Schools receiving negative Ofsted reports are now more likely to attempt to block them, solicitors have warned in the wake of a landmark High Court ruling.
Durand Academy last week succeeded in its effort to quash an ‘inadequate’ grade handed out by the inspectorate earlier this year, and Lee Bolton Monier-Williams, the firm that acted on its behalf, said the ruling could now set a precedent.
Schools already have the right to seek a stop on the public release of Ofsted reports, but the judge’s stinging criticism of the inspectorate’s complaint procedures could now strengthen future cases.
“Any school put into special measures may be able to prevent the publication of an adverse report,” said a spokesperson.
Durand mounted its legal challenge in February after receiving a copy of its damning inspection report.
It also obtained an injunction banning publication of the report, but only after a draft version was uploaded to Ofsted’s website in error.
Last Friday, Judge Martin McKenna ruled in Durand’s favour, overturning the inadequate rating and calling into question Ofsted’s approach to complaints.
Ofsted is now appealing the outcome and reviewing its complaints procedure.
But a spokesperson for Durand’s solicitors said that “until Ofsted produces a fair complaints/appeals process, any school put into special measures may be able to prevent the publication of an adverse report and subsequently for the report to be quashed”, though they conceded that “each case will of course depend on its own facts”.
Judge McKenna said the complaint process was “not rational or fair” and blocks schools from challenging “defective”reports.
He raised concerns that Ofsted believes its processes are “so effective” its decision will “always in effect be unimpeachable”.
He also drew parallels with another High Court case in which an Ofsted inspector was held to have come to an “irrational conclusion” about a nursery.
In that case, the inspector was found to have failed to take into account either the nursery’s history or previous reports.
The same criticisms had been “squarely levelled at the inspection team in the present case”, he pointed out.
“Our complaints process is longstanding and has previously been commended by the Independent Adjudicator,” said an Ofsted spokesperson.
“However, as an organisation we always keep policies and practices under review and regardless of the outcome of the appeal application will consider whether any clarification of our complaints procedure may be required.”