Ofsted inspectors fear they could become a “Typhoid Mary” by unwittingly spreading the coronavirus when they return into schools next month, Tes can reveal.
Some inspectors are also concerned about the risks to their own health or those in their household and questions have been raised with Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman on why the visits could not be done virtually.
A professional HMI inspector who has asked to remain anonymous said opinion was split among inspectors about the plan to return to school and there were major concerns among a “significant number of inspectors.”
Ofsted will return to schools in from the end of this month to carry out visits to see how well children are being supported to catch up following the massive disruption caused to their education during the coronavirus pandemic.
The inspector said: “I know from conversations I have had that some inspectors have real anxiety from their own personal health point of view about going into schools. There are some who have medical conditions."
He told Tes there were concerns about the fact that inspectors could be visiting more than a dozen schools over the rest of the year.
“We have been told HMI will be visiting two schools every week, so it could be 20 over the term," he said.
"There is a worry about spreading the virus. One comment I heard was someone saying 'we could be like Typhoid Mary' because we risk spreading the infection if we visit schools with the virus but before we are feeling ill or if we are asymptomatic."
Duncan Woodhead, a national officer with the FDA union, which represents HMI, said the union has raised concerns with Ofsted about the potential for these visits to become "a vector for spreading the virus."
He said the union had received reassurances from the watchdog that a significant amount of the work on these visits can be done virtually or remotely and that time spent onsite will be socially distanced and "in line with site-specific policies which have been assessed to mitigate COVID-19 risk".
But the inspector who spoke to Tes said that if much of this information-gathering could be done remotely, why was there a need for the visits at all?
“I think there is a sense that there is going to be some risk involved and is it a needless risk?" he said.
The Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton said: "In terms of health and safety, these visits are yet another thing that schools will have to manage within their control measures.
"It just isn’t the right priority at the moment when there is so much else to do. Ofsted seems unable to understand this.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Our visits this term are not inspections. They are not judgemental, they are not graded and they require no preparation whatsoever by schools.
"They are important because they will allow us to report on the national picture throughout the autumn so that parents, the sector and the government get a rounded and independent picture of how education is getting back on its feet.
"As part of our preparation for the autumn term, we are working hard to train and support Her Majesty’s Inspectors as they prepare for visits, and we’ve had open and constructive conversations with all the relevant unions.”
A return to full Ofsted inspections will not next take place until January at the earliest. But Ofsted is set to carry out the new visits to schools this term from 28 September until the end of term in December.