ASCL: Ofsted must do more to build faith in complaints system

Proposals from Ofsted to improve the way it deals with complaints about inspections do not go far enough to tackle the lack of faith in the process, says the Association of School and College Leaders

The inspectorate is consulting on changes to its post-inspection processes and complaints handling.

ASCL’s response agrees with several proposals, in particular a move for complaints to be considered and responded to before the inspection report is published. However, they strongly disagree with a proposal to keep in place the current arrangements for reviewing the way in which complaints are handled. 

Ofsted uses a three-step process for dealing with complaints. The first 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 dissatisfied with the way in which the complaint was handled – is an internal review, which includes an external representative. If the complainant is still dissatisfied there is the option of a referral to an independent adjudication service.

However, neither the internal review process at step 3 nor the independent adjudication service can overturn a judgement. ASCL’s response 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.” 

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton 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.” 

Note: The consultation deadline was originally yesterday but has been extended by four weeks to 30 April.

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