Ofsted

Call for transparency around rare Ofsted reinspections

School of leading trust, whose CEO sits on Ofsted's board, was one of just 37 to get a reinspection in past four years

School of leading trust, whose CEO sits on Ofsted's board, was one of just 37 to get a reinspection in past four years

3 Mar 2023, 12:00

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Ofsted has rated a school good after overturning its recent inadequate judgment
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Sector leaders want more transparency from Ofsted around a rare reinspection process that can lead to upgraded judgments.

As confidence in how complaints are handled plunges, a Schools Week investigation has found the flagship school of Star Academies Trust, whose chief executive Sir Hamid Patel sits on the Ofsted board, won a reinspection before a proposed ‘good’ rating was published.

Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School in Blackburn was instead rated ‘outstanding’ after Ofsted revisited the school three weeks after the first inspection in October last year.

It was one of just 37 schools since September 2019 that were visited again after it was deemed more evidence was required.

In that time, 4,607 graded school inspections were held – meaning fewer than 1 per cent were reinspected.

Ofsted has refused to divulge the names of schools that were reinspected – although reports seem to point them out. Few details are known publicly about why they got a reinspection. 

‘We need transparency’

“If we want authentic accountability, then there needs to be transparency,” said Kulvarn Atwal, an executive head who unsuccessfully attempted to overturn a ‘requires improvement’ judgment at one of his two London primary schools. 

“If we had seen the criteria and precedents for Ofsted to return to gather evidence, we would have used this information in our challenge.”

Jamie Barry, the head of Yew Tree Primary School in the West Midlands, said he had attempted to challenge an Ofsted judgment in 2018 after an allegedly insecure evidence base, but the complaint was not upheld. 

He said the complaints process was “cloak and dagger” and argued the reasons for further visits should be published in final inspection reports. 

Pointing to Patel’s Ofsted role, he also said the watchdog had to be “absolutely clear about the process”.

Fourth ‘outstanding’ judgment

It is understood Tauheedul complained to Ofsted during the original  inspection over an issue related to curriculum planning. 

A further visit was then organised for November 3 during the inspectorate’s quality assurance process. 

The report, published in December, praised a “culture of scholastic excellence”, with pupils “extremely happy”.

A Tauheedul school spokesperson said it was “very proud” to have been rated ‘outstanding’ for the fourth time in a row. It was the top school in the country for Progress results in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and third last year.

Ofsted did not comment on the case. But a spokesperson said all inspections were “subject to a rigorous and stringent quality assurance process. Sometimes during this process it becomes clear that further evidence is required to finalise the inspection.” 

How many schools get reinspections?

Ofsted previously refused a freedom of information request from Schools Week for the number of reinspections over the past five years.

But its annual reports show 36 reinspections have been held following complaints since 2018-19. 

However not all these are schools. For instance, a further FOI found just two of the 10 “incomplete” inspections listed in Ofsted’s 2021-22 report related to schools.

An analysis of reports by SchoolDash found five with mentions of “additional visits” since 2018. 

These included Tauheedul, as well as 2021 reports from Ladybridge High School and Bowerham Primary & Nursery School, both also in Lancashire.

Schools Week understands the further visit to Ladybridge was not the result of a complaint. The Bowerham visit, however, did follow a complaint. 

Two other schools, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Primary in Lancashire, and Barndale House in Northumberland, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Ofsted refuses to publish grade changes

Ofsted said all reports stated if an additional visit was needed, but there was “no standard wording”.

It would not provide information on any change to a provisional grade because disclosure “has the potential to harm both our associated regulatory and audit functions”.

Schools Week revealed in 2018 how a report on a school belonging to the Inspiration Trust, founded by the then academies minister Lord Agnew, was softened after a reinspection following a complaint.

The watchdog has admitted its wider inspection complaints policy is not working and will be reviewed, with a report by the influential Confederation of School Trusts (CST) this week saying it was “perceived by many leaders to be ineffective” or “pointless”.

Just 17 per cent of the 718 complaints closed in the 2021-22 year had an aspect upheld. Three overall judgments were overturned.

The CST called for improvements, including independent oversight – with the capacity to reopen inspection judgements in appropriate circumstances.

Tom Middlehurst, an inspection specialist at the leaders’ union ASCL,  said there was a “perceived lack of transparency around the inspection system as a whole … schools should be able to arrange an additional visit if they feel they were unable to provide the necessary evidence over the initial two days.”

Julie Price Grimshaw, a former Ofsted inspector, said the sector would  welcome greater transparency and clarity about Ofsted’s criteria for either full reinspection or an additional visit.

What does the guidance say? 

Ofsted guidance published in 2020, and updated the following year, says regional directors or “other relevant decision-makers” decide if inspections are “incomplete” and require a revisit. 

Examples include where key judgments are not “substantiated by the evidence gathered”, the conduct of inspectors means evidence “cannot be relied on” or “information applicable” at the time of the inspection has been “received after”. 

In some circumstances, this could happen where the inspection team was not able to complete the exercise due to reasons “beyond their or the provider’s control”.

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