Headteachers resist Ofsted plan to reinspect ‘outstanding’ schools

Headteachers are resisting Ofsted plans to relaunch inspections of "outstanding" schools that have not been assessed for more than a decade.

Hundreds of schools across England have not been examined by the inspectorate for more than a decade as those rated outstanding have been exempt from reinspection since 2011.

But in September, Ofsted started a fresh wave of inspections in the highly rated schools – some of the most sought after in the country – with new inspection criteria. The changes are expected to see thousands of high-rated schools lose their “outstanding” status.

The inspections have prompted concern from teaching unions, including the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) which wrote to Ofsted last week asking for the inspections to be paused as many schools are still struggling to get back on their feet after the Covid pandemic.

“We don’t think it’s reasonable to go in business as usual if the headteacher says they are not ready for an inspection, either because they have hundreds of young people off and dozens of staff off, or because we have been affected by Covid,” Geoff Barton, from ASCL, said.

Assessing schools that aren’t ready ‘not fair’

Mr Barton recently spoke to one headteacher in Oxfordshire who had 20 members of staff absent, three in the maths department.

“If Ofsted was going to go into that school and do a deep dive into the maths curriculum then it is a legitimate feeling that it would not be fair to do that.

“Ofsted have been proceeding even if the headteacher and members of the leadership team are off. We think that’s simply not fair.”

ASCL is calling on Ofsted to pause its roll out of school inspections until the new year if a headteacher informs them that they are not ready.

“If [Ofsted] make the phone call and the headteacher says we don’t want the inspection to proceed then, until Christmas, we think that should be taken as an act of faith and the school inspection should be resumed in the Spring.”

While inspections are resuming for all schools, the risk for those rated outstanding is “very high stakes” as extra funding and opportunities could be lost, Mr Barton added.

Under the new inspection criteria, schools will now be rated on academic results and whether it has a broad, balanced curriculum. The number of England’s "outstanding" schools is expected to fall from 4,133, about one in five, to roughly 2,000.

School not inspected since 2006

King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford was last inspected in 2006, while the Tiffin School in Kingston upon Thames, southwest London, and Altrincham Grammar School for Boys in Greater Manchester last had full inspections in 2007.

“We shouldn’t be surprised if there are some schools which under the old rules are deemed to be outstanding but under the new rules aren’t deemed outstanding,” Mr Barton added.

“The important thing for parents to understand is that if their school of 14 years is now ‘good’ instead of ‘outstanding’, it’s because they are being judged in a different way.

“It will still sting in the community and particularly for the headteacher.”

Mary Bousted, from the National Education Union, said there are concerns for all schools, not just those rated outstanding, on the impact of resuming physical inspections.

“If a school says that the circumstances aren’t right for an inspection because they have got 200 kids absent, it’s not up to Ofsted whether the school is in crisis, they just have to stop the inspection,” she said.

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