Ofsted could change how its inspectors consider bullying so that schools do not have an incentive to hide the problem, a senior figure has said.
The inspectorate is currently consulting on its plans to introduce a new school inspection framework, which would take effect in September 2019.
Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s deputy director for schools, told a Westminster Education Forum this morning that feedback during the first 10 weeks of the consultation had led him to reconsider how bullying is dealt with.
He said: “People have come back to me with really sensible comments about bullying, actually, because there’s still a bit of a hint in the draft of the handbook saying well ‘bullying happens infrequently’, or some comments about how often it happens, and people have convinced me that that’s not the point about bullying.”
The draft school inspection handbook says the ‘behaviour and attitudes’ judgement in school inspection reports is likely to be ‘inadequate’ if “incidents of bullying or prejudiced and discriminatory behaviour, both direct and indirect, are frequent”.
And for a school to be ‘good’, the current draft says inspectors should consider whether “bullying, aggression, discrimination and derogatory language are rare and, when they occur, they are dealt with quickly and effectively”.
Mr Purves told the forum that when Ofsted reports say of bullying “‘oh it’s infrequent’ or whatever, that creates the incentive to try and show that it’s not happening often”.
He said that, instead, the important question was whether the school had an environment where staff, pupils and leaders tolerate bullying, and how quickly and effectively it is dealt with.
He added: “What we want is when [bullying] happens for schools to say ‘it’s happening there; we have created a culture where nobody tolerates this, and we’re dealing with it’.
“I think that’s what’s so important for us in our role in the system, in the handbook and everything else that we are doing, to try and create the kinds of messages that that can’t happen.”
Mr Purves also told the forum that the new inspection framework enables inspectors to have “educational conversations” with pupils, and gives them more time to talk to classroom teachers as well as school leaders.
He also indicated that the inspectorate could reverse its proposal that lead inspectors arrive at schools on the afternoon before the inspection formally begins to start their preparations.
The consultation on the new inspection framework closes on 5 April.