 4-point scale which is used by Ofsted to make all judgements, and which you will be familiar with: Outstanding; Good; Requires Improvement; and Inadequate. Whilst schools strive to be judged ‘Outstanding’, Ofsted itself acknowledges that this is a challenging and exacting judgement and to reach this standard the school must meet all the requirements for Good under the criteria (e.g. quality of education) securely and consistently. It is not enough for your school to be strong against only some aspects of the criteria. In addition, your school will be expected to meet additional Outstanding requirements under the criteria.
When considering a judgement of ‘Good’ or ‘Requires Improvement’, Ofsted will consider whether the overall quality of your school is most closely aligned to the descriptors set out in each criterion. This means that there is some room for some aspects of the criteria to be stronger than others.
A school will be Inadequate under a particular criterion if one or more of the Inadequate requirements applies. For example, if the inspector finds that pupils have not attained the qualifications appropriate for them to progress to their next stages of education, training or employment, your school would likely be graded Inadequate under the quality of education criteria.
Practical steps following inspection
After your inspection you are given an opportunity to provide feedback. The feedback received is used by Ofsted to review and improve the inspection process and is an opportunity to give your view on the process and the likely impact it will have on your school.
Complain about Ofsted
Whilst in many cases inspections are constructive and fair, your school deserves to receive a high-quality inspection and there may be times when you have cause to complain to Ofsted. Ofsted strives to conduct inspections in line with its code of conduct and will want to hear if the inspection hasn’t met your school’s expectation.
It is always recommended to raise any concerns with the inspector during the inspection. However, it may be that this isn’t possible and, if so, formal complaints can be lodged within a specific timeframe after the event. A complaint can be made about the inspection process, the conduct of the inspector, or the outcome of the inspection.
We can guide you through the complaints process to ensure that your concern is heard and dealt with appropriately by Ofsted and can advise you on pursuing your complaint through the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted if necessary.
Challenge the Ofsted report
In addition, you may consider that the draft report produced by Ofsted following the inspection is inaccurate or does not fairly represent your school. If this is the case we can advise you on challenging the report to seek to have the report amended, have gradings altered, have aspects removed, or in some circumstances have the report removed from publication and arrange for re-inspection.
Finally, if you consider that Ofsted has acted in a manner which is unlawful, irrational, or with procedural impropriety, you may consider commencing a judicial review of the process of inspection, the report produced, and the judgement given to your school. Judicial reviews are complex and can be daunting, but we are well placed to advise you on the process to seek permission to commence a judicial review and in putting an arguable case forward.
If you have any queries in respect of your school’s obligations to Ofsted, preparing for an inspection, or steps which can be taken following an Ofsted inspection, please get in touch with our team.