Chief inspector Amanda Spielman has rejected calls to “chop out” safeguarding from Ofsted’s remit, and said the watchdog could do more with increased funding.
Spielman was questioned by the Parliamentary education committee this morning following the release last week of Ofsted’s review into school sex abuse. The review accused school leaders and teachers of “consistently underestimating” the scale of sexual abuse and harassment among pupils.
But the review also acknowledged that inspections do not yet “sufficiently assess” the extent of sexual harassment in schools, after finding that just 6 per cent of schools inspected under the new education inspection framework provided the records required at the beginning of inspection.
During this morning’s session, committee chair Robert Halfon asked if there should be an “offshoot” of Ofsted or a separate independent body to advise and inspect schools specifically on safeguarding.
But Spielman said Ofsted had been “dealing with safeguarding for very many years”.
“We have an extremely effective central safeguarding team that influences how we inspect in all remits,” she added.
“Pulling that apart and trying to separate out academic from safeguarding, trying to get a rounded take on a school if you chop out safeguarding, if you take out all the different kinds of bullying, for example, that a lot of what we talk about in this report reflects, you would chop the picture up into awkward pieces.”
Government has made inspection ‘smaller’
Spielman also said it had been a “matter of government policy for many years to make inspection smaller and lighter”.
“We could absolutely do it if we were funded. In terms of Ofsted funding, as a percentage of the school budget, the school inspection budget is I think now under 0.1 per cent of school funding where it was once 0.4 per cent. It’s been a policy choice to reduce that capacity. That could be restored if there was a desire to put more effort into this area.”
The chief inspector also rejected fears expressed by Halfon that Ofsted’s remit was “too big”.
“I do have significant concerns about this message that Ofsted is enormous. Particularly on the school side, we are half the size that we were 20 years ago.
“We have shrunk and shrunk and shrunk, and there is a sort of narrative that we have a huge machine that simply doesn’t fit with reality.”
She said Ofsted had “I think fewer than 200 full-time inspectors”, and that would have to shrink further should responsibility for safeguarding be taken away.
“It would be very hard to sustain an effective national inspectorate if it were unbundled in the school space.”
Spielman claims Ofsted did ‘immense amount’ to improve
Ofsted’s approach to identifying sexual abuse in schools was criticised this morning, with Halfon asking why Ofsted had “not picked up on these safeguarding problems that you uncovered in your report in your previous inspections”.
Spielman was also asked about comments from MP Maria Miller, who chairs the women and equalities committee, who last week accused Ofsted of a “massive safeguarding failure” and said it should have acted faster after her committee called for a requirement that inspections look at reporting and recording of sexual harassment in 2016.
The chief inspector said she started in 2017, three months after the committee published its report, and Ofsted was “already” considering how to cover the issue in its new inspection framework, which made a requirement to ask about sexual harassment and violence “more explicit”.
She said Ofsted carried out training for all inspectors in 2018 and put out guidance for the sector in that year.
“We did an immense amount first to make sure it was built into the framework and secondly to ensure what is as important as having words in the framework, having inspectors fully trained and prepared, and the sector understanding what is going to be discussed at inspection.”