Exclusive: Ofsted comeback 'must be without judgement’

Call from heads comes as Ofsted confirms that it will be sending inspectors back into schools for visits from this week

John Roberts

Coronavirus: Paul Whiteman, of the NAHT school leaders' union, has said that when Ofsted resumes its full inspections, it should not use its existing framework and should not grade schools

Ofsted must not use its existing inspection framework or grade schools when it resumes inspections, a headteacher's leader has warned.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, also stated that a January return for Ofsted inspections would be "ridiculous", and that it would be a "disaster" if the inspectorate distracted heads from the challenge of running schools during the coronavirus crisis.

His made his comments as Ofsted confirmed that it is sending inspectors back into schools from this week for its autumn "visits" after the end of the national lockdown.


Exclusive: Ofsted admits its new visits are a form of inspection

Background: Inspectorate reviewing whether to switch back to in-person visits after national lockdown

Coronavirus: Ofsted moves its visits online during lockdown


However, it is still not clear exactly how and when full inspections will return. They are scheduled to come back in January 2021 – but this is under review.

Mr Whiteman has called on Ofsted not to use its existing education inspection framework, which was launched and led by chief inspector Amanda Spielman last year, when it does return.

Coronavirus: Ofsted inspection 'must be helpful'

He said: "We are certainly not arguing that this should be the end of inspection – but, more than ever, it has to be reasonable, proportionate and helpful.

"So the big questions here are: when do they return? What is the situation with Covid at that point? And, therefore, what would be reasonable and helpful for school leaders?

"Returning to the current inspection framework wouldn’t be helpful or reasonable because what we have to recognise is that by the time we get back in 2021, it will be nearly a year or more of crisis management."

Ofsted's new framework places an increased emphasis on the curriculum, assessing this through "deep dives" into particular subjects as part of a quality of education judgement. 

Mr Whiteman said that, for almost a year, leaders have not been able to "lift their eyes above the daily operational challenges of operating during Covid-19". He told Tes that there needed to be a debate about whether the inspection framework was current or relevant to the challenges faced by schools during the pandemic.

He added: "I can see a role for Ofsted in helping the sector to learn from the pandemic, but that has got to be without judgement. So as we go back, we need a soft landing into how the inspectorate comes alongside schools in a supportive way to help us climb out of the pandemic.”

An announcement on Ofsted's return to full inspection is expected imminently.

At the recent Schools and Academies show, education secretary Gavin Williamson said it would be done "safely and sensitively", and Ms Spielman has suggested there would be a gradual return.

Mr Whiteman has warned that the lack of clarity over how and when Ofsted is returning has caused unnecessary anxiety for school leaders.

He added: "The uncertainty about what is happening with Ofsted is an added pressure which really is taking its toll and, actually, I think there is no one who now thinks that return to inspection in January is a good idea.

"We will still be in the midst of a pandemic and the notion that we can have people who aren’t part of a regime of the school walking around and undermining the infection controls is not a good idea to start off with. And to get in the way of the real operational challenges schools are facing every day would just be a disaster."  

Ofsted has confirmed that its visits to schools will be resuming in person after the national lockdown finishes on Wednesday.

The inspectorate had moved these visits online when the month-long Covid-19 lockdown was launched, and had previously told Tes it was reviewing how they would operate after this.

It had faced calls to move its visits online earlier this term as Covid cases in schools increased: Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said at the end of October that it would make more sense for inspectors to stop going into schools in person, due to the virus.

It then emerged that a London primary school had closed for a week after an Ofsted inspector tested positive for Covid-19 following a visit.

But an Ofsted spokesperson said today: "Interim visits will continue in-person for the remainder of the autumn term, following the lifting of the national lockdown on 2 December."

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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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