Exclusive: RSCs to dramatically reduce 'shadow' school inspections

Sir David Carter acknowledges overlap between Ofsted and RSCs has increased workload for schools

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Regional schools commissioners (RSCs) will dramatically scale back visits to schools that critics have branded a “shadow inspection regime”.

The move follows years of MPs and school leaders raising concerns that visits from education advisers on behalf of RSCs were increasing pressure and workload for schools.

Sir David Carter, who as national schools commissioner leads the team of eight RSCs, last night acknowledged that the visits had duplicated the work of Ofsted.

Speaking at an Institute of Education debate, he said: “In the past, there have undoubtedly been occasions when education advisers, who are contracted as consultants to the DfE to enable the RSCs to triangulate the data they have been told about where a trust is, sometimes visited in close proximity to an inspection.

“My plan going forward is that we will now bring that to an end, because the education advisers that work for the regional schools commissioners must be doing their work at the trust level.

“There is no point in having two bodies both working at school level, because the downward pressure that places on the system is, I think, part of the workload challenge, so my view would be the multi-academy trusts work very closely with me, with the RSCs, with education advisers.”

Regional school commissioners' visits

Two years ago, the Commons Education Select Committee said it had “heard that the approach to school visits being taken by some RSCs was being interpreted as a ‘shadow inspection regime’”, noting “reports of an RSC referring to inspection-style observations in a letter to a school”.

And in 2017, the committee complained that its previous recommendation that the inspectorate and the national schools commissioner should “ensure that schools are clear about the distinction between Ofsted inspections and RSC visits” had not been acted on.

Sir David last night said that, in the future, RSCs would only trigger visits to school for two reasons: because a trust was doing something “amazing” that the RSC wanted to learn more about, or because the RSC did not believe what they had been told about a school.

He added: “I absolutely agree that if a school gets a Section 8 inspection today there is no point in the RSC visiting on Monday, because of the duplication. Amanda Spielman and I are both very aware of that. That is a challenge for both of our organisations to get right.”

'Weighing it like a pig'

Vic Goddard, principal of Passmores Academy in Harlow, Essex, told the panel he had had two visits from RSC education advisers, “one was wonderful, one wasn’t”.

He said the former was about helping improve the school, while the latter was “about weighing it like a pig”, which “just made it feel like we were under pressure and it wasn’t helpful”.

He added that he had heard “too many horror stories from colleagues who think they are having an education visit that is going to help but ends up feeling like they are under huge amounts of pressure with an unannounced Ofsted”.

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