Ofsted expansion hangs in spending review balance

Questions over pledge from 2019 to extend inspections

Questions over pledge from 2019 to extend inspections

17 Sep 2021, 5:00

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The government is refusing to commit to its election pledges of extending Ofsted inspections and trialling “no notice” visits.

Boris Johnson made the commitments during the election campaign in November 2019, days after the Conservative party launched its manifesto.

After Labour vowed to scrap Ofsted, Johnson retaliated with promises to extend section 5 inspections for secondaries and large primaries from two to three days.

He also promised to trial “no-notice” inspections to give a “true reflection” of how well schools were performing.

This week the Department for Education refused to say if it was still committed to the plans.

A spokesperson would only say: “We remain committed to working with Ofsted to make sure it can provide the best possible assessment of pupils’ education, which parents rightly value.”

Any new funding would be set out following the spending review.

Treasury seeks savings from government departments

Last week, the Treasury asked all government departments, bar the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), to find savings of “at least” 5 per cent.

This could amount to a £4.5 billion cut for the DfE, which funds Ofsted.

The pandemic has disrupted much of Ofsted’s normal work, with about a third of the workforce deployed across 2020-21 to aid the government’s Covid response.

Full scheduled inspections restarted this week for the first time since March last year. However, between April 2020 and March this year, Ofsted made more than 2,000 virtual visits.

Despite the disruption of covid, Johnson’s pledge to remove the inspection exemption for outstanding schools came into effect with the resumption of standard inspections this term.

The measure was introduced by Michael Gove, a former education secretary, in 2011. It is understood Ofsted believes lifting the exemption will cost between £5 and £10 million.

Pandemic caused delays, Ofsted chief says

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, was quizzed at the Festival of Education in June about the lack of progress on the government’s plans.

She indicated the pandemic had contributed to delays and admitted she “couldn’t remember” the last time Ofsted had met with the government to discuss the promises.

Plans for inspectors to arrive at schools within two-and-a-half hours of heads knowing they were on their way were floated ahead of the launch of the new education inspection framework (EIF) in 2019.

The watchdog was forced to scrap the initiative following a “strong negative reaction” during the consultation.

The Conservative party directed Schools Week’s questions on the promises to the DfE.

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