Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Education Committee publishes Govt’s response to Ofsted report

The Education Committee has published the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) response to its report on Ofsted’s work with schools. 

A number of positive responses are given to the report’s recommendations, including the Department’s suggestion that it is listening to views on changes to the single-word judgements, and a commitment to keep the DfE’s policy of forcing some schools to become an academy if they receive two consecutive negative judgements under review. 

It comes after Ofsted issued its own, separate response to the cross-party Committee’s report in March. You can read more about the Committee’s report here

Chair's comment

Education Committee Chair Robin Walker said: 

“One of our main asks from our inquiry was for Ofsted and the Government to listen to and engage openly and earnestly with the sector after a tense year. In recent months we have seen encouraging signs that the inspectorate has listened and is willing to change. 

“It is especially welcome to hear from DfE that it is open to ideas about how the single-word judgements system could be improved upon – a set of policies that the Government alone has the authority to change. My Committee agrees that there are benefits to having a system of judgements or ratings, such as the clarity they provide for parents. But we also maintain that a more nuanced version of this system is both achievable and in everyone’s interests. We look forward to probing the Department for more detail on any possible changes it may be considering. 

“And whilst it isn’t a firm commitment, the Department’s commitment to keep the policy of academising schools after two negative Ofsted inspections under review and to listen to different views is also welcome. 

“We also welcome the change in tone of the response to our call for multi-academy trusts to be inspected by Ofsted, an idea the Government now says it is ‘actively’ considering having previously attempted to shoot down the idea. We have pressed the urgency of action in this space and that feels like it is now a step closer. 

“I would however urge the Government to give more thought to our recommendation of considering less frequent inspections but carried out in greater depth – a compromise that would be necessary to ensure quality due to Ofsted’s budgetary constraints. The logic here is quality over quantity, and would provide the benefit of greater confidence in the system amongst school leaders and teachers. We are clear that we do not believe that any school should be exempt from inspection but we do believe there is scope for a more risk-based approach. If ministers do not pursue this option then it is essential they help to make the case for resourcing the inspectorate better to meet the demands of its increased workload. 

“We have welcomed the new HMCI’s willingness to listen to the sector and be held to account, and so we look forward to welcoming him to an evidence session in the months ahead to hear how Ofsted is progressing with reforms and to measure its response as an organisation to the feedback it is gathering from the Big Listen.” 

Single-word judgements 

The Government’s response to the Committee’s report states that it is continuing to listen to the sector’s views and to look at alternatives to the four single-word judgements, including looking at “various approaches taken internationally”. However, the response still states DfE’s belief that there are “significant benefits” to the current system. 

The Committee had heard during its inquiry more concern about the single-word judgements than any other issue, and recommended that Ofsted and DfE should “as a priority” look to develop an alternative that better captures the complex nature of a school's performance. 

DfE’s response, along with Ofsted’s response, also agreed that the inspectorate should always show the full list of judgements for each school on its website, not just the overall judgement. 

Academisation following ‘requires improvement’  

In conjunction with its recommendation on single-word judgements, the Committee said DfE should assess its policy of maintained (council-run) schools which receive two ‘requires improvement’ judgements being required to become academies. The report also said that DfE should ensure its regional directors, who decide academisation orders, genuinely take into account the views of local stakeholders before making a decision. 

DfE’s response says it keeps this policy “under review” and will have regard to stakeholders’ views. It also argued that presumptions in favour of academy orders are “rebuttable” and that “in each case the particular circumstances of the school, and the needs of its pupils, will be assessed in the round, in order to establish the best course of action”. 

Frequency of inspections 

The response rejects the recommendation of temporarily having less frequent school inspections of higher graded schools in order to free up Ofsted inspectors, who could then carry out more thorough inspections with more staff in those with lower grades. This was after the inquiry heard that school inspections sometimes don’t go into enough depth to capture a school’s strengths and weaknesses. Less frequent visits should be supported by better use of risk assessments to identify schools in most need of re-inspection, the MPs’ report said. 

This recommendation was made in conjunction with another recommendation that DfE should support Ofsted in calling for greater funding from the Treasury in order to boost the number of inspectors. This would allow for inspections to again become more frequent but remain in-depth. DfE said it will support Ofsted in future negotiations with the Treasury for more funding. 

Calls for Ofsted to inspect multi-academy trusts 

The Committee argued that DfE should urgently authorise Ofsted to develop a framework for the inspection of MATs and set out plans for building expertise and capacity in this area. 

DfE’s response said it “continues to actively consider” how it might strengthen scrutiny of MATs. It added: “This might include the role of Ofsted. We look forward to hearing views on this issue through Ofsted’s Big Listen, including the perspectives of parents.” 

Support for school leaders  

The report called on DfE and Ofsted to review the support mechanisms available to school leaders during and following an inspection. DfE’s response lists a number of recent changes including its Education Staff Wellbeing Charter and help for school heads provided by the charity Education Support. In January ministers announced a £1.5 million professional supervision and counselling support package for school and college leaders, to be available from April 2024. 

The Committee also urged Ofsted to publish a clear policy and train inspectors on their approach to dealing with distress among school leaders during an inspection, and in what cases inspections can and should be paused or deferred. Ofsted responded positively to this recommendation in its own response to the Committee report after setting out new policies last year. 

‘Inadequate’ judgements based on safeguarding  

Ofsted and DfE have responded positively to concerns that minor safeguarding issues would occasionally cause an otherwise ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ school to be downgraded to ‘inadequate’. 

DfE’s response said changes have been made so that schools with ineffective safeguarding measures that are otherwise ‘good’ or better will reinspected within three months to see if the issues have been addressed, and further interventions will be dropped if so. 

Ofsted also stated in its own response that it is conducting a review of where safeguarding fits within the individual judgements of the inspection framework, and whether safeguarding should be a standalone judgement. 

Ofsted’s appeals and complaints processes 

The report cited schools leaders’ frustrations that attempts to appeal against negative judgements were limited by Ofsted’s policy of not sharing the evidence base it collects during inspection. Ofsted has already stated in its response that it is implementing a new complaints process, and will publish more data regarding complaints in its annual reports. 

However, there was no direct response from Ofsted or DfE to MPs’ call for Ofsted to allow schools to scrutinise the evidence base that inspectors collect during inspections. Without this, schools argued, they are unable to meaningfully appeal against negative judgements.

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