The Ofsted debate: should inspections happen in England when schools reopen?

Ofsted has announced its phased return from September once schools reopen – but opinions on inspections beginning again have been mixed 

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on The Guardian

As parents and teachers worry about school safety, Ofsted will start a ‘phased return’ to inspections in September, starting with all schools graded ‘inadequate’, plus a sample of others. Headteachers will get one day’s notice of such visits, the outcome of which will be a letter on how the return to lessons is going, and what needs to be done, rather than a grading. The Guardian has been gathering reactions to this news from various members of the education community. 

Andrew Morrish, education consultant, former Ofsted inspector and headteacher

“NO, absolutely not. I accept that Ofsted must continue with their regulatory role so, if they get wind of issues in a school around child protection and safeguarding, they should certainly go in and deal with that. But a fact-finding visit in September would be ridiculous and pointless.

“The clue is in the name, Ofsted, which stands for the Office for Standards in Education. There are no standards at the moment for what education in a post-pandemic world looks like. There’s no need to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on visits that add to the huge pressure on teachers coping with issues around integration and closing the academic gap.

“I also think we should be cautious about inspectors going into lots of schools and ‘bubbles’ in September, talking to children in different classrooms and, potentially, spreading the virus.

“It costs a lot of money to keep inspectors on the payroll. I think they have had nothing to do during lockdown and want to be seen to be contributing to the debate somehow. And even though Ofsted have given assurances that they won’t judge schools, they will be making some kind of comparative judgment because Ofsted loves creating benchmarks and standards. I think they will put schools into some kind of database, and are being disingenuous about their motives.”


Johnoi Josephs, humanities teacher, the Archbishop Lanfranc academy, Croydon, south London

“An Ofsted visit in September could cause way too much stress. Schools have the challenge of preparing to welcome back all students, with a second wave of the pandemic on the horizon. We don’t know what the autumn term is going to look like, we don’t know whether schools are going to go into local lockdowns, and we don’t know how much trauma our students have suffered.

“Headteachers’ focus should be on how they can keep students safe, and encourage health and wellbeing, while delivering a programme of learning that won’t be impacted too much by any further disruption. They shouldn’t be thinking about whether they are prepared for an Ofsted visit. 

“If the purpose of the visit is to do safeguarding checks, and to assess the welfare and wellbeing of students, I would be in favour – as long as the inspectors come up with helpful suggestions and offer support. Schools have tried their hardest to rise to the challenge. I would like to see Ofsted bringing solutions, not judging and criticising.”

Matthew Shanks, deputy CEO at Education South West multi-academy trust, Newton Abbot, Devon, and occasional inspector for Ofsted

“YES. Ofsted will look at how schools are getting pupils back up to speed and help school leaders through collaborative conversations, without passing judgments. The visits will not be graded, and Ofsted will publish the outcome of discussions with leaders so parents can understand what steps have been taken to help their children back into full-time education.

Schools should not be frightened of these visits. Personally, I would embrace the idea and say, ‘Come and look at the good stuff we’ve been doing and let’s share that across the country’. If there have been schools that haven’t been able to provide the standard of education they would like, then maybe they can get advice and guidance. Ofsted can share information with leaders about what they have learned from visits to other schools.

“We need to focus on academic performance as well as pupils’ social and mental health; you can’t separate the two. If you have children who are supported with their mental health but not supported academically, it stores up problems for later on.

“A lot has been made of the amount of online learning provided by private schools compared with some state schools. If this is because a state school does not have sufficient resources, Ofsted could help support the case for increased funding. If schools aren’t funded well enough to have been able to provide materials and laptops in lockdown the public and parents need to know that this was not the fault of the school.

“So, I would urge school leaders to actually volunteer to have one of these visits. Having Ofsted write about the provision in place will help to show a positive picture of the situation in the vast majority of schools in England. It should also help to raise provision for all children in all schools.”

Ben Hulme, headteacher, St Paul’s Church of England primary school, Swanley, Kent

“YES. We could be going in and out of lockdown for a while and I think there should still be accountability for schools during that period. There’s a potential for education to be really disrupted. I think there’s a place for Ofsted to see what schools are up to and check they are delivering the curriculum, both online and face-to-face.

“It’s also important that standards are maintained during the September restart. There is a role for Ofsted to check that all schools are doing what is expected of them – but I think it should just be a light-touch visit, checking how things are going, the curriculum schools are teaching, and getting parents’ feedback. Constructive guidance about where a school is falling down, and explaining what needs to be done to address this, could be very helpful.”

Ellie Powling, parent, south-east London, and education manager for Whole Child Therapy clinic

“NO. In principle, I would support Ofsted going in to check that schools have got the support they need but I don’t want headteachers and governors getting prepared for the box-ticking exercise that I think an Ofsted inspection often is. I think pupils and staff need some time in September to see how the land lies.

“Going in to check on failing schools won’t be helpful. If Ofsted had concerns about a school before COVID hit, what opportunity do they think those schools have had to put things right? They haven’t had the chance to do anything.

“Instead of thinking about Ofsted, I want schools to be able to concentrate on making sure everyone is feeling emotionally and physically safe, including the staff.”

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