NAHT, along with the National Governance Association (NGA) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has today written to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector regarding Ofsted’s proposed visits to a selection of schools in the autumn term.
We have expressed our shared view that these proposed visits will be of no benefit to schools, parents or pupils. We have also been clear in our letter that these visits will inevitably create extra pressure on schools at a time when they are already juggling many demands.
Despite some earlier constructive conversations with senior officials at Ofsted over the summer, it is clear that the original intention of these visits, to provide insight to the government of the challenges schools face on the ground, has now been lost. The emphasis has shifted towards focusing individually on schools with processes that are similar to an inspection, including the publication of an ‘outcome letter’.
As such, today we have collectively asked the Chief Inspector to reconsider these plans.
You can read the letter in full below. We will update members when we receive a response to our letter.
4 September 2020
We are writing to express our collective disappointment at the autumn term visits to schools proposed by Ofsted.
We had engaged constructively with senior officials at Ofsted, and felt we had arrived at an approach that would provide a valuable insight into educational recovery following the Covid lockdown, while relieving schools of routine inspections during at least the autumn term to allow them to focus on managing safety controls, identifying learning gaps, and providing pupils with appropriate support.
Our understanding from these discussions was that the purpose of visiting a sample of schools during the autumn term was primarily to inform thematic reports that would be useful to the wider sector, and we advised that any letters published following visits should therefore be confined to advising parents and other stakeholders that a visit had taken place for this purpose. We felt this approach would command the support of schools and benefit children and young people.
We were dismayed then to find in your announcement this week that the emphasis has shifted towards focusing individually on schools with processes that are similar to an inspection and the publication of an ‘outcome letter’. We appreciate that you may view the planned letter as merely a summary of the discussion between inspectors and leaders. But you must understand that a letter written by an Ofsted inspector and published about a school will feel like an inspection report.
This impression is reinforced by the fact that there is a mechanism for using a visit to trigger a full inspection; the sample of schools to be inspected includes all rated ‘inadequate’; the necessity for a complaints process about the planned letters; and the telling phrase in the sample letter we have seen: “We did not find any serious causes for concern during the visit”.
We cannot see how this approach is of benefit to schools, parents and pupils. Schools already communicate information to parents, and do not need Ofsted inspectors to act as their emissary in this respect, and inspectors have no framework or experience against which to make any assessment of the school’s plans to recover from the effects of a pandemic. Governing boards will be holding senior leaders to account in the interests of pupils and asking the very questions that inspectors are being asked to.
Furthermore, these visits will inevitably create an extra pressure on schools at a time when they are already juggling many demands, and will serve only to increase the sense among school leaders that Ofsted invariably reverts to type and is incapable of a genuinely collaborative approach.
It is surely not too much to ask that schools are given at least one term’s grace from Ofsted processes, however framed, so that they can focus on the very demanding job of reintegrating pupils, and we ask you to reconsider your plans. As a matter of courtesy, we should make it clear that we will be publishing this letter, and your reply, given the importance of this subject to our members and to the education community in general.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary - ASCL
Paul Whiteman, General Secretary - NAHT
Emma Knights, Chief Executive - NGA
First published 04 September 2020