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Ofsted explores ‘withholding’ safeguarding failure reports

Ofsted is considering whether it should “withhold” reports for three months where schools fail on safeguarding but are otherwise ‘good’ so they have a chance to fix issues before publication.

The watchdog will launch its ‘Big Listen’ this morning, a 12-week consultation on further inspection changes following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver will vow to listen to criticism and ideas for “big reforms”, reiterating “nothing is off the table” (see full list of proposals on page 5).

Many of the questions ask for wider feedback including on issues like inclusion and whether Ofsted incentivises off-rolling and exclusions.

But there are some potential policy changes outlined.

Withholding reports plan

Following an internal review, the inspectorate is “considering” a change in approach so “where safeguarding arrangements are ineffective but the school is good or better in all other areas” it could “withhold finalising a judgement for three months”, delaying the report.

Ofsted would then reinspect safeguarding at the school and if the issues were fixed, rate it ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

This suggests should the school improve, its previous failing would not be reported, but Ofsted said no further details have been worked out yet and it is open to views.

In December, a coroner ruled that an Ofsted inspection at Caversham Primary School contributed to Perry’s suicide. The school had failed on safeguarding, but was otherwise deemed to be performing well.

‘Every voice will be heard’

Speaking at the ASCL union conference in Liverpool this morning, Oliver will say: “We need to listen to feedback. To criticism. To ideas for small changes and for big reforms… Every voice will be heard, and nothing, nothing, is off the table.”

The consultation is based on four “priorities”: how Ofsted reports on findings, how it carries out inspections, the impact inspection has and the culture of the organisation itself.

School staff, education organisations and parents are urged to complete an online survey. Views are sought on areas including how Ofsted inspects schools, safeguarding, SEND and teaching training.

Ofsted will also commission a series of focus groups with “parents and professionals to gather views on Ofsted’s future direction”.

The watchdog will also seek views on whether to create a safeguarding judgement that is separate from leadership and management – something Labour has suggested it would take forward if elected.

But there is no specific proposal on axing single-word judgments, which would require a change in government policy. However, a free text box in the section of the consultation on reporting can be used for feedback on this issue.

Disadvantaged children ‘at heart of reforms’

Oliver has pledged to “champion high standards for all children, especially the most disadvantaged and vulnerable”. Ofsted said poorer pupils will be “at the heart of future reforms”.

Views are sought on the importance of reports making clear how disadvantaged pupils are supported, as well as whether an “unintended consequence” of inspections is that mainstream schools exclude, suspend or off-roll pupils, or become less inclusive.

Daniel Kebede

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the consultation was an “important step in resetting the broken relationship between Ofsted and schools”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT said it is “hopeful this consultation will build on our early conversations about the fundamental reform which is so desperately needed”.

But Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We are a long way away from Ofsted fixing its reputation.

“Only root and branch reform will end the tyranny of the inspection regime and the climate of fear it creates.” Steve Rollett, deputy chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, welcomed the consultation, but added “improving the accountability system depends not only on Ofsted’s actions but also those of government”.

Perry’s sister Julia Waters encouraged people to do the survey, adding: “Listening to the concerns of teachers, parents and others is a good start, but for a genuine reset to happen Ofsted will need to do more than just listen.

“Sir Martyn will need to move from a big listen to a big change pretty quickly, or this exercise will be a big waste of time.”

The consultation will close on May 31. Findings will be published “later this year”.

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