ASCL Conference, Ofsted

Ofsted’s complaints process is not ‘satisfying’, chief inspector admits

Amanda Spielman also acknowledges pupil voice may have been given too much 'weighting' in some inspections

Amanda Spielman also acknowledges pupil voice may have been given too much 'weighting' in some inspections

10 Mar 2023, 12:23

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Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman has admitted the watchdog’s complaints process is not “satisfying”, amid growing criticism of its handling of concerns from schools.

The chief inspector also told the annual conference of school leaders’ union ASCL that pupil voice may have been given too much “weighting” in inspection judgments, an issue the inspectorate is addressing through training.

Schools Week revealed earlier this year that Ofsted had privately told trust leaders its complaints policy was “not working”, with a review launched and officials told to make the process more human.

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

It has previously emerged that scrutiny panels overseeing how it handles complaints about inspections had been suspended, while sector leaders have called for greater transparency around a rare reinspection process.

“We know it’s not a satisfying process,” she said of the complaints policy. “It’s not something we’re happy with or complacent about.

“We know that for all the immense amount of work put in and the conscientiousness with which we do it, it still doesn’t lead to satisfaction at the end of the day.”

She said Ofsted was doing “another round of work to try and find a different way of approaching it to address what’s nearly always the root of the problem, which is the grade isn’t accepted”.

The watchdog will “try and find ways to address that more directly earlier on”.

Most complaints never reach Ofsted’s log

But Spielman also stressed to school leaders that most complaints were never formalised.

“We do everything we can to make space so that if a school thinks an outcome is not heading in the right direction […] there’s a lot of discussion [and then] opportunities for more senior inspectors to become involved,” she said.

Spielman added that Ofsted sometimes conducted further visits, although Schools Week recently revealed just how rare these are.

Just 1 per cent of inspections since September 2019 have led to further visits.

“A lot of…things are put right before it ever gets to a point where a formal complaint is recorded,” she said.

There have also been brewing concerns from both within and outside the sector about how answers given by pupils during inspections has impacted overall effectiveness grades.

Pupil voice sometimes given too much ‘weighting’

Last year, Tory MP Philip Hollobone hit out at the watchdog in the Commons, claiming a “hit squad” had engineered a downgrade of the school his child attends.

During the inspection, he said a boy was asked if he thought “this is a white, middle-class school”, while a girl was asked if she felt uncomfortable walking upstairs when wearing a skirt.

Answering questions from school leader and former ASCL president Pepe Diiasio, Spielman said pupil voice was “something of course we have to listen to during inspections”.

But she said it was “not something which of itself should ever lead to a judgment and I have heard about a couple of cases where the weighting might have been perhaps a bit heavier than it should have been,” she added.

“It’s something that we’ve been addressing through inspector training. Again, some of you here have probably had that, I think it’s the ‘seeing the bigger picture’ inspector training. And we are taking a look as well at some of the safeguarding elements of the handbook and training.”

Resources constraints hamper phase-based approach

Ofsted has also faced criticism in the past about inspections by leaders who don’t have experience in the phase of the school being inspected.

Spielman said today that Ofsted did “everything we can to assign experienced people to where there experience is as much as we can”.

“But we are as constrained on resources as every other part of the education system and…I cannot set up a primary Ofsted and a secondary Ofsted within what we do, so we will have to carry on making the best that we can.”

The chief inspector was also asked about separating safeguarding from the rest of inspection, and said while you “can take things apart”, she would be “very nervous about creating a whole separate system of safeguarding inspections”.

A recent policy paper published by ASCL called for an end to overall graded judgments and for leaders to be told which academic year they are due to be inspected.

Pressed on these recommendations, Spielman said her view on removing gradings “depends what the inspection is of”, adding that inspection had to be designed “for the purposes that government sets”.

She also said there was no “single right answer” to the question of greater clarity around inspection windows.

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  1. The GCSE, AS and A level appeals system isn’t “satisfying” either.

    Especially since 2016, when the rules were changed to block appeals based on legitimate differences of academic opinion.

    Suppose that an ‘ordinary’ examiner gives a script 64, and a senior examiner were to give that same script 66. There are no “marking errors”, both marks are legitimate, and the ordinary examiner’s mark is within “tolerance”.

    If the B/A grade boundary is 65/66, then the ordinary examiner’s grade is B, and this is the grade on the certificate. The senior examiner’s grade – designated by Ofqual as “definitive” or “true” – is grade A.

    But since there are no “marking errors”, a “review of marking” confirms the original B, and a re-mark by a senior examiner is denied. Even though the senior examiner’s “definitive”/”true” grade is an A.

    This is deeply “unsatisfying”.