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School slams Ofsted’s ‘mystifying’ refusal to explain grade, High Court hears

Lawyers for a school which has taken Ofsted to court have slammed its “mystifying and frustrating refusal” to provide more detailed explanations for why it was rated ‘inadequate’.

All Saints Academy Dunstable, in Bedfordshire, claims it was not provided with sufficient evidence, explanations or reasons for the Ofsted report published in July, the High Court heard today.

An initial two-day inspection of the school in November 2022 failed Ofsted’s quality assurance and moderation processes. A one-day “gathering additional evidence” (GAE) visit took place in January 2023, the judicial review hearing was told.

During the first visit, Ofsted indicated the provisional gradings would be ‘good’ for quality of education, sixth form, personal development and leadership and management; but ‘requires improvement’ for behaviour and attitudes, and RI overall.

But in the final report, the school was rated ‘inadequate’ overall after being given the lowest grade for leadership and management and behaviour and attitudes.

Report did no provide ‘adequate reasons’

Barrister Paul Greatorex, for the school, said Ofsted reports change lives and “trigger statutory power to have schools taken over, closed down”. 

Ofsted reports can cause people to “lose their jobs” and “in the tragic case of Ruth Perry, their lives”, he added.

He said the only explanation ever given for these judgments is what is written in “two, possibly three” pages of the report that follows the overall grade. 

Greatorex claimed the case is about Ofsted “losing its way”.

The school previously failed in an attempt to prevent publication of the report while it pursued legal action.

“Ultimately this court is going to be the arbiter of whether those two pages of reasons are sufficient in law for for those one-word judgments, given the agreed consequences of them, and given what is also agreed about their being two different inspections with differences between the provisional judgment and the final judgment,” he added.

He said the report issued to the school did not provide “adequate reasons for those very serious judgments which have very serious consequences”.

For the “vast majority of Ofsted reports, there is going to be no need or requirement or even demand to know more than what is said, but in certain cases, there clearly is,” he said. 

‘Helpful for schools to have more detail’

He suggested the inspectorate could provide a follow-up more detailed report, the final feedback in writing or “some limited disclosure of the evidence base”, in such cases. 

“There is something from our perspective both mystifying and frustrating about the steadfast refusal of Ofsted to tell schools more and explain in more detail the findings that they make,” he added. 

He said a “huge amount of documentation is generated by Ofsted” during inspections.

The “tragedy is that there is then this deliberate decision to ration in the most extreme way what the school is told about the outcomes, two, three pages at the most”.

“The big problem is that all anyone gets in these cases is the executive summary and we say, well, why? What’s the reason for that? It might be immensely helpful for the school to have more detail.”

The report at the centre of the row states that “too many pupils do not feel safe” and a “significant number do not feel happy and many parents and staff have concerns”.

But Greatorex said Ofsted should have quantified what it meant by these statements and have guidelines to “give some indication of what is considered to be acceptable”.

“These are damning judgments with very serious consequences. If you’re going to choose to write your report in this way, you’ve got to be able to explain what you mean by it, in my submission.”

The process was ‘not unfair in law’

In its written case outline, Ofsted states that as a “deliberate policy choice” and since 2019 its inspection reports have been “written in this a concise and digestible format”.

A witness statement from Lee Owston, Ofsted’s National Director for Education, states: “They are meant as a simple and easy-to-access summary of what it is like for a child to
attend that school, what the school does well, and what needs improvement.”

Toby Fisher, the barrister representing Ofsted said, in written arguments, that the school’s case is “misconceived”.”

“The school faced the unusual, but not unique, situation where the provisional judgements shared by a team of Ofsted inspectors at the end of the first visit subsequently failed Ofsted’s quality assurance and moderation processes, engaging Ofsted’s ‘gathering additional evidence protocol’ and necessitating the GAE Visit,” he added.

He said the conclusions then reached by inspectors on the evidence gathered through both visits were “considerably more negative”.

He said “that process, and outcome, was undoubtedly disappointing for the school and
Ofsted apologised for not having got the first visit right. But it was not unfair in law.”

The judicial review is expected to finish tomorrow, with a judgment likely handed down at a later date.

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