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Ofsted fails on statutory targets for inspections

Inspectorate misses statutory and internal targets for how often schools should be inspected, says National Audit Office

Amanda Spielman

Inspectorate misses statutory and internal targets for how often schools should be inspected, says National Audit Office

Ofsted has failed to hit statutory and internal targets for how often schools should be inspected, a public spending watchdog report reveals.

The National Audit Office says Ofsted failed to meet its statutory duty to reinspect schools within five years on 43 occasions between 2012-13 and 2016-17.

The NAO report, published today, also warns that Ofsted was missing its own internal targets for school inspections.

Ofsted failed to reinspect 78 schools (6 per cent) graded as "inadequate "within its own time limits.

The NAO says the inspectorate has struggled because it did not have enough inspectors, and that the decision to take inspectors in-house in 2015 had left it with a shortfall. 

However, it says Ofsted's performance against its targets had improved, with 94 per cent of planned inspections carried out in 2017-18, compared with 65 per cent in 2015-16.

The report also concludes that Ofsted cannot demonstrate that its inspections of schools represent value for money.

It makes a series of recommendations:

  • The Department for Education should review whether inspections provide enough assurance about schools; how long schools should go without inspection; and whether Ofsted should inspect multi-academy trusts.
  • The DfE should work with Ofsted to communicate the different roles of those overseeing schools – differentiating the work of Ofsted and regional schools commissioners.
  • Ofsted should set out a plan for recruiting and retaining the inspectors it needs to undertake school inspections.
  • Ofsted should review the effectiveness of its complaints process. This should include reviewing whether the process is sufficiently fair and independent.
  • Ofsted should build on its research and take action to engage more with parents and make inspection reports more useful to parents. In particular, it should consider how it can collect more feedback from parents and how it can reflect this in its reports.
     

The report highlights how Ofsted’s remit has expanded since 2000 but its budget has been cut. Spending on inspections is 52 per cent less in 2017-18 than it was in 1999-2000.

Does Ofsted provide value for money?

The NAO calculates that the average cost of a state school inspection was £7,200 in 2017-18.

The report says that 84 per cent of headteachers who responded to an NAO survey felt their school’s Ofsted inspection report had been fair. Just under half (44 per cent) felt it had contributed to school improvement, while 28 per cent said it had not.

Ofsted said that of the 43 schools it had failed to reinspect within the statutory timeframe, 32 had been amalgamated with other schools and they had wrongly treated them as new schools. In 11 other cases Ofsted said it had deferred inspections because of exceptional circumstances.

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said today: “Ofsted’s role as an independent inspector is valued by parents, headteachers think its judgements are fair, and it is making headway against recent performance shortfalls. However, it needs better information to be able to demonstrate that its inspection of schools represents value for money.

“The fact that Ofsted has been subject to constant cuts over more than a decade, and regular shifts in focus, speaks volumes. It indicates a lack of clarity about how best to obtain assurance about the quality of schools.”

Ofsted's chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, responded that the inspectorate has "had to make tough decisions about how we prioritise resources", adding: "I am confident that Ofsted gets the balance right."

She said: “Ofsted is only one lever in the school system, which is why it has proven difficult for the NAO to judge our impact and value for money. As we have made clear to the NAO, judging ourselves against school outcomes would inevitably create perverse incentives. We exist to provide an objective account of the quality of the nation’s schools.

“The NAO’s conclusion that we cannot prove the value for money we represent is explicitly not the same as demonstrating that we do not provide value, particularly considering that the costs of our school inspection work represents just 0.1 per cent of the overall school budget. We are confident we compare well against other school inspectorates internationally, something the NAO did not look at.”

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