Ofsted demands greater power to check on private school inspectorates

Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman has told the government to give her team more powers to check inspectorates for private schools are doing a good job.

Each year, Ofsted is required to report on the quality of inspections by the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate (ISI), which inspects roughly 1,000 larger private schools, and the Schools Inspection Service, which inspects often smaller private schools such as Steiner schools.

However in a letter published today, the watchdog’s boss Amanda Spielman has warned education secretary Damian Hinds his department must allow her team to sample more reports and do more onsite visits.

She added the watchdog’s ability to monitor the work is being “seriously hampered”.

The official warning appears to be the first time Spielman has officially demanded the DfE extend Ofsted’s powers to see if the inspectorates are properly holding private schools to account.

However it is the third consecutive year that Ofsted has been unable to make an official recommendation for either inspectorate because of “the limited monitoring activity commissioned by DfE”, she said.

HMI inspectors were commissioned to review only 17 reports by the ISI and six SIS reports this year. They didn’t monitor any onsite visits for the ISI and only monitored two SIS inspections.

Ofsted should be allowed to conduct increased unannounced on-site monitoring visits

That is at least more than last year, when Ofsted was only able to review seven ISI reports and three SIS reports, with no on-site visits monitored for either service.

Now Spielman has requested Ofsted be allowed to carry out more “unannounced on-site monitoring visits”, to check inspection report findings match the evidence gathered and to carry out termly safeguarding checks.

Private school inspectorates should also have to provide inspection management information to Ofsted every six months, she wrote.

It follows tougher rhetoric from Spielman about standards in some particularly small religious private schools, including unregistered settings.

At an education select committee hearing in March this year, she was forced to deny a “mission creep” by Ofsted into people’s private lives, saying she didn’t want to send “troops” into Sunday schools but said she wanted a “broader category” for certain out-of-school settings, for instance.

The SIS inspects private schools belonging to the Focus Learning Trust, Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship and the Cognita Group and carried out 17 inspections in 2017-18.

Meanwhile the ISI inspects schools belonging to the Independent Schools Council, which carried out 459 inspections last year.

A DfE spokeperson said: “Following a request from Ofsted to scale back their role in monitoring arrangements in 2015, the inspectorate still plays an important role in maintaining the high standards we expect in independent schools.”‎


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