INVESTIGATION: Ofsted saves over £3m by delaying inspections

Chris Russell Sean Harford Ofsted

School leaders blame the struggle to recruit inspectors

Ofsted has saved more than £3 million this year by delaying inspections, amid concerns about the lack of available inspectors.

Schools Week can reveal that board minutes published by the education watchdog this week show it is forecasting an underspend of £3.1 million.

The document states this is largely down to “the decision to have a slow start in the autumn term to allow more time for management of [new frameworks]”.

But school leaders say that a struggle to recruit new staff is holding back inspections at some schools.

Last year the inspectorate announced it would not renew contracts with external providers, which previously provided additional inspectors.

Underspends are never looked on fondly in Whitehall

Data obtained by Schools Week from Watchsted reveals more than 1,000 fewer school inspections so far this year, compared with the same period last year.

An Ofsted spokesperson told Schools Week it “remains confident” its staffing ensures schools will receive inspections within published timelines.

But Jonathan Simons, head of education at think tank Policy Exchange, said: “Underspends are never looked on fondly in Whitehall – they tend to be seen less as an organisation having saved money and more as an issue of it not doing what parliament has allocated it taxpayers’ money for.”

Ofsted claims the drop was due to allowances made for the implementation of the new framework, introduced in September.

Board minutes for April, published on Monday, added that the appropriate financial planning for 2016-17 should “ensure the avoidance of such a large underspend in the future”.

However, insiders say that inspectors have been told they are not needed for inspections, and then called at the last minute to visit schools.

One headteacher, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “There are definitely recruitment problems. People are waiting too long and I don’t think it is just because of the new framework.”

Other heads said that schools requiring improvement have been waiting much longer than the expected timeframe for a reinspection.

Rob Campbell, headteacher of Impington Village college, Cambridge, and executive principal of Impington Education Trust, said, while his school has had no issues, he has heard of problems elsewhere.

“There do seem to be a number of schools near me that have been waiting a long time. A middle school has gone four or five months past when they should have been done.

“I think we were deliberately targeted because of our results for pupil premium kids. When they want to go to a school, they will prioritise, but inevitably someone else will get pushed off the agenda.”

Analysis by Schools Week shows that as of Wednesday, Ofsted had carried out 1,745 section 5 inspections. By the same date last year, 2,797 reports had been published.

By the end of the 2014-15 academic year, the inspectorate had undertaken 4,691 section 5 inspections.

An Ofsted spokesperson said this was down to the introduction of the new “short” inspections, where good schools are inspected under section 8, instead of full section 5 inspections.

The latest published data from Ofsted shows there have been just 48 section 8 inspections so far this year. In 2014-15, 62 were completed.

In February, Sean Harford, Ofsted national director, confirmed in a blog that schools judged as requires improvement would be reinspected less often under the new framework with “up to 30 months” allowed between reports. Previously only 24 months could pass between inspections.

His post also said as this year was “transitional”, good schools would not be in the “three-year cycle” straight away and good schools’ first short inspection would be “likely to fall more than three years after its last inspection”.

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