Why Ofsted should not inspect safeguarding (and who should do it instead)

The foundations of a more comprehensive and effective safeguarding system than Ofsted’s narrow approach already exist

The foundations of a more comprehensive and effective safeguarding system than Ofsted’s narrow approach already exist

education recovery Kevan collins

25 Feb 2024, 5:00

The tragic death of Ruth Perry following Ofsted’s inspection of her school posed questions about Ofsted’s ability to effectively judge safeguarding in schools.

Reading Ofsted’s assessments of safeguarding in schools’ inspection reports shows that the process they follow is disproportionately focused on policies and procedures. These in themselves do not protect children.

Too much time is spent on checking DBS records, and too little is spent speaking to children and families. Ofsted’s approach is narrow in focus. It fails to cover the experience of the range of children in scope to safeguarding. It lacks information on multi-agency aspects of safeguarding, offers no advice or support to ensure schools can improve and worse, omits any assessment on reporting the risks of significant harm.

To be effective, any assessment of safeguarding needs to be proportionate, focused, involve the school and allow for external, objective, expert assessment and feedback. Thankfully, there is already a model for this – one schools are familiar with, and on which a more comprehensive system could be built to replace Ofsted’s inadequate approach.

The Local Safeguarding Children Partnership (LSCP) is a statutory multi-agency body. It is led by the three statutory safeguarding partners: the Chief Constable for the area, the Chief Executive of the local NHS board and the Chief Executive of the local authority. They have a statutory “equal and joint” responsibility for safeguarding in their area and access to a significant range of data about children and education.

This includes rates of absence, exclusions, social care referrals, the number of children in need, looked-after children, children on a child protection plan, health data (not available to Ofsted) and young people at risk of, or involved in criminality  – all the factors which impact on safeguarding and child protection. Crucially, they know their schools and communities and the challenges they face.

Ofsted is disproportionately focused on policies and procedures

The Education Act 2002 places a legal duty on schools to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of students. As part of these arrangements, governing bodies are to conduct safeguarding audits to assess the effectiveness of their policies and procedures, providing information to the local authority on how these duties have been discharged.

LSCPs assess these audits. Best practice is then for the partnership to feed back its opinion of the audit to each school. Often, the LSCP will arrange to visit a school to offer guidance and support. If an audit is of poor quality, this is taken up with the chair of governors and the headteacher.

With minor tweaks to Working Together to Keep Children Safe in Education, the audits and their assessment could be given a higher status. For example, it could require the LSCP to provide formal feedback to schools with recommendations.

The key issues to be covered in the audit and any visit could be set out in statutory guidance, with a framework of the key areas to be covered. In addition, schools would receive a regular safeguarding MOT, and earlier intervention if there are indications of serious weaknesses.

A key factor in the audits and visits could be genuine gathering and use of student voice, rather than Ofsted’s tokenistic approach.

The visit would be carried out by a small, trained team of LSCP practice leaders and focus on helping the school to share its best practice and strengthen areas found to be less than good. Following a visit, the headteacher and chair of governors would receive a formal report, which would be available to parents online.

LSCPs could be required to provide their assessment of their area’s strengths and challenges annually to the DfE and Ofsted.

In this model, other than if they identified a concern during their visit, Ofsted inspectors could focus their efforts on going into more depth on the quality of education, taking pressure off them and the schools they inspect.

Importantly, we could do all this and in fact improve safeguarding for children and young people. So what’s holding us back?

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. With the amount of local safeguarding partnerships (and previous boards) that have failed children over the past I would have no confidence that they would be any better than Ofsted. Sick of hearing ‘lessons will be learned’ when children are still being abused and murdered by the very people who should be protecting them.

    • Tammie Redman

      LSCP do not have the capacity, the skills or the workforce to check schools. In several practice reviews it has been highlighted that they are divorced from frontline practice . There is no way on earth they would be able to give the support and guidance needed . They are already failing to ensure schools and other agencies are kept in the loop regarding changes . OFSTED may be getting it wrong but it needs a complete overhaul where inspection is about identifying good practice and suggesting improvements where there are weaknesses.

  2. Interesting that so many schools have been failed by the same local authorities you are promoting. You also have a very narrow view of inspections it seems. DBS numbers are checked on the SCR which takes a few minutes. Safeguarding is checked with pupil views, teachers and parents, alongside leaders’ actions to identify and help people who are vulnerable. So basically, Ofsted does what LAs don’t but you’re not happy with ‘Ofsted’ as an organisation so are sharing inaccurate information