School leaders have branded Ofsted's decision to publish letters at the end of its interim visits to schools this term as "inspection by another name".
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has said the union does not support the inspectorate's approach to visiting schools this term.
He made his comments after the watchdog published new guidance today showing how its school visits will work.
Ofsted is carrying out interim visits to find out how schools are managing the return to full education for all pupils, following the partial shutdown of schools because of Covid-19 in March this year.
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These new Ofsted visits are not formal inspections and will not result in a judgement being passed on the school.
However, the ASCL has raised concern about Ofsted's plan to publish a letter detailing its findings after the visit has taken place. The union has also suggested that the inspectorate has ignored warnings that this will cause problems for schools.
Pressure of an Ofsted visit 'not helpful'
Mr Barton said: "We can see the value in Ofsted visiting a sample of schools to gain a general picture of the response to the educational challenges caused by the Covid pandemic.
“However, Ofsted appears to be fixated on the idea of publishing letters about each of the schools it visits. Even though these letters will not give a graded judgement, this will make visits seem like inspection by another name.
"It is frustrating that Ofsted in one breath agrees with the need to suspend inspections while schools reintegrate children and manage safety measures, and then in the next breath decides on an approach which contradicts that objective."
Mr Barton also questioned the value of the information that Ofsted will be providing.
These visits will not be checking on how well schools are following the government's guidelines for reopening safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “We doubt that Ofsted visits in the autumn term are a priority for parents, who will be more concerned about their school being able to concentrate on the practicalities of safety measures and catch-up support.
"These practicalities represent a huge logistical challenge and the added pressure of an Ofsted visit in the way that is planned isn’t helpful in this context.
"We have repeatedly warned Ofsted about the perception it will create by publishing letters, and urged it to give schools at least one term’s grace to cope with an unprecedented set of challenges, but it seems that it simply cannot help itself."
Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "We believe that Ofsted visits in the autumn term will be a distraction for schools rather than a support. Publishing the Ofsted letter will make it look and feel like an inspection visit even if it's not one.
"Parents are much more concerned to hear from the school itself about how their children are settling back into school, with all the challenges that will bring, and schools will be focused on doing this."
"Schools have enough to contend with at the moment with huge amounts of change being implemented on all school and college sites, and with organising and monitoring classroom/year bubbles on top of teaching and rehabilitating their pupils/students."
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: "Ofsted’s planned visits will be a distraction from the important business of returning all pupils successfully to full-time education.
"The government had already concluded that, in the current circumstances, it would do more harm than good for schools to face inspection this term as they should be focused entirely on reopening for all pupils, not arranging a visit for inspectors. Yet that appears precisely where we have ended up.
“Given that Ofsted will visit fewer than 5 per cent of schools, that parents will have no chance to input into conversations, and that letters will take up to two months to publish, it is misleading to suggest that these visits will provide reassurance to parents either."
New guidance published by Ofsted today also revealed that if inspection teams have "significant concerns", they can convert the visit into a no-formal-designation inspection.
Ofsted is set to return to formal inspections in January of next year but this date is being kept under review.