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Ofsted: Give us £8.5m to deliver more in-depth inspections

Ofsted has said delivering more in-depth inspections called-for by MPs would cost £8.5 million a year, and warned declining inspector pay means they are losing staff to academy trusts.

The watchdog has published its response to the Parliamentary education committee’s report on the impact of inspection.

The report argued a “nuanced” alternative to “totemic” Ofsted single-phrase judgments should be developed as a “priority”.

MPs also called for less frequent, more detailed inspections, a longer five-day notice period for schools and a review of the government’s coasting schools policy.

Here are key findings…

1. £8.5m needed for longer inspections

MPs recommended Ofsted “increase to the length and depth” of inspections and also “increase the length and depth of analysis provided in inspection reports”.

Ofsteds Sir Martin Oliver

The inspectorate said the “frequency and length of inspection are constrained by public funding”. But it welcomed the committee backing its calls for extra funding for “more in-depth inspection”.

Ofsted said it “could inspect schools in greater depth by ensuring every inspection is led by one of His Majesty’s Inspectors and that the inspection team has an additional inspector on the team”.

Benefits of such a change would include “allowing for more time to explore the school’s unique approach or allowing for a dedicated focus on a national priority area on every inspection”.

But delivering this “additional depth” would cost of £8.5 million per year.

Ofsted’s role and responsibilities have “expanded significantly” since 2005 but its funding has “fallen significantly “over the same period, and is now 29 per cent lower in real terms compared with 2009/10”, the watchdog noted.

2. Pay drives inspectors to academies

Ofsted said it was “determined to be an organisation of the sector, by the sector, for children, learners and parents”. But it faces “many of the same challenges faced by the school system in seeking to recruit and retain staff”.

MPs had called for an independent assessmnent of retention, but said this would not be a “good use of public money” because “we know the reasons for this difficulty”.

Salaries “in many parts of the sector exceed the salaries we are currently able to afford”.

“Between November 2021 and November 2023, excluding HMI who retired from their roles, 42 per cent of our schools HMI left to join multi-academy trusts (MATs).”

HMI salary “has declined in real terms in recent years, reflecting our wider budget constraints”. But exit surveys also show “that ways of working and workloads are often significant contributing factors to HMI turnover”.

3. ‘Mocksted’ prep driving ‘fear’ of inspection

Ofsted said it knew inspection “puts pressure on the sectors we inspect, which is why we are determined to strike the right balance between carrying out our role and reducing pressures on the leaders and staff we inspect”.

Such preparation, sometimes called “Mocksteds”, has been widely criticised, including by former chief inspector Amanda Spielman.

But the watchdog warned that it “suspect[s] that a significant amount of fear about Ofsted inspections is driven by organisations and individuals seeking to profit from inspection preparation, where this is entirely unnecessary”.

“It is a source of particular frustration that some of these individuals previously worked for us.

“Without detracting from being constantly reflective about what more we can do to reduce pressure on leaders and staff, we will also not shy away from highlighting how others exploit our role, resulting in undue worry for those who work in schools.”

4. Ofsted could ‘separate out’ complaint figures

The watchdog said it continued to receive “more complaints from providers that have received the lowest grades”.

“In over half of the complaints from providers this year, they had received an overall effectiveness grade of inadequate or requires improvement.”

Ofsted said it would “see how practicable it is to separate out figures for conduct and judgement complaints, which is often challenging, given the interrelated nature of the complaints submitted”.

5. MAT inspection ‘inevitable’ but consider dioceses too

MPs said the DfE “must authorise Ofsted to develop a framework” for the inspection of multi-academy trusts “as a matter of urgency”.

Ofsted welcomed the “committee agreeing with our evidence that inspection of MATs is appropriate and inevitable”.

But it said it also thought “consideration needs to be given to the wider application of this thinking to groups of education providers, such as dioceses, groups of nurseries, children’s homes, independent schools, and potentially even local authorities and the work of directors of children’s services.”.

It said “MAT inspection could be considered just one element of ‘group inspection’.”

6. Review of risk assessment model

Ofsted said it will review its current risk assessment model, which is used to determine which ‘good’ schools get a graded inspection and which get an ungraded inspection.

The watchdog does this “so that we can focus our efforts on where we can have the greatest impact within the funding constraints in which we operate”.

As announced at the ASCL conference, Ofsted is also making changes to its website to show “the full range of judgements, not just overall effectiveness grades”

7. Differing notice periods may not be ‘fair’

The committee recommended Ofsted consider “a small increase in the notice
period given to schools, and whether smaller schools could be given a “longer notice period or greater flexibility around deferrals”.

Ofsted said “nothing if off the table” and it is “happy to consider potential changes to our notice periods for schools… but we think it is important to involve the sector and parents in this discussion – which we are doing through the Big Listen”.

However, it said “it is hard to see how different notice periods for different types of school can be implemented fairly”.

8. Expertise matched to inspection ‘where possible’

The committee said Ofsted should ensure, as a minimum, that a lead inspector has expertise in the type of school they are inspecting and in larger teams the majority of inspectors visiting a school should also have that relevant experience

Ofsted said its “ambition” is to “match expertise to inspection wherever possible”.

But they acknowledged this was “more difficult, for instance, for types of specialist provision for which there are fewer providers”.

9. Scrapping judgments a DfE decision

Ofsted said a number of the committee’s recommendations “fall” to the DfE, including the call for an alternative to single-word judgments

Another decision that would rest with the DfE is MPs’ call for a re-assessment of the policy of imposing academy orders on schools rated ‘requires improvement’ twice in a row.

Ofsted committed to “engaging with (government) on all relevant matters”.

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