‘More transparent’ Ofsted complaints process gets go ahead

Internal reviews scrapped and new post-inspection calls allowed in changes to speed up process and increase transparency

Internal reviews scrapped and new post-inspection calls allowed in changes to speed up process and increase transparency

24 Nov 2023, 10:25

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Ofsted will bring in changes to its complaints process next year

Ofsted will go ahead with four proposed changes which will make its post-inspection complaints process “quicker” and “increase transparency” following a consultation with the sector.

It follows the inspectorate admitting its current policy wasn’t working, as first revealed by Schools Week, amid widespread criticism.

The consultation, which ran from June to September, received more than 1,500 responses from providers in all sectors it inspects.

In a report published today, that watchdog said this was an increase of over 150 per cent from a consultation it ran on the same subject in 2020.

Of the respondents, 934 were from schools.

The changes include “enhanced” on-site “professional dialogue” during inspections to address any issues and the scrapping of its internal review process.

They will come into effect from January and April next year.

Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said the inspectorate had piloted enhanced professional dialogue and allowing providers to contact Ofsted the day after the inspection “and these worked well”.

“I’m confident these changes will help resolve complaints more quickly, reduce the administrative burden on those making a complaint, and increase transparency in the process.”

But head of policy at school leaders’ union NAHT, Ian Hartwright, pointe out that in its recent survey of members, 95 per cent disagreed that Ofsted dealt with complaints about the accuracy of inspection judgments effectively.

“This underlines that much more needs to be done to regain the confidence of the education profession in the complaints procedure, and ultimately we need to see an independent body handling complaints rather than an inspectorate marking its own homework,” he said.

Enhanced on-site professional dialogue

Ofsted said it would provide all inspectors with guidance on “developing and formalising” enhanced professional dialogue during inspections.

Under the change, inspectors will be asked to check with headteachers at specific stages of the visit “where appropriate”, including at end-of-day meetings and the final feedback session.

It said this would help inspectors “address any queries, misconceptions or concerns as soon as possible”.

It added that responses to the proposal were “very positive”, with 81 per cent of school respondents agreeing it should enhance professional dialogue during visits.

This will be rolled out from January.

Contacting Ofsted the day after inspection

Schools will be given an opportunity to call Ofsted the day after the end of an inspection visit if they have “unresolved issues”.

Previously the watchdog said this may include raising informal concerns about the process and its “likely outcome”, or queries about what happens next.

Ofsted said that “noting the comments received and wanting providers to be confident in contacting us”, it believed the call should be with an experienced inspector who is independent of the inspection in question.

“Where appropriate, this inspector may contact the lead inspector to help understand the context of any issues raised”.

Of the schools who responded, 86 per cent agreed with the proposal.

It will also come into effect in January.

New arrangements for finalising reports

This change will see a new first step in the complaints process, with two routes, introduced.

Heads can either highlight “minor points of clarity or factual accuracy”, which will be considered “promptly” before the report is finalised.

Or they can submit a formal complaint.

Ofsted said some respondents acknowledged “the benefits” of separating existing processes and that most cases “are likely to involve providers raising minor points”.

But some were concerned they would not be able to make a formal complaint if they already chosen to highlight only minor points.

The watchdog said it would offer “clarity” so that providers could understand how the new arrangements will work “in new policy documents in due course”.

Three-quarters (76 per cent) of schools agreed with this change.

It will come into effect from April.

Ofsted internal review process scrapped

The watchdog will scrap internal reviews of how it handles complaints, which currently form step three of its process.

Under the new scheme, schools concerned their complaint did not correctly follow the right process will be able to go directly to the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO).

Ofsted will also introduce periodic reviews of how it handles complaints.

Its consultation report said many respondents said this would make the process “easier to navigate” and “reduce the stages that they have to go through”.

But some noted that ICASO’s role was to “review whether the complaints process was carried out properly, not to review the inspection itself”.

Ofsted said it welcomed the “independent scrutiny” the changes will bring, and believed that removing the internal process would “reduce the burden” on schools.

Of the schools which responded, 83 per cent agreed with this change.

It will also come into effect from April.

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