Ofsted complaints procedures are a cause for concern

Our experience shows a regulator so intent on being right, it simply can’t admit to getting it wrong, writes Nick Osborne, and that’s not good for anyone

Our experience shows a regulator so intent on being right, it simply can’t admit to getting it wrong, writes Nick Osborne, and that’s not good for anyone

27 Mar 2022, 5:00

Does your complaints policy allow you to avoid speaking to a complainant parent, ignore them and rely on your staff’s evidence without establishing validity? Does your behaviour policy let you listen to only one child while the other awaits discipline? Does either policy allow you to ignore witnesses and expert evidence because your team is exclusively composed of people who never get anything wrong?

Of course not. Such policies are anathema to school leaders. And yet this is effectively how Ofsted’s complaints system works, so it must be best practice.

We all hear anecdotal stories about Ofsted, negative and positive, and we bring our biases to them. You will be familiar with the experience of hearing the negative ones and wondering, ‘but is that just because your inspection went badly?’. I know I have.

The best test of whether inspections are fair is for two different teams to inspect the same school.

Which is exactly what happened to us. Our infant and junior schools are effectively one school. They are on the same land, share the same budget, have the same policies, procedures and leaders and the same staff working as one team. But because they are technically two schools, they get two inspections.

In autumn, the infant school was inspected and remained a ‘good’ school. Ofsted noted ‘robust’ safeguarding and leaders ‘resolute in their approach to providing a safe environment for all.’

Three weeks later, the junior school was inspected and deemed ‘inadequate’ for safeguarding.  

Both teams were somehow right, and everyone else is wrong

Following the inspection, in addition to internal assessments and as part of our duty to determine if action needed to be taken, we commissioned an audit. It was carried out by a former Metropolitan Police Service detective constable with the specialist Child Abuse Investigation Command, later a safeguarding coordinator for schools and local authority designated officer (LADO). He disagreed entirely with the inspection findings.

We’ve also applied for the Safeguarding Quality Mark. While we are still awaiting the final part of that process, the audit for this also completely contradicts the inspection and highlights the strength of safeguarding in both schools.

The stark contrast between reports from actual safeguarding experts and Ofsted’s findings are highly unusual and deeply concerning. And the inconsistency between the regulator’s own findings about our two schools no less so. Surely these are grounds to complain and obtain a reinspection. 

But according to Ofsted, the infants inspection was a discrete event, which gives them the out to say that both teams were somehow simultaneously right, that everyone else is wrong and that they have sufficient evidence to that effect. Worse, we are absolutely committed to fixing whatever needs fixing, but the only evidence they have provided us doesn’t align with local arrangements or statutory guidance.

And the complaints process only adds insult to injury. It involves no human interaction. Ofsted chooses which points to respond to and its responses can range from misinterpreting information to giving explanations that are simply not based on fact. Ofsted doesn’t clarify, verify or tell you what its evidence base is. You don’t get assigned a complaints manager; nobody speaks to you or your witnesses; and there is no appeal or panel hearing before it publishes its report despite the ongoing complaints process.

We are now in an invidious position. We have no actionable evidence from Ofsted, while expert evidence is considered effectively worthless. We have full confidence in our leaders, while our community is rocked by an ‘inadequate’ judgment.

All because it is deemed in the ‘public interest’ to publish a highly contested report after stage two of an ongoing complaints process rather than reinspect or see the complaints process out. Why is it so challenging to contemplate that, just maybe, the inspection team did not get it right on this occasion?  

But is it just on this occasion? Ofsted’s policy (and by association, its culture) appears to prioritise being right over getting it right. And isn’t that in the public interest to know?

Yes, our inspection went badly. But then who else is going to experience the complaints process and tell you about it?

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  1. Anonymous

    My youngest was in a school rated “good” in Y5. He got death threats daily, 20 or so of his classmates formed a group that would focus on one child to torment, and he was the one.

    I was in there almost daily, 19 of them would line up and form a wall while the 20th would beat the snot out of him. Teachers and TAs would tell him it was his own fault for “being weird,” the head kept saying it was “just a difficult class,” and he had a breakdown. I had to withdraw him from school and four years later we’re still working on the trauma he sustained there.

    The LEA weren’t very useful tbh, their opinion was that as I’d withdrawn him they didn’t need to do owt… But Ofsted never even bothered replying to me.

  2. Wendy Adeniji

    I am currently at stage 3 of the Ofsted complaints process. I asked for the full evidence base of the inspection but this was refused as ‘not in the public interest’. I also complained that no one had spoken to myself and colleagues so the investigation into the complaint was therefore entirely one sided. Why do we as school leaders put up with this? In no other area of public life would it be deemed acceptable. In the end everyone who took part in an Ofsted meeting made an individual subject access request but what we received back contained a large amount of redactions.

  3. Jane Saunders

    I am glad that this has come to light in such a dramatic and obvious way. It is a shame for the school deemed “inadequate” however it shows the issues faced having to deal with a supposedly infallible system. Well done to the author of this piece for standing up to have his voice heard.

  4. Kathleen Crawford

    OFSTED are absolutely useless. There was severe safeguarding concerns in my children’s previous school and even though Ofsted was aware of such issues. Like a child’s arm being broken through team teach hold that are not allowed to be used. No trained SEN staff or actual teachers in the school, they don’t know the procedures for safeguarding referrals and severe mismanagement all us parents views and concerns was ignored and they rated them as ‘good’. It’s a bloody joke