It is "wrong" for schools to face a return to full Ofsted inspections in January when they could be dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, managing safety measures and supporting children whose learning has been disrupted, according to a headteachers' union.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has also warned that Ofsted’s planned visits to schools from September must not become a distraction for school leaders – or inspection by another name.
Full Ofsted inspections are set to return in January, after the full reopening of schools in September, although the date is being kept under review. Mr Barton said this was "the wrong priority".
He said: “We are not convinced that talking about a longer-term plan to bring back full inspections in January is wise at this stage.
"It is likely that schools and colleges will be periodically dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, continuing to manage extensive safety measures, and supporting children whose learning has been disrupted, including many who will be taking GCSEs and A levels next summer.
Coronavirus: 'Don't add Ofsted school inspections into the turbulent mix'
“To add routine Ofsted inspections into this turbulent mix seems like the wrong priority, and we welcome the commitment to keeping the date under review.”
Today Ofsted has also announced a separate programme of visits to schools and colleges starting in September.
The inspectorate says part of the focus will be on the provision of “blended learning”, which is the mix of on-site and remote education that schools provide.
These new Ofsted visits will not be graded, but the outcomes of discussions with school leaders will be published in a brief letter so parents can understand what steps are being taken to help children back into full-time education, Ofsted said.
ASCL has raised concerns about the plans.
Mr Barton said: “We can see the good intention behind Ofsted’s plan to work collaboratively with schools and colleges on the vital task of reintegrating children back into the classroom.
“But many leaders will need a lot of convincing that these visits will bring real value or otherwise they will simply be a distraction.
"As such, the rationale, consistency and tone set by inspectors is going to be more important than ever. These visits must not turn into inspection by another name, at a time when schools and colleges will have so much to deal with.”
Department for Education guidance for schools returning in September says that, in the event of a new coronavirus outbreak, schools may be advised to close temporarily – in which case, remote education plans should be in place.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has also said Ofsted would be asked to check how schools have spent additional funding to help pupils catch up following the coronavirus outbreak.