Inspectors fight Ofsted plan to send them into schools

Vote among Ofsted staff 'overwhelmingly' calls for the suspension of school site visits during the coronavirus lockdown

John Roberts

Coronavirus: Ofsted inspectors have called on chief inspetor Amanda Spielman to suspend plans to for on-site school visits during the height of the Covid crisis

Ofsted inspectors have rebelled against the watchdog's plan to send them into schools for monitoring inspections during this term's lockdown at the pandemic's "worst point".

Inspectors who are members of the FDA union have voted "overwhelmingly" to call on chief inspector Amanda Spielman to suspend on-site visits during the current Covid-19 lockdown. 

They have raised serious concerns about the risks posed to both pupils and staff of having Ofsted visit schools during the current public health crisis.

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The FDA members have also warned that the prospect of Ofsted inspections is a "burden" that school leaders working in "incredibly difficult circumstances could well do without".

Tes revealed on Friday that Ofsted was still planning to send its inspectors into schools when monitoring visits resume next week. 

But now the FDA, which represents Ofsted inspectors, is opposing the plan.

Coronavirus: 'Unacceptable' for Ofsted to carry out regular school visits

The FDA national officer for Ofsted, Duncan Woodhead, said: “With the new Covid variant transmitting at 50-70 per cent higher than before and much higher numbers still attending nurseries, schools and colleges compared to the first lockdown, our first priority must be the safety and wellbeing of children and young people, as well as sector staff. 

“The secretary of state for health has [yesterday] made clear that we are at the worst point in this pandemic and has urged everyone to act like they have the virus. In these circumstances, it is simply unacceptable for Ofsted to still be carrying out regular site visits.

“As well as the clear risks to the health of HMI staff [senior inspectors] undertaking the visits, with inspectors moving from site to site, there are clear risks posed to the health of students and school staff.

"This is a burden school leaders, already working in incredibly difficult circumstances, could well do without.

“FDA members, of course, remain willing to undertake on-site activity if there is an immediate safeguarding issue, but this must be the exception.

"We therefore urge HM Chief Inspector to accept the FDA’s proposals to suspend routine site visits as a matter of urgency.”

At their annual general meeting yesterday afternoon, members raised serious concerns about the risks posed to the health of young people and staff, and called for on-site activity to be limited to instances where there were immediate safeguarding concerns.

Yesterday Ofsted set out the safety measures its inspectors will take when going into schools from next week.

On coronavirus safety during the visits, the watchdog said that inspectors will be given up-to-date guidance on safety and supplied with PPE [personal protective equipment].

The inspectorate has also said it would arrange a testing programme, which will enable inspectors to take a test before face-to-face visits.

Last term Ofsted's programme of visits to schools to check on pupils' return to full-time education was hit by controversy after an inspector tested positive for Covid and, as a result, a London primary school had to close its doors.

Ofsted has been approached for a comment this morning over the FDA's announcement. 

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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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