Coronavirus: Oldham sixth form college gets impending Ofsted deferred

Oldham Sixth Form College has become the first education provider to successfully defer an Ofsted inspection due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Inspectors were due into the 16 to 19 academy this week but the visit has now been postponed to an unknown date, the watchdog has confirmed.

On Friday, Ofsted released new guidance stating that it will talk to principals and chief executives before inspections to work out if the impact of coronavirus warrants a deferral.

A decision was made to defer in an hour of the initial call

The advice said the impact of coronavirus could be considered an “exceptional circumstance” warranting a postponement.

On Saturday, the watchdog’s national director of education, Sean Harford, told the Association of School and Colleges Leaders’ conference that the chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, will personally sign off any decision not to defer inspections of providers affected by coronavirus.

Oldham Sixth Form College principal Jayne Clarke said she was “pleased” with the decision.

“In common with colleges and schools across the country, we are focused on dealing with the threat posed by coronavirus and it would not be appropriate to conduct an inspection in such unprecedented circumstances.”

The college, run by the Pinnacle Learning Trust, converted to an academy in 2017.

Meanwhile, an academy leader has praised Ofsted after getting a deferral today. Restormel Academy, in Cornwall, is operating with just half of its senior leader, admin and teaching assistant teams.

Robert Gasson, chief executive of the Wave academy trust which runs the school, told Schools Week: “Ofsted made the process of deferral as easy as they could, and a decision was made to defer in an hour of the initial call.”

He tweeted the Ofsted call was “a call we could have done without”, but added: “Now, back to business as usual.”

Ofsted’s updated guidance explained that the spread of the virus “presents serious challenges for providers that are affected”.

“In line with the potential for this to be an ‘exceptional circumstance’, we will carry out a risk-assessment with the providers when we announce the inspection. This will give the leaders/managers of providers the opportunity to inform Ofsted about any current coronavirus impact on their provision.

Although colleges remain open, this is not business as usual

“Using this information, we will make an assessment and a deferral decision, as appropriate. When inspections go ahead, inspectors will be sensitive to increases in user absence or absence of key staff, and will reflect this in the inspection report.”

Ofsted has also issued new guidance to its inspectors, stating that the “first point” of discussion for lead inspectors when they phone education providers about future visits will be the “current and potential impact of coronavirus on the operations of the provider”.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, told sister title FE Week that Ofsted “has made the right call”.

“Although colleges remain open, this is not business as usual,” he said. “Our members are more than usually pre-occupied with ensuring young people are safe and are dealing with a number of unknowns due to coronavirus.

“The deferment policy is welcome, but we believe that all inspections should be suspended during this extraordinary period.”