Ofsted’s complaints process “flies in the face of natural justice” because it does not allow an independent body to overturn inspection judgements, a school leaders’ union has warned.
The Association of School and College Leaders has said that it strongly disagrees with Ofsted’s plan to carry on using the same system for reviewing complaints, which heads say is "not fit for purpose".
The watchdog is currently consulting on making changes to parts of its complaints process and has extended its deadline for responses until the end of April.
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The ASCL has welcomed Ofsted’s plan to consider and respond to initial complaints from a school before an inspection report is published.
Ofsted complaints process 'not fit for purpose'
However, the school leaders’ union has criticised Ofsted’s plan to keep the same system in place for reviewing the way in which complaints are handled.
The inspectorate uses a three-step process for dealing with complaints. The first step is for the complaint to be made and dealt with during the inspection.
The second is a formal complaint following the inspection.
The third – if the complainant is still dissatisfied with the way in which the complaint was handled – is an internal review, which includes an external representative.
The complainant can also refer the case to an independent adjudication service.
However, the ASCL is unhappy that neither the internal review process nor an independent adjudication service can actually overturn a judgement.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: “We are pleased that Ofsted is reviewing its complaints system, but disappointed that it seems to assume that the upper end of the process is fit for purpose.
"We do not agree. It flies in the face of natural justice to have a review system which cannot actually overturn the original judgement.
“There is a perception among school and college leaders that it is extremely difficult to successfully challenge an inspection judgement. It would go a long way to building greater trust in the system if there was an external authority with the power to change the outcome.”
The ASCL’s response to the consulation says: “Holding an internal review at step 3, with the inclusion of an external sector representative, is welcome but it appears to be a toothless process: it can draw conclusions about whether the process was followed at step 1 and 2, but it does not appear to be able to issue an amended inspection judgement or even to instruct a reinspection. Many school and college leaders lack faith in Ofsted’s complaints process as a result.
“This is further exacerbated by the lack of an external authority with the power to change judgements or order a reinspection.
"The Independent Complaints Adjudication Service can do neither of these things. It can make recommendations to Ofsted but, in the context of the high-stakes judgements made about schools, this is insufficient.”
Ofsted's consultation deadline was originally today but has been extended by four weeks to 30 April.
Ofsted has been approached for a comment.