Ofsted 'needs more access' to private school inspections

Ofsted chief warns that its checks on independent school inspections are being 'seriously hampered'

John Roberts

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has told education secretary Damian Hinds that the inspectorate needs more access to check on private school inspections.

She has warned the education secretary that Ofsted’s ability to assess the work of inspectorates for independent schools is “seriously hampered”, because the watchdog has only been able to check a small number of inspections.

Ms Spielman wants Ofsted to be able to carry out more unannounced checks of private school inspections and undertake termly checks focused on safeguarding.

Ofsted has produced reports today on the work of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and the School Inspection Service (SIS).

However, Ms Spielman warned that it can only look at their work when commissioned to do so by the Department for Education.

She said that since the last spending review, the work the DfE is asking Ofsted to do does not allow it to provide a reasonable level of assurance about private school inspections. 

In a letter to Mr Hinds, Ms Spielman said that in the past three years Ofsted has only been able to monitor four private school inspections, two carried out by ISI and two by SIS.

She questioned the value of the reports that Ofsted can produce.

In her letter, she said: “I am concerned that they are of increasingly limited value because Ofsted’s ability to monitor the work of the inspectorates is seriously hampered by the existing commissioning arrangements. Ofsted can only carry out monitoring of these inspectorates’ activities when commissioned to do so by the DfE.

“However, it is now the third consecutive year that the monitoring activity commissioned has provided insufficient evidence to make an in-year recommendation about the continued approval of the inspectorates.

"Therefore, over time, the arrangements agreed between DfE and Ofsted as part of the response to the 2015 spending review have meant that I am unable to provide you with a reasonable level of assurance about the quality of the inspectorates’ work, in order to inform your decision about their ongoing approval.

She also said Ofsted inspectors had not had access to “the evidence bases gathered during these inspections”.

“As such, [they] have been limited to making an assessment about whether the report is internally coherent. They cannot make any assessment of how the inspection was conducted, what evidence was gathered, and whether it supports the judgements made.”

In her letter, she asks Mr Hinds to allow Ofsted to:

  • Identify and conduct increased unannounced on-site monitoring visits, to allow more evaluation of inspection practice;
  • Identify and conduct evidence base reviews, so that inspection report findings can be corroborated with the evidence gathered;
  • Carry out termly safeguarding focused checks, to verify that any safeguarding issues were followed up and reported on appropriately;
  • Require that the inspectorates provide inspection management information to Ofsted, including grade profile analyses of inspection outcomes at least every six months, to allow regular review of those outcomes.

The ISI is approved by the education secretary to inspect private schools in associations that make up the Independent Schools Council, including their registered early years provision and boarding provision.

The SIS is approved by the education secretary to inspect selected registered independent schools that are members of: the Focus Learning Trust; the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship and the Cognita Group, where its schools do not belong to an Independent Schools Council association.

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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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