Ofsted has revealed more details about the “visits” inspectors will be making to schools following their return to full education, ahead of the resumption of routine inspections from next year.
Here’s all the nitty-gritty new details you need to know from the new operation guidance.
1. What’s the point of the visits?
Interim visits are to help parents and the public understand how schools are returning to their normal curriculum.
The lead Her Majesty’s Inspector will write a short letter after each interim visit, summarising what discussions the inspection team had with school leaders.
The watchdog will also use findings to report to the education secretary Gavin Williamson and the public on what is happening in schools across England.
2. When will they take place?
Interim visits will take place from 28 September to December 2020, inclusive. Visits will last for a day.
3. Which schools will be chosen?
Ofsted says it will not visit all schools, but will instead select a sample of schools to visit.
The sample will include around 1,200 schools across all Ofsted grades, but will include all ‘inadequate’ schools.
It will cover maintained schools, academies and free schools, special schools and centres of alternative provision in cities, coastal towns and rural communities. The inspectorate has promised “as even a spread as possible across different regions and local authorities”.
4. Schools will be given a day’s notice, but can ask for a deferral
The lead Her Majesty’s Inspector (HMI) will phone the school to announce the visit at around 10am on the school day before.
The point of the call is for inspectors to explain the purpose of their visit, discuss the school’s context, establish the protective measures it has in place and arrange who to meet.
If the headteacher wants to have the conversation later that day, inspectors will try to accommodate.
School leaders may ask for the deferral of a visit during the notification call with the lead HMI, but are warned to make them before 4.30pm on the day of the call.
Deferrals will be decided by the relevant Ofsted regional director or a delegate.
5. Ofsted doesn’t want schools to do any prep
Leaders should not prepare documentary evidence for the visits, Ofsted said.
If any documentation is needed, it should be part of the standard documents or policies used for the day-to-day business of the school.
The lead HMI will have read the school’s previous Ofsted inspection report “to understand the context of the school at the time of the previous inspection,” Ofsted says.
6. What will inspectors ask about?
Ofsted says inspectors will speak with leaders about returning to full education, how pupils have picked up the curriculum, remote learning and using catch-up funding, how pupils with specific issues like SEND are being helped, and the school’s safeguarding arrangements.
If the headteacher agrees it is safe and appropriate, inspectors may talk to staff and pupils.
Inspectors will not usually meet with governors, trustees, MAT leaders or local authorities on these visits. However, if any wish to speak to inspectors, they may have a brief conversation.
7. Visits can become full inspections
If during a visit, inspectors have “significant” concerns about safeguarding arrangements or a breakdown in the school’s leadership, they can arrange to treat the visit as a ‘no formal designation’ inspection (as first revealed by Schools Week back in July).
But inspectors would not, unless circumstances were “very exceptional”, treat the visit as a routine inspection as these are suspended.
If the NFD inspection finds serious concerns, Ofsted will prioritise the school for a routine one when those resume in January.
The lead inspector will make any significant concerns clear to leaders during the visit.
8. Letters could take nearly 2 months to be published
Within 18 working days of the visit’s end, Ofsted will write to the school a draft letter on what inspectors found, which will have been quality assured and may be shared with other public bodies.
The school will then have five working days to comment on that letter, the process, and its findings. Ofsted will respond to comments in the final letter sent to the school within 30 working days.
Schools have until the fifth working day after receiving that letter to complain.
Ofsted will aim to publish the letter on its reports website within 38 working days of the end of the visit, but may delay publication if a complaint is being investigated.
9. What the visits AREN’T going to do…
Ofsted has attempted to make clear that the interim visits will not result in any graded judgement of a school, or a grade change, or judge schools on their COVID-19 response. Nor will they require any documentary evidence, or include lesson visits.