Covid: Ofsted's full return delayed until summer term

Watchdog will carry out 'supportive' monitoring school inspections in the spring term, DfE reveals

John Roberts

Coronavirus: The return of Ofsted full school inspections has been delayed until the summer term

Ofsted's routine graded inspections will remain suspended until the summer term, the Department for Education announced today.

However, from January, the watchdog will be carrying out monitoring inspections of schools judged as "requires improvement" or "inadequate".

The DfE has also said Ofsted will continue to have the power to inspect a school if it has serious concerns, including over safeguarding or remote education.

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Ms Spielman said in a statement today: “The usual level of scrutiny within the education and care system has been absent since last March, so it’s important that it returns next year as we all hope for a greater level of normality.

"But we understand the pressure that everyone in education and social care is working under and we want to return to our usual work in a measured, sensitive and practical way.

“...Our role is to offer the greatest assurance we can to parents and the public about the quality of education and care arrangements for children and learners."

The plans announced today "will help us support the providers who are facing the greatest challenges during these difficult times" and "ensure that inspection is fair, safe and valuable, while remaining true to our core purpose and principles", she said.

Ofsted had been scheduled to return to full inspections in January but school leaders had warned this would be “unthinkable” and “ridiculous”, given the ongoing Covid crisis.

On Tuesday, at the launch of Ofsted’s annual report, chief inspector Amanda Spielman revealed that she did not expect to return to graded inspections in January.

'Supportive' Ofsted school inspections

The "supportive" inspections of all "inadequate" and some "requires improvement" schools from January will not result in a grade, Ofsted said.

They will focus on “important issues like curriculum, remote education and pupil attendance, particularly of vulnerable children”, the DfE said.

Tes understands these will be carried out as section 8 monitoring visits, and reports will be published on the schools visited.

Inspectors will not specifically judge a school’s remote education during these inspections.

However, they will ask schools about how they are adapting teaching to the current circumstances and how well-sequenced and relevant a school’s remote education provision is.

Inspectors will also be expected to recognise the pressures on schools and the unique circumstances created by Covid.

The announcement that graded inspections have been postponed until the summer term has been welcomed by school leaders' unions.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “In September we were faced with secondary exams proceeding unaltered, all primary assessments going ahead as normal, full publication of performance data, and a return to inspection in January.

“This announcement brings with it some much-needed relief to school leaders, who have been operating in ‘emergency mode’ for most of this year. The reduction of some of the burdens in the system will begin to allow school leaders to focus on the quality of education they are determined to provide for pupils.

“While the government has not gone as far as we would have liked, they have moved significantly towards the profession. We will continue to work with them on the areas where we still have concerns.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are pleased that the government has listened to our call for routine Ofsted inspections not to resume in January and for school performance tables in their normal form to be scrapped for this academic year. 

“It is vital that schools and colleges are able to focus on the immensely complex task of simultaneously delivering learning, catch-up support and Covid safety measures without the added burden of having to worry about inspections and performance tables, which could not possibly be fair in the midst of such disruption.

"This decision will be widely welcomed, and will come as an immense relief to school and college leaders, who are working under relentless pressure. 

“We support the idea of Ofsted monitoring visits to struggling schools in the spring term, as long as these are genuinely supportive.”

Yesterday, Tes revealed that Ofsted will be assessing schools' remote learning when full inspections return.

Chris Russell, the watchdog's acting national director of education, said this would form part of the assessment Ofsted makes about the quality of education at a school.

However, he said that schools managing an active "situation" with Covid-19 would be able to ask Ofsted to defer an inspection – as they can now with the inspectorate's visits this term.

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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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