Ofsted director brands legal challenges ‘colossal waste of money’, tells schools to ‘bring it on’

Legal challenges by schools over Ofsted judgments are often a “colossal waste of taxpayers’ money”, a senior inspector has said, telling schools to “bring it on”.

Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s deputy director for schools, told an event in London today his organisation has “very consciously tried to make sure everything’s judged well and judged once” under its new inspection framework.

One of the main proposed changes to inspections set out in the draft inspection handbook is the introduction of a new quality of education judgment and the splitting of personal development and behaviour into two separate judgments.

Asked whether Ofsted expected challenges in the High Court if two schools, one with “happy, healthy children” but poor exam results and another with good results but poor behaviour were judged differently, Purves said: “I think it’s going to be foolhardy, but my first response would be bring it on.

“We’ve got to judge what we find, and if schools want to challenge that, first of all that’s a colossal waste often of taxpayers’ money that could be spent on children’s education. Sometimes schools will feel that’s justified,” he said.

Purves said one of the things he likes least about the current framework is that often schools are judged with a “flat profile” – where individual headline judgments are very similar.

“We’ve very consciously tried to make sure everything’s judged well and judged once in the new handbook,” he said.

“To take your example, [if] the school is getting great results, but there’s a major culture of bullying or children are very unhappy, etc etc. Well, take the personal development and behaviour and attitudes judgments. In this hypothetical example, they can’t be good. They may be RI, they may be inadequate, we’d have to look at the criteria and work that out.

“[Although] that doesn’t mean the quality of education judgment has to be benchmarked to those, I’d have a lot of questions about the way the education is being delivered because quality of education isn’t just about results, it’s the way you get there.

“But it’s possible that teaching in the classrooms is incredibly well thought-through, brilliantly delivered and that’s why they’re getting great results in spite of that, so I would be very willing for a judgment which judged quality of education to be good if it was and other things to be RI and inadequate if they weren’t.”

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, has previously said Ofsted has seen an increase in the number of legal challenges against its judgments.

In a recent high-profile case, Durand Academy Trust succeeded in challenging its ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating, only to have it reinstated after the watchdog won an appeal in the High Court.

Other schools have been put off from pursuing legal action against Ofsted inspections over costs.