Ofsted to begin visiting schools from September to ‘reassure’ parents

Ofsted will begin visiting schools and colleges as they reopen in September to “reassure” parents about their child’s return to education.

The education watchdog said the visits aim to establish how schools in England are “getting back up to speed” after being closed to most pupils for up to six months.

But one union said school leaders were concerned these could become a “distraction” as they handle the issues caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The visits will not be the same as inspections, Ofsted said, and education settings will not receive a judgment or grade afterwards.

Instead, inspectors will “work collaboratively” with school and college leaders, with the outcomes published in a “brief” letter to parents explaining what steps are being taken to help children back into full-time education.

Ofsted proposals
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman (Tom Wilkinson/PA)

The visits will be piloted with volunteer schools and colleges in early September, before being rolled out more widely at the end of the month.

Normal inspections, which result in schools and colleges receiving a grade and judgment, are planned to return in January 2021.

Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman insisted the visits were not “inspection by stealth”, adding that rather than “passing judgment” the watchdog will have “constructive conversations” with schools.

She said: “When schools and colleges open their doors fully in September, they will face a new set of challenges, but also a huge opportunity to rekindle children’s love of learning.

“Ofsted will be part of the rebuilding effort from September. Our visits will help parents understand how schools and colleges are getting children and students back up to speed after so long at home.”

Ofsted said it would report back its findings from across England to the Government.

Non-association independent schools – private schools which are not part of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) – will continue to be subject to non-routine inspections.

Ofsted inspections
Children are due to return to full-time education in the autumn (Ben Birchall/PA)

These will result in a judgment and a published report, Ofsted said.

From the autumn, visits will also be made to regulated nurseries and childminders to monitor their progress, with priority given to those where concerns have been raised.

Children’s social care providers, including children’s homes, will also receive visits from Ofsted inspectors.

While these visits will not be graded, Ofsted warned: “If we have serious concerns, we will use our enforcement powers.”

Ofsted said its regulatory work in children’s social care, nurseries and with childminders had continued throughout the coronavirus lockdown to ensure they are “well-run, safe and effective”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We can see the good intention behind Ofsted’s plan to work collaboratively with schools and colleges on the vital task of reintegrating children back into the classroom.

“But many leaders will need a lot of convincing that these visits will bring real value or otherwise they will simply be a distraction. As such, the rationale, consistency and tone set by inspectors is going to be more important than ever. These visits must not turn into inspection by another name, at a time when schools and colleges will have so much to deal with.

“We are not convinced that talking about a longer term plan to bring back full inspections in January is wise at this stage. It is likely that schools and colleges will be periodically dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, continuing to manage extensive safety measures, and supporting children whose learning has been disrupted, including many who will be taking GCSEs and A levels next summer.”

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