Schools’ fears about the safeguarding judgment in Ofsted inspections are “out of proportion to what the reality is”, the watchdog’s national director for education has said.
Chris Russell emphasised that just 1 per cent of inspections in the 2022-23 academic year resulted in an ineffective safeguarding judgments, during an address to the Schools and Academies Show in Birmingham today.
He added that it was “extremely rare” for the “only issue” in inspections to be safeguarding – accounting for less than 0.1 per cent of inspections last year.
Russell said he did not think safeguarding being a particular concern for school leaders anticipating inspections was “a new issue”, but that the inspectorate was trying to address this through clarifying its handbook and presenting webinars to the sector.
“I’m not saying we’re there yet, and we are very keen to do more because what we don’t want is for people to be unnecessarily worrying about safeguarding,” he said.
“We’re always interested in…other ways that we might get those messages out so people see it in proportion
“I think that’s the problem, they worry about it to an extent which is actually out of proportion to what the reality is.”
Ofsted has ‘no interest’ in causing stress or anxiety
Back in June, the watchdog announced a raft of changes to inspections following an outpouring of anger in the aftermath of the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.
This included faster reinspections for schools graded ‘inadequate’ overall due to ineffective safeguarding.
Ofsted has also since updated its definition of the “culture of safeguarding” in a school in its inspection handbook.
Among the other changes announced, the watchdog said it would consult on a new complaints procedure for schools, following prolonged criticism the current system was “not working”.
Russell told the audience that the outcome of the consultation would be published in the coming days, with changes put into practice in the coming “months”.
They are likely to be installed after his retirement, with Lee Owston taking over the role from January.
Speaking about rising absence and behavioural challenges in the aftermath of Covid, Russell said Ofsted “recognised” issues could not “be shifted overnight” by schools, which “can’t be everything to everyone”.
Inspectors were looking at “to what extent have schools done all that can be reasonably expected in the timeframe that’s available” and within the context they work.
They also had “no interest” in the inspection process causing stress or anxiety to school staff, while Russell said an “important part” of inspector’s jobs was to “reduce stress around inspection”.
But a “bigger challenge”, he added, was for Ofsted to address “misconceptions” about its process, such as leaders’ believing they needed to do “certain things” to make grades.
“The inspection framework and the handbook – that’s what inspectors use – we’re not hiding anything,” said Russell.
Ofsted will publish the first part of its evaluation of the current inspection framework over the next few weeks, which will look at its implementation.