Covid, Ofsted

Pandemic, what pandemic? Heads worry Ofsted is failing to take Covid into account

Leaders fear missed opportunity to forge a positive relationship

Leaders fear missed opportunity to forge a positive relationship

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Headteachers say Ofsted is not following through on its promise to consider the toll of Covid on schools during reinstated inspections, with a leaders’ union set to discuss the issue next week.

One boss claimed from the watchdog’s point of view “there does not appear to have been a pandemic”.

Leaders fear a “heavy-handed, judgmental approach” would be a missed opportunity to forge a positive relationship after Ofsted’s more conversational visits during the pandemic won plaudits.

However, other freshly inspected schools report that Ofsted was “genuinely interested” in understanding the ramifications of the pandemic. Ofsted said it does recognise the efforts of schools.

‘No consideration for what our staff have dealt with’

Graded inspections returned last month. However, Ofsted tweaked its framework to state that inspectors will “take account” of the pandemic and the “disruption it has caused and may continue to cause”.

This included being “sympathetic to schools” that have been unable to fully implement new curriculum, seeking to understand the “specific impact of Covid on the school community” during the preparation phone call.

But some school leaders visited in September say this is not happening.

Rob Carpenter, chief executive of the Inspire Partnership academy trust, told Schools Week that during a Section 8 inspection at a primary school within the trust “just one reference was made to the pandemic”.

Another trust chief executive who had undergone a Section 5 inspection at one of their schools, and wished to remain anonymous, added: “From Ofsted’s perspective, there does not appear to have been a pandemic.”

Carpenter said “very little time and consideration has been given to better understand how schools are preparing for a new academic year with fully opened classrooms”.

“Throughout the inspection there was no consideration for what our staff and community have dealt with this past 18 months,” he added.

A London education leader, who had a school visited last month and wanted to remain anonymous, told Schools Week there was “very little focus on Covid from inspectors as they said the school was back last term – as though it was in any way a normal term”.

Union to discuss concerns next week

No reports from September inspections have yet been published. Outcomes for the inspections referenced have also not yet been confirmed.

But Wrangle Primary School, in Lancashire, has published a report on its own website. The school was upgraded from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’ following an inspection last month. 

The report makes limited reference to the pandemic, aside from stating “inspectors discussed the impact of the pandemic with school leaders and have taken that into account in their evaluation”.

The school did not respond to a request for comment.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) confirmed members had raised issues over a lack of questions and consideration to Covid during recent inspections. The union will discuss the issues at a council meeting next week.

‘Opportunity of a generation to forge more positive relationship missed’

Carpenter fears schools are being held to “unrealistic expectations” of the education inspection framework at a time when they are still dealing with the “bereavement, displacement and loss which has affected, staff, pupils and parents”.

The anonymous London leader said “applying an inspection framework that was developed before a pandemic in exactly the same way immediately following a pandemic lacks compassion and any understanding of how significant the challenges of the past 18 months have been.

“It is very difficult for schools to be the schools they were before the pandemic so quickly after the pandemic,” they added. “Yet publicly they will be judged.”

Rob Carpenter said the reinstated inspection experience contrasted with the “understanding bedside manner” approach Ofsted had taken in visits during the pandemic.

“If inspection culture defaults back to a heavy-handed, judgmental approach, we have missed the opportunity of a generation to forge a more positive relationship between schools and Ofsted,” he added.

Ofsted ‘genuinely interested’ in Covid impact

However, others say that Ofsted has been understanding. Stephen Chamberlain, chief executive of the Active Learning Trust, said inspectors were “really listening from the word go” following a section 5 at one of his primary schools.

At the time, five teachers were absent due to Covid and the watchdog agreed not to observe lessons run by substitute teachers and teaching assistants.

Chamberlain, who is a former Ofsted inspector, added: “There was a real sense of professional dialogue and the team felt that Ofsted was genuinely interested in the quality of education and understanding the impact of Covid.”

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We recognise the huge efforts schools are making to ensure pupils get the education and support they need throughout this pandemic.”

Schools will also now not be rated ‘inadequate’ under any particular judgment if the reason for this is solely due to Covid.

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