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New Ofsted inspection pauses: how they would work

Schools inspections could be paused for up to five days if there are serious concerns about the wellbeing of leaders, Ofsted’s new policy sets out.

As first revealed by Schools Week, the inspectorate has now introduced a policy to pause inspections.

In its response to the coroner’s report into the death of head Ruth Perry, the watchdog admitted there had “previously been no clear, written policy for pausing inspections”.

Coroner Heidi Connor said it was “suggested by Ofsted witnesses that it is an option to pause an ongoing inspection because of reasons of teacher distress”.

But Schools Week previously revealed the inspectorate had no central record of pauses being carried out.

Details of the new policy have been published this morning. Here’s your trusty Schools Week explainer of how it will all work.

1. What is a pause and how would it work?

This refers to when an inspection that has already started is halted. The policy to defer an inspection – made before the visit starts – is separate and is also still in place.

The lead inspector “would normally initiate” the pause, but the head or responsible body can also ask for a pause.

“Open, honest and professional discussion sits at the heart of the decision-making process,” the new guidance states.

Heads who have concerns they “do not feel that they can discuss” with the inspector are able to contact a senior inspector on a number they will be given during the initial notification call.

They would contact the lead inspector to discuss the concern, which could include a remote review of evidence or deploying another inspector to quality-assure the inspection. Where “differences are irreconcilable”, a change of inspectors could be initiated.

2. When would a pause be considered?

The guidance states a pause would be in “exceptional circumstances that mean it cannot reasonably proceed”.

“Inspectors will make every effort to protect the integrity of the inspection, which is carried out in the interests of children and their parents and carers, and so only exceptional circumstances will result in a pause,” the policy stated.

Examples given are:

  • Circumstances that compromise Ofsted’s ability to gather sufficient evidence to reach valid and reliable judgements, and where leaders require support from the responsible body
  • Any other “notable incident that has a significant effect on the routine day-to-day running of the school”

The lead inspector will ask before an inspection who is responsible for the wellbeing of the headteacher, and if they have any significant concerns about a leader’s wellbeing they will make the responsible body aware.

Any discussion over a pause would also include the responsible body.

3. Who decides if an inspection should be paused?

As part of a pause, the lead inspector would contact Ofsted’s regional duty desk who will seek advice from the national safeguarding and wellbeing duty desk.

The national duty desk will discuss:

  • The reason for the proposed pause, and whether a pause is necessary
  • Where there is a wellbeing concern, inspectors will ensure responsible bodies are aware and told “they need to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to ensure continued leadership during the pause”
  • Whether the possibility of a pause has been mentioned to leaders
  • The length of the pause being considered, which should “balance the views of the responsible body with the wider well-being issues of leaders and staff and the need to put children and learners first”

All pauses will be recorded. And whatever decision is made, it should be explained to the school and details kept.

4. No pause if child wellbeing concern

Pausing an inspection “will usually not be appropriate where we are concerned that children and young people may be at risk of serious harm”, the policy states.

“The safety and well-being of children and learners are our first priority.”

In these cases, other steps such as adding additional time to the inspection may be considered.

“In deciding this, we will consider how quickly the responsible body can assure themselves and confirm to inspectors that the significant health and well-being issues have been addressed and there is no significant detrimental effect on the day-to-day operations of the school,” the guidance adds.

5. How long would inspections be paused for?

Guidance states inspectors should be “considerate of the well-being of all staff and the additional pressure that an extended pause can have on all those involved in an inspection”.

The “starting point” will be that a paused inspection would resume the next working day.

However, the pause “may be up to five working days, depending on the school’s capacity to maintain its typical day-to-day operations and/or inspector availability”.

This would give the responsible body time to “make any necessary arrangements for the inspection to continue”.

In “exceptional cases” the pause could be longer, but this may then have to be treated as an “incomplete inspection” – which means a further full inspection would be required.

6. Schools also allowed to ‘take a break’

The guidance states lead inspectors should “seek to support anyone who becomes distressed or upset during an inspection”.

The guidance adds that it is also “entirely appropriate and acceptable to take a break from inspection activities, provided the inspection can be completed within the planned tariff and timescale”.

This would not be considered a pause, and the inspector would aim to “complete the inspection wherever possible, with adjustments to the timetable”.

7. Inspectors should ‘treat everyone fairly and sensitively’

The guidance also makes clear the expectations on inspector conduct. They should “maintain a positive working relationship with providers, based on professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect”.

They should also “act with integrity and to treat everyone they meet fairly and with sensitivity”.

It adds inspectors should “take all reasonable steps to prevent undue anxiety and to minimise stress during inspections and regulatory activities”.

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