Rise in parents complaining to Ofsted about schools post-Covid

But watchdog wants to 'reassure' sector that few led to snap inspections

But watchdog wants to 'reassure' sector that few led to snap inspections

21 Jul 2023, 5:00

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Complaints about schools have risen by a quarter in a year, Ofsted says

Complaints to Ofsted about schools rose by a quarter last year, but more than two-thirds were deemed to not warrant further investigation.

Ofsted received 14,900 complaints about schools this year, its annual report and accounts published on Tuesday show.

It comes amid reports from schools that they themselves are facing a rise in parental complaints post Covid.

Writing for Schools Week, Ofsted’s national director for education, Chris Russell, said this marked an almost 25% increase on the previous year, when 12,000 complaints were made.

But less than 1 per cent led to follow-up inspections, with more than two-thirds of complaints deemed to not warrant further investigation.

“While parents should be able to complain to Ofsted if they’ve gone through their school’s internal process and not found a resolution, we know there’s a perception that this increase in complaints in prompting more snap inspections,” Russell said.

“I’d like to reassure everyone working in the sector that the need for immediate action is rare and has not increased alongside the number of complaints.”

Most complaints closed without investigation

Of the complaints received this year, just 16 per cent qualified for investigation, which means they raise serious, whole-school issues. Ofsted then either conducts a snap inspection or takes the issues into account at the school’s next inspection.

The majority of complaints are about leadership and management of a school or pupils’ wellbeing.

Most qualifying complaints (2,240) this year also contained safeguarding matters.

Ofsted said it retained the information from around 1,530 complaints for the next scheduled school inspection “so the issues can be taken into account”.

Ofsted carried out immediate inspections in only 76 cases – less than 1 per cent of complaints.

Meanwhile, 11,400 complaints – 83 per cent of those closed in the year – did not qualify for investigation. The remaining are still classed as “open”.

This year marked a big rise in complaints. There were 10,300 about schools from April 1 2019, to March 31 2020 – 45 per cent lower than this year.

In 2018-19, a total of 12,200 complaints were made to Ofsted about schools.

In both years, less than 1 per cent of complaints led to snap inspections being conducted.

Ofsted data comes after warnings from schools

Russell said “there are of course times when we decide that a complaint is serious enough to necessitate an immediate inspection”.

He added this included concerns that the safety of pupils or staff is at risk, or if there’s “evidence” suggesting a “significant decline” in standards.

“However, just because we decide to inspect immediately or retain information…does not necessarily mean that there is a problem at the school.”

Schools Week has revealed how schools are reporting a wider post-pandemic rise in parental grievances themselves.

The Elliot Foundation Academies Trust has previously estimated the volume of complaints from parents this year to be two or three times” 2019 levels.

Its chief executive told Schools Week that while parents used to “go up to a teacher to complain…Now they skip that stage and go direct to thermo-nuclear war, an email to Ofsted, copy in the MP, for things that wouldn’t have met the threshold before”.

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  1. I can absolutely agree with this. Just at the end of term, we had to deal with an investigation Ofsted asked the LA to conduct after a complaint of bullying and safeguarding had been sent by a family. They did not give us adequate time to investigate the matter before pressing the nuclear button. It turned out that there were no concerns on either count, just a couple of small boys who had had a minor falling out. We were on a school trip, then closed two days for the strike and the alleged bully had chickenpox and could not be interviewed by us. In the short time we had we had spoken to Mom to reassure her, seen the upset child twice and emailed the family, but all this was not good enough. Because we did not instantly and completely agree with parents’ perspective, then they punished us by calling oOfsted, causing us great stress and anxiety at the busiest time of year.