Exclusive: Ofsted’s Covid school visits may stay online

Inspectorate says it is reviewing how its controversial school visits will operate after the national lockdown lifts this week

John Roberts

Ofsted's school visits could continue to take place online after the national lockdown.

Ofsted's controversial "visits" to schools this term may continue to be conducted remotely when the national lockdown ends later this week, Tes has learned.

The watchdog moved its visits online during the lockdown but chief inspector Amanda Spielman had said inspectors would return into schools after this finished.

However, when asked by Tes if this was still the plan when the lockdown comes to an end on Wednesday, Ofsted said that the matter was still under review.

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Background: Ofsted's plan for autumn visits to schools

Ofsted has been carrying out visits during this term to check on pupils' return to full-time education following the first coronavirus lockdown in March.

Just before the start of the second national lockdown, Ofsted announced that it was moving its visits online with a view to returning to in-person visits when the country came out of this period of heightened restrictions.

The news came after Tes revealed that a London primary school had closed for a week after an Ofsted inspector tested positive for Covid-19 following a visit.

In a speech to the online National Children and Adult Services (NCAS) conference earlier this month, Ms Spielman had said: "We will be working remotely where we can – only going on-site where it’s necessary to do so, or in response to urgent concerns.

"That means our programme of autumn visits to schools and colleges will be done remotely for the time being. But we will revert to in-person visits after the lockdown."

However, when asked if this was still the plan, an Ofsted spokesperson said: "How we carry out our interim visits after the national lockdown is lifted remains under review.”

Ofsted came under pressure to move these visits online last month as Covid cases in schools increased throughout the term.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, had said it would make more sense for inspectors to stop going into schools in person given the situation with the virus.

Before term started, Tes revealed that there were concerns among Ofsted's own HMI inspectors that they could unwittingly spread the virus between schools – with one HMI saying they could be "a Typhoid Mary".

Ofsted's visits this term do not result in formal inspection judgements. Instead, the inspectorate is producing a letter for each school it visits with a summary of its findings about how schools have been supporting and educating pupils since September.

Routine inspections of schools are scheduled to return in the new year although the date is being kept under review.

An announcement from the Department for Education on the timing and nature of these inspections is expected imminently.

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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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