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Responding to Ofsted’s ‘Big Listen’ – guidance for members

What is Ofsted’s ‘Big Listen’?

Ofsted’s ‘Big Listen’ is an online survey that seeks views about the way Ofsted inspects and, in some cases regulates, across a wide range of areas including schools, children’s social care, teacher training and early years. The survey closes on 31 May 2024. 

You can access the 'Big Listen' survey here.

Why is Ofsted conducting the ‘Big Listen’?

Following the tragic death of Ruth Perry, the coroner’s report found that the inspection contributed to the cause of her death. The case added significant weight to calls for full system reform of inspection.

NAHT published its plan for interim and long-term reform, based on members’ views, in our report Rethinking School Inspection, and gave written and oral evidence to inform a House of Commons select committee report.

The ‘Big Listen’ survey is part of Ofsted’s response to the matters of concerns raised by the coroner and, more widely, the sector.

I have read concerns about the scope and style of Ofsted’s survey. What is NAHT’s view?

NAHT has welcomed the fact that Ofsted is seeking feedback about school inspections.

However, we have significant concerns about the design of the survey.

Our main concern is that many of our member’s most pressing worries about inspection (for example, single-word/phrase judgements, the efficacy of the current framework, methodology and inspector conduct) are not directly addressed. We believe that Ofsted has missed an opportunity to collect relevant qualitative data that would assist inspection reform.

We are also concerned about question design and framing, which risks skewing responses. For example, questions seeking comment on ‘how important’ a feature of inspection is, rather than assessing its effectiveness, or those containing undefined terms, such as ‘short and appropriate’, will make it difficult to know what respondents intend to communicate in their answers.

Many questions also contain multiple elements (for example: how well children or learners acquire the knowledge and skills that they need and how well the school plans and teaches the curriculum and checks that children/learners have learned it.’ [NAHT emphasis], making it difficult to draw reliable conclusions.

However, there are free text boxes where it is possible for members to set out clear views on current inspection and how the system should be reformed.

Given these concerns, should I respond?

Yes – NAHT will submit a response on behalf of its membership, but we strongly recommend that members should respond to the consultation to share their personal views and experiences too. It is important Ofsted hears from as many school leaders as possible. Below we have provided advice to assist you when completing the questionnaire.

Responding to Ofsted’s ‘Big Listen’

The statements for the multiple-choice options are too broad or do not allow me to communicate my view. What should I do?

If you feel that the multiple-choice options are too broad, or do not allow you to represent your view, NAHT suggests selecting the ‘neutral’ option and explaining your choice in the free text box.

What does NAHT advise I raise in the free text boxes?

NAHT set out clear calls for full system reform in Rethinking School Inspection. It would be helpful to reiterate those calls in your consultation response.


  • NAHT is clear that inspection is broken
  • high-stakes inspection must end
  • fundamental reform to Ofsted, its frameworks and methodology is needed.

Interim steps to reform:

  • revert to ungraded inspections for all schools (except Schools Causing Concern)
  • report strengths and areas for development through a short letter
  • strengthen training, performance management and oversight of inspectors, changing the culture of inspection
  • commit to publish all training materials, aides-memoirs and notes
  • extend the notice period to about 48 hours (as an interim measure).

Longer term reform:

  • permanently remove graded judgements
  • improve reporting to capture a school’s strengths and areas for development, and take account of its context
  • revise and reduce the inspection framework, with discrete frameworks and methodologies for different phases, school types and specialisms
  • revise the inspection methodology – Ofsted’s role is to inspect what a school does, not test a school’s adherence to a pre-defined approach to teaching and learning
  • decouple safeguarding from inspection entirely – in favour of an annual assessment or review, perhaps conducted by a local authority covering all state funded schools 
  • all inspections led by an HMI, with all team members having phase, type, or specialist experience
  • introduce inspection of trusts
  • as part of a new user-focused complaints process, create a wholly independent complaints body able to overturn inspection judgements and make binding recommendations on the inspectorate 
  • break the link between intervention and inspection to remove high stakes.

Guiding principles

The aim should be to work with the representatives of teachers and leaders to create a low-stakes system of inspection that will act as a lever for significant workload reduction, reduce stress, improve health outcomes and improve retention.

It could be that a much more local model of inspection based on HMI working in local patches or areas, where they understand the context and circumstances, would prove beneficial to the system, promoting collaboration, peer review and area-wide school improvement.

First published 28 March 2024