Williamson: Time to plan for Ofsted return, but inspection results must be 'fair'

Gavin Williamson has tentatively signalled the government is looking to restart Ofsted inspections next year, but has pledged an announcement in “the next few weeks” to ensure schools have “sufficient time” to prepare.

The education secretary said he expects Ofsted to play a “vital role as we work through the pandemic”, while making the keynote address at The School and Academies Show this morning.

He admitted when the pandemic initially hit it “was clear that we couldn’t put schools under the added pressure of an Ofsted inspection… But as we move on into 2021 we must start planning for a time when they can restart.”

He said: “Ofsted is a vital feature of our education landscape. Its experts give us a rounded view of how a school functions, from teaching and quality of education, as well as pupil behaviour and attendance.

“This in turn enables not just government, but parents too, to see what is working well and in some cases what is not.

“Proper accountability is fundamental if we are to make sure every child in the country gets the world class education they deserve.

“Ofsted takes the role of a critical friend and is also the last line of defence against poor standards. It acts as a champion for children who would otherwise go unheard. Such as in the case of the unacceptable practice of off-rolling.”

Schools Week revealed earlier this month how Ofsted had proposed introducing monitoring-style inspections – without grades – to restart in January.  However the decision is ultimately down to ministers.

Williamson added: “I fully intend for Ofsted to continue to play its vital role as we work through the pandemic but in a way that ensures any inspection results are fair, particularly in terms of comparisons that are made between schools over time.

“We’re continuing to look very carefully at this and are considering with Ofsted and the sector what can be achieved safely and sensitively.

“It will be an important thing for school inspections to start up again but at the right time and in the right way. I’ll make a full announcement within the next few weeks with sufficient time for all concerned to prepare before the end of the autumn term.”

Williamson also said he was “deeply sorry” for this year’s exams fiasco, adding the government will announce “further support very soon” for pupils taking exams next year, “recognising this again as an exceptional year for those young people”.

This included “looking very carefully” at how exams are graded, as well as what can be done to make exams “less daunting for students with the objective of fairness to those young people at the heart of every decision we take”.

On Covid, the education secretary said schools “have been on the frontline of a tremendous battle”, acknowledging the government has asked a lot of schools staff “in particular”.

But he said the pandemic “must not deflect us from giving every child a world-class education”.