Unions comment on return of Ofsted inspections

Both the National Education Union and the Association of School and College Leaders have reacted to the news that full Ofsted inspections will begin again in January 2021

Commenting on plans for school visits by Ofsted during the autumn term, with full inspections set to return in January 2021, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education 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 focussed 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. These visits will just provide additional stress and work for heads and SLTs who have more than enough on their plates at the moment. 

“January is far too soon to return to full inspections of a ‘normal’ curriculum, and we believe that autumn is too soon to begin these visits. Ofsted need to re-think.”

Commenting on Ofsted’s plans to visit schools and colleges in the autumn term, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We don’t support Ofsted’s approach to visiting schools in the autumn term. 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. 

“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. 

“We are not convinced either about Ofsted’s determination to resume routine inspections in January 2021. This plan may quickly unravel in the event of local lockdowns over the next few weeks and months. 

“We note that this date will be kept under review and we urge the inspectorate to be prepared to change its plans.”

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