'Dismayed' heads call for Ofsted 'visits' rethink

School leaders and governors ask Amanda Spielman: is it 'too much to ask that schools are given at least one term’s grace from Ofsted'?

John Roberts

School leaders and governors have criticised the plan for Ofsted to publish letters about individual schools when it visits them this term.

School leaders and governors have urged Amanda Spielman to rethink plans for Ofsted's visits to schools this term, warning her that the process will feel like an inspection.

A joint letter sent to the chief inspector from school leaders' unions and the National Governance Association has voiced "dismay" that Ofsted has "shifted its focus to looking at individual schools" during its interim visits, which start this month. 

The letter warns Ofsted that its decision to publish letters with findings about each school it visits makes the process similar to an inspection report.

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And it adds: "It is surely not too much to ask that schools are given at least one term’s grace from Ofsted processes, however framed, so that they can focus on the very demanding job of reintegrating pupils, and we ask you to reconsider your plans."

It comes on the day Tes revealed that 80 per cent of teachers want Ofsted to scrap plans to resume full school inspections after Christmas and think they should not start again for at least a year. 

The new letter is signed by the Association of School and College Leaders' general secretary Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union Paul Whiteman and the chief executive of the NGA Emma Knights.

It comes in response to the plans Ofsted published this week about its visits into schools from the end of this month.

The open letter says: "We had engaged constructively with senior officials at Ofsted, and felt we had arrived at an approach that would provide a valuable insight into educational recovery following the Covid lockdown, while relieving schools of routine inspections during at least the autumn term to allow them to focus on managing safety controls, identifying learning gaps and providing pupils with appropriate support.

"Our understanding from these discussions was that the purpose of visiting a sample of schools during the autumn term was primarily to inform thematic reports that would be useful to the wider sector, and we advised that any letters published following visits should therefore be confined to advising parents and other stakeholders that a visit had taken place for this purpose.

"We were dismayed then to find in your announcement this week that the emphasis has shifted towards focusing individually on schools with processes that are similar to an inspection and the publication of an 'outcome letter'."

It says Ms Spielman "must understand that a letter written by an Ofsted inspector and published about a school will feel like an inspection report".

The letter adds: "This impression is reinforced by the fact that there is a mechanism for using a visit to trigger a full inspection; the sample of schools to be inspected includes all rated ‘inadequate’; the necessity for a complaints process about the planned letters; and the telling phrase in the sample letter we have seen: ‘We did not find any serious causes for concern during the visit’."

Speaking to Tes, Ms Knights said: "Governing boards are already providing critical support and challenge to executive leaders on all the return-to-school issues including curriculum, catch-up funding and safeguarding. After an enormously busy six months for executive leaders and school staff, we strongly object to Ofsted’s approach, which puts unnecessary added pressure on schools.

"It is extremely disappointing that Ofsted chose not to take up our suggestion of treating these visits as purely research visits which might have provided intelligence to the sector without the need for a letter at all."

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "Unions have been involved at every stage as we developed our plans for the autumn visits, including the letters. We have been clear throughout that the visits are not judgemental and that they require no preparation. We have also been clear that the letters for parents would be a simple summary of what school leaders told us – nothing more and nothing less. Our national summaries will contain much more information and insight.

"Suggesting that we should not publish any information at all for parents after a visit to their child’s school is not acceptable. We would urge schools to read our guidance – you do not need to prepare for visits and you do not need to be concerned about letters."

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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