Ofsted has announced that its monitoring inspections of schools will be carried out remotely until after the February half-term in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
The watchdog was due to start going back into schools to inspect from next week but has changed its plans after the government issued advice to the public tonight to “act as if you have the virus”.
The change of plan also comes after Ofsted’s own inspectors urged chief inspector Amanda Spielman to suspend in-person visits over concerns about Covid.
Exclusive: Ofsted will go into schools during lockdown
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We have reviewed our plans for the inspections of schools, early years and further education, which were due to begin next week.
Coronavirus: Ofsted delays return of school visits
"In light of a change in emphasis from the government and clear advice to ‘act as if you have the virus’ over the next few weeks, we have decided that all planned inspection activity will be undertaken remotely until after the February half-term.
“We have sought regular advice from Public Health England and we remain satisfied that our planned on-site activity would be safe and appropriate under current restrictions.
"However, the new government messages and the practical challenges of deploying inspectors across England have prompted this change.”
The FDA union, which represent Ofsted's HMI, announced that its Ofsted members had voted "overwhelmingly" to call on Ms Spielman to suspend on-site visits during the current Covid-19 lockdown.
They raised serious concerns about the risks posed to both pupils and staff of having Ofsted visit schools during the current public health crisis.
And they said that facing school inspections was a burden school leaders working in "incredibly difficult circumstances could well do without".
Second change of plan
Ofsted has now twice changed its plans for inspection in 2021.
Originally it had planned to return to full graded inspections this month.
However it was announced last month that full inspections were being pushed back to the summer term and that this term the watchdog would carry out a programme of "supportive" monitoring visits of schools graded as requiring improvement or inadequate.
Despite the national lockdown Ofsted and the Department for Education said last week that these inspections would be going ahead this term.
The Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton wrote to Ms Spielman last week urging her to rule out in person visits.
However Tes revealed on Friday that the watchdog intended to send inspectors into schools to carry them out.
Ofsted said that inspections of schools will require some work on site in order to provide robust assurance to parents and others – including about the pupils who are still attending schools.
Yesterday the inspectorate set out plans to do this - including ensuring inspectors have Covid tests before going into schools.
However the FDA which represents HMI called on Ofsted to suspend school visits as during this term's lockdown at the pandemic's "worst point".
And tonight Ofsted has said the monitoring inspections will be carried out online until the half term.
In a statement Ofsted added: "Remote inspections of schools and further education providers will begin from January 25, with a particular focus on how well children and learners are being educated remotely.
"We will inspect schools rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ as planned, but we will also follow up on complaints raised by parents across all grades of school in order to resolve issues.
"As these inspections will not involve an on-site visit, they will be unable to cover the full scope of a monitoring inspection. We will publish details of the inspection process shortly.
"We will continue to undertake on-site inspections if we have immediate concerns - for example about safeguarding, the leadership of a school, or a failure to provide education to children."