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Cash-starved Ofsted underspends budget and suggests extra inspections

Audit-committee minutes reveal an underspend of £1.2 million in its budget, a surplus that could be used to finance more inspections

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Audit-committee minutes reveal an underspend of £1.2 million in its budget, a surplus that could be used to finance more inspections

Ofsted is forecasting an underspend of £1.2 million in its 2017-18 budget despite seeing its budget slashed and says it wants to use the extra money to finance more inspections.

By 2019-20, the inspectorate will have seen its funding cut by 38 per cent, compared to the £200m in funding it enjoyed in 2010-11. But now audit-committee minutes from the schools watchdog have revealed it is on course to have money left over at the end of this financial year.

The committee has recommended that these funds should be used to “provide value for money, support delivery of our new strategic objectives and, where possible, increase the volume of inspection”.

The situation contrasts with the one outlined in 2016 by Sir Michael Wilshaw, who was at the time Ofsted chief inspector. He said that the watchdog needed to save £31.5 million over the next four years, in order to ensure that it was financially secure.

Between April 2015 and March 2016, only 67 per cent of inspections of maintained schools were carried out, saving more than £3 million.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “The forecast underspend of £1.2 million is less than 1 per cent of our available funding. Ofsted manages its budget carefully, and needs to operate within its parliamentary control totals.”

'Operational challenges' for Ofsted

She added that the watchdog was not currently planning to inspect any more providers than had been outlined in its corporate strategy.

“We recently consulted on a new approach to inspecting ‘good’ schools, prior to this the conversion process had resulted in operational challenges," she said. "The report to the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee was reconfirming our position to continue to invest in the delivery of inspections volumes and our new strategy."

In its 2017-2022 corporate strategy, published in September last year, Ofsted outlined plans to inspect between 5 and 10 per cent of outstanding schools. It said that it would make time to do this by extending the period – within the statutory five-year limit – between inspections of good schools.

And, in December, the watchdog said that it would wait up to two years between a short inspection of a school that it believed might no longer be rated “good” and a full follow-up inspection.

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