Ofsted Inspections – What can a School do?
A question that we are frequently asked is how a Local Education Authority/Governing Body/Academy Trust can deal with an Ofsted Inspection which has led to a poor result for the school?
This is important, as under legislation ( typically section 2A of the Academies Act 2010), a school that is classified as being in Special Measures or requiring “Significant Improvement” is subject to the risk that it can, statutorily, have its Funding Agreement terminated by the Department for Education if it is an Academy and, in a Local authority Maintained context, a Local Authority will come under some pressure to create an Improvement Plan, appoint an Interim Executive Board in place of the current Governing Body or to transfer it out of Maintained Status (not in Wales). Well-informed parents may vote with their feet and not choose a school with a negative report for their families which in terms harms school finances.
The question of “Poor” Ofsted Reports has been thrown into sharp relief by the recent case of Ruth Perry ,the School Headteacher who unfortunately committed suicide, associated with a hostile and negative Ofsted Report about her school. Any teacher will tell you that a forthcoming Ofsted Inspection is something which gives them sleepless nights, even a “Good” school may be subject to a poor score in areas for example, such as leadership and any finding of “Requires Improvement” in any area of a school’s performance brings the whole school’s rating and reputation down.
Faced with all this, what can a school do? We have had some experience in acting on behalf of schools and can suggest the following:
- Make sure full comments, ideally with contemporaneous notes and supporting evidence, are made on the Draft Ofsted Report. We have come across examples of poor behaviour from Inspectors, unpleasant body language (finger pointing, the “talk to the hand” gesture) a negative outlook and behaviour which might be construed as “bullying”. Readers may be aware that Ofsted Inspections have recently been paused for a period of two weeks, during which all Ofsted Inspectors have been given “mental health training” on how to improve the quality of their work, and to develop “empathy”.
- Make sure the complaint is made promptly. Ideally during the inspection if possible. The draft report can be commented on and the final report can be complained about within 5 working days, and Ofsted have to suspend publishing the report whilst complaints re considered. Ofsted may also carry out an internal investigation into the complaint.
- Establish whether there are any suspicious circumstances. For example (we have not only come across this but it has also been featured in Private Eye Magazine), there are examples where a School Inspector is about to take up a vacancy with a nearby School and might have a personal interest in making negative findings about the school they are inspecting, and they might be regarded as having a clear conflict of interest. Clearly, for most professionals, such a conflict of interest would make carrying out such a role unacceptable, but it seems that Ofsted do not have a formal requirement in this regard.
- Make sure parental comments are taken into account. Often a school is poorly regarded by Ofsted but achieves glowing feedback from parents and pupils. This should be stressed as it can be regarded as being more objective than academic staff “marking their own homework”.
- Judicial Review. This is not a simple, straightforward or cheap solution (and should only be taken after Ofsted internal procedures have been exhausted) but we have, in at least one case, taken Ofsted to a Judicial Review, and have been able to sustain the argument that the conclusions within their report have not been in line with the actual conduct of the inspection itself, and feedback that was given within the “end of day meeting”, which schools typically have. The argument may be able to be made that;
– in the face of the evidence that the report is manifestly unreasonable and/or
-some aspect of the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook has not been followed, constituting a procedural failure.
Initiating High Court proceedings is possibly a solution only for a school which has a well-financed sponsoring organisation behind it, but the possibility of considering proceedings is something which should not be entirely ignored.
We are told we can expect a kinder Ofsted regime going forward. This remains to be seen, but certainly if schools feel they have been unfairly treated and where the conclusions of an Ofsted Report are not justified by the content of the investigation process itself, then they should not take the view that there is nothing which they can do.
To discuss Ofsted inspections and our suggestions, please contact Stephen Pearson.
Read the other topical articles from our latest Local Government update:
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- New Procurement Thresholds for UK Public Sector
- Newcomer injunctions – to prevent unauthorised camps on local authority land
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
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