Challenging Ofsted works

New figures show that nearly one in two appeals against inspectors' reports succeeds

SCHOOLS UNHAPPY with their inspection reports should take heart from previously unreleased figures that show that almost half of those who have complained have been vindicated.

The statistics, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that since the introduction of light-touch inspections, 49.4 per cent of school grievances have been either partially or fully upheld.

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, is now urging schools to challenge Ofsted if they feel reports are unfair. Bad reports can lead to heads losing their jobs.

Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders conference on Saturday, Ms Gilbert said: "I have been surprised the complaints procedure is hardly used. Use that procedure if there is something wrong."

Figures show that schools taking her advice are much more likely to succeed than those appealing to exam boards, where only a sixth of challenges to A-level and GCSE exam grades are upheld. Keith Dennis, ASCL inspections consultant, said: "It does surprise me because I previously thought the system was weighted against the complainant."

Between September 2005, when shorter inspections more reliant on background data began, and the end of January 2007, 194 primaries and 61 secondaries complained about inspections: 80 primary complaints were partially upheld and 16 fully. For secondaries, the totals were 27 and three, respectively.

Mike Kent, head of Comber Grove primary in Southwark, south-east London, made more than 26 complaints about an Ofsted inspection in 2000 under the old system. More than half of these were upheld.

"It was a long, hard process - you really had to push things," he said. "I had to speak to 16 separate people from Ofsted. But I can't say I didn't feel good about the result. Heads should go for it if they feel they have a case - Ofsted inspections can be devastating and there is a lot of unfairness out there."

During 2005-06, 5 per cent of inspections led to complaints. But Mr Dennis believes many more would do so if they believed they had any chance of getting their judgments changed and were less worried about the consequences.

"There is a nervousness about complaints because people fear they will be identified and subjected to punitive measures," he said.

Ms Gilbert admitted that inspectors had placed too much emphasis on contextual value-added data comparing pupils' test results with their background and previous attainment. "They clung to it more than I hoped,"

she said, adding she hoped it was no longer occurring.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said the watchdog took "all complaints seriously".

"Only a small proportion of inspections give rise to a complaint," she said.

But Colin Richardson, head of Cockburn College of Arts, Leeds, believes the grievance procedure is still unfair. He complained unsuccessfully after his school was given a notice to improve in November. But he is appealing again because he feels Ofsted has not given his school a fair second hearing.

A National Foundation for Educational Research survey published in July found that 58 per cent of schools were "very satisfied" with the new-style inspections, and 31 per cent "quite satisfied".

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