Ofsted admits its complaints policy ‘isn’t working’

Officials have been asked to make the process more human and less bureaucratic

Officials have been asked to make the process more human and less bureaucratic

13 Jan 2023, 5:00


Ofsted senior leaders have admitted its complaints policy “is not working” and will be reviewed.

Officials have been asked to make the process more human and less bureaucratic, Schools Week understands.

During an invite-only briefing to trust leaders this week, the watchdog also revealed that inspectors have been trained on how to see “the big picture”, following complaints about inconsistent grades.

Trust bosses have said that some inspectors made “over-zealous” judgments based on some pupils’ derogatory language or behaviour issues during inspections.

The rare admission from Ofsted – and action – has been praised in private by some trust leaders, who feel the watchdog is listening.

The percentage of complaints about inspections that were at least partially upheld fell to its lowest level in eight years last year (see table).

Just 17 per cent of 718 complaints closed in the 2021-22 academic year had aspects upheld. This followed a record high of 26 per cent out of 320 complaints closed in the previous year, but this was heavily impacted by Covid.

Ofsted’s admission was made during a meeting with members of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST).

Ofsted officials Chris Jones and Lee Owston addressed trust leaders on Tuesday before the pair spoke again to about 400 CST members at a Wednesday meeting.

‘Enhanced oversight’ considered

Ofsted leader Chris Jones

They admitted the complaints process was “not working”, both for schools and the inspectorate.

Ofsted officials are now reviewing policy to see how it can be improved.

One change includes a new “enhanced oversight”, Schools Week understands, which should lead to “problematic” inspections being picked up before issues arise with contentious judgments.

Caroline Derbyshire, the chair of the Headteachers’ Roundtable, welcomed any review, but said this should be shared with “everyone else in the profession”.

Schools Week understands the NAHT school leaders’ union was also informed of the changes.

Derbyshire said many heads believed that any issues picked up during inspections could often be “dealt with”, but issues occurring post-inspection and requiring the complaints process “rarely result in a different outcome”.

Caroline Derbyshire

The meeting followed the CST last year sharing its concerns about inspections.

A major concern was inspectors jumping to snap judgments based on what pupils said. Until recently, Ofsted inspectors have not had external results data to inform their judgment.

Trust leaders said a resulting over-focus on comments made during the pupil voice part of inspections – particularly relating to behaviour and derogatory language  – were given too much weight in final judgments.

Ofsted admits inconsistency in judgments

The watchdog admitted to leaders there had been inconsistency in judgments across these areas. They also said they were aware of allegations relating to inappropriate questions to pupils.

Last month Philip Hollobone, the Tory MP for Kettering, claimed that inspectors visiting his child’s Bishop Stopford’s school asked a boy if he thought it was a “white, middle-class school”.

A girl was asked if she felt uncomfortable walking upstairs when wearing a skirt, the MP claimed.

Hollobone was due to meet Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, this week to discuss the concerns.

Amanda Spielman

Trust leaders were told new training called “seeing the big picture” started last week.

This was to ensure inspectors knew the framework should not be taken verbatim and that inspectors must not leap to snap judgments that any such issues were endemic in the school.

A spokesperson for Ofsted said: “The landscape in which inspectors and school leaders work is always evolving, which is why we run a continuous training programme for all our inspectors.

“We also make every effort to engage with people from the sectors we inspect and act on their feedback where we can.”

They added that any “formal proposals for changes to our processes, such as complaints, will always be subject to wider consultation”.

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