‘Lighter touch’ school inspections to take place in summer term, Ofsted says

Ted Hennessey, PA
·3-min read

School inspections will take place in the summer term to provide reassurances on how well pupils are catching up, Ofsted has said.

The education watchdog confirmed that “on-site, lighter-touch inspections” will occur from May 4, but graded assessments are not expected to resume until September.

Inspectors will assess how well schools educate their learners and how they are keeping them safe, but will not result in a grade.

In cases where evidence suggests a school’s current grade is no longer a fair reflection of its work, for example it has significantly improved, inspectors will be able to carry out a full inspection immediately, or later in the term.

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However, some have labelled the inspections an” unnecessary pressure” on staff.

Amanda Spielman, the Ofsted’s chief inspector, has said: “Inspections play an important role. They look at the quality of education received by children, they provide information to parents and the government, and they help headteachers identify areas for improvement.

“Our inspections this summer will recognise the current challenges facing schools and help support the catch-up of all pupils.

“We will not grade schools before the autumn – unless we see significant improvement, or we identify significant concerns.

“This continues our step-by-step approach towards a full programme of graded inspections in the autumn.”

Schools in England reopened to all pupils on March 8.

Inspectors will use an updated set of handbooks to take into account of the challenges raised by Covid-19, the watchdog said.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This seems a proportionate approach to school inspection during the summer term. It gives struggling schools which are improving the chance to be regraded to reflect their improvement.

“It also recognises that secondary schools will have their hands full assessing students for GCSEs, A-levels and other qualifications during the first half of the summer term, and proposes no routine inspections during this time.

“We are pleased that Ofsted has listened to feedback from education leaders who are dealing with the extraordinary challenges of managing Covid safety processes, supporting pupils after the lockdown, and assessing students following the cancellation of exams.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said: “Schools have recently returned to onsite education and are fully focused on supporting their pupils as we emerge from lockdown. It is critical that any activity by Ofsted helps, not hinders, those recovery efforts.

“Not visiting secondaries while they undertake the challenging task of grading GCSE and A Level students, is the right thing to do.

“On its plans for monitoring inspections, the most important thing is for the inspectorate to engage properly with the profession in shaping the amendments to inspection methodology and handbooks, to ensure that monitoring inspectors take full account of the extraordinary situation in which schools are operating.”

However, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “It is widely accepted that education recovery is not a one-term effort, and so we believe that by September, Ofsted inspections will still be an unnecessary pressure on staff who must be allowed to concentrate on this vital work.

“Worse, inspections would constitute a hindrance, particularly as the intention is to revert to using the Education Inspection Framework.”

Mr Courtney added the inspections would “redouble the negative consequences” on teacher and school leader workload.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I have asked Ofsted to resume inspections in the summer term in a way that is fair and proportionate to schools and other settings that we know are still emerging from the immediate impact of the pandemic, whilst making sure parents have the necessary reassurance that only Ofsted can bring.

“I will continue working closely with chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, to make sure plans are in place as we work towards the inspection regime returning in full from September.”