Ofsted’s system for recording inspection evidence has for years suffered glitches that wipe data and force inspectors to re-record their findings, sometimes from memory after a visit has ended.
The watchdog has admitted that on at least one occasion, an inspection was deemed “incomplete” because of technical problems, forcing inspectors to return.
Ofsted’s electronic evidence gathering (EEG) system replaced pen and paper in 2019, but has encountered issues, according to multiple current and former inspectors who spoke to Schools Week on condition of anonymity.
Inspectors described situations in which their screen “froze” and evidence “disappeared” in front of their eyes during visits.
Others discovered evidence had been wiped upon returning to their hotel room.
They said Ofsted was repeatedly warned about the problems, but initially refused to accept there was something wrong and “blame turned back on the individual inspectors”.
Issues ‘more frequent’ when system launched
Ofsted told Schools Week it was “aware that on some occasions inspectors can have issues with the EEG, for example connecting to WiFI due to the provider they are in or to the system itself”.
But they said these issues were “more frequent when the system was first introduced” and inspectors have been “instructed to use other means to record their evidence in these circumstances”.
The watchdog also said it believed there had “only been a very small number of instances since 2019 where we have declared an inspection incomplete as a result of a technical issue”. This was said to potentially be as low as one or two.
In those instances, “we have then returned to the school to collect more evidence to ensure the judgement is secure”, the watchdog said.
Ofsted issued guidance to inspectors in 2019 on “ensuring the integrity of the evidence base”.
The guidance, which has since been updated and simplified, said inspectors experiencing “minor issues of misplaced evidence” should “recapture the salient points from memory as soon as possible”.
Where they were “unable to record or retrieve evidence electronically”, inspectors were told to record it in Microsoft Word or on paper.
‘For years it was incredibly unstable’
On “rare occasions”, the quality of the inspection “may be at risk”, at which point it “may be necessary to deploy an additional inspector or additional inspectors or extend the timescale of the inspection to avoid it being deemed incomplete”.
The guidance also accepted that in “exceptional circumstances”, the loss of electronic evidence “may only occur or be discovered after the end of the onsite inspection but before drafting or publication of the inspection report”.
One ex-inspector said: “For years it was incredibly unstable. Inspectors would find all their evidence had disappeared.”
Another inspector described “difficulties with it since it was put in place”, but said it had become “more reliable and user-friendly over time”.
There have been “lots of examples of people losing large swathes of typed evidence”.
In a recent submission to the Parliamentary education committee, a group of six former inspectors, including former trust leader Frank Norris, warned the EEG’s effectiveness was “hindered by a lack of trialling and an unwillingness to accept its flaws and feedback”.
‘A cause of great stress’
“Suffice to report that much resource was wasted and much evidence was lost or had to be rewritten, and was the cause of great stress to inspectors who had to use this system which is now under review. Better four years late than never.”
Ofsted said its “systems and processes are under constant review”.
They take the “processes we use to come to an inspection judgement very seriously” and said judgments were all “backed up by sufficient evidence from the inspection team and are quality assured by senior staff in Ofsted”.
If quality assurance found there was “insufficient evidence on the system to support the judgement, inspectors would be instructed to return to the school to gather and record further evidence”.
But Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, accused Ofsted of feeding “botched data” into a “broken system”.
“The disservice to the profession and to parents is appalling, and the reluctance to admit the error for years is simply not good enough.”
Ofsted’s latest guidance, issued in 2022, tells inspectors that can’t resolve technical issues to record evidence in Word and then transfer the information into the EEG within 24 hours of the inspection.
It no longer instructs inspectors to re-write evidence from memory.