Big Listen: Ofsted explores ‘withholding’ safeguarding failure reports

Sir Martyn Oliver vows to listen to criticism and ideas for 'big reforms'

Sir Martyn Oliver vows to listen to criticism and ideas for 'big reforms'

8 Mar 2024, 0:01

Ofsted is considering whether it should “withhold” reports for three months where education providers fail on safeguarding, but are otherwise ‘good’, so they have a chance to fix issues before publication.

The watchdog will launch its “big listen” this morning, a 12-week consultation on further inspection changes following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

The survey also comes against a backdrop of increasing legal challenges to Ofsted ratings by FE providers, as well as challenges to its “not fit for purpose” complaints procedure.

Chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver will vow to listen to criticism and ideas for “big reforms”, reiterating “nothing is off the table”.

Many of the questions ask for wider feedback about the experience of schools, colleges and providers on four “priorities”: how Ofsted reports on findings, carries out inspections, the impact inspection has, and the organisation’s culture.

But there are some potential policy changes outlined.

Withholding reports plan

Following an internal review, the inspectorate is “considering” a change in approach so “where safeguarding arrangements are ineffective, but the school is good or better in all other areas, it could “withhold finalising a judgement for three months”, thus delaying the report.

Ofsted would then reinspect safeguarding and if the issues were fixed, rate it ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. 

This suggests that should the provider improve, its previous failing would not be reported, but Ofsted said no further details have been worked out as yet, and it is open to views.

While the consultation only appears to seek feedback from schools on this proposal, the watchdog confirmed to FE Week it also wants to hear from further education providers and if implemented, any change is likely to apply to FE.

In December, a coroner ruled that an Ofsted inspection at Caversham Primary School contributed to Perry’s suicide. The school had failed on safeguarding but was otherwise deemed to be performing well.

‘Every voice will be heard’

Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders conference in Liverpool this morning, Oliver will say: “We need to listen to feedback. To criticism. To ideas for small changes and for big reforms … Every voice will be heard, and nothing, nothing, is off the table.” 

School and college staff, education organisations and parents are urged to complete an online survey. 

Ofsted will also commission a series of focus groups with “parents and professionals to gather views on Ofsted’s future direction”.

The watchdog will also seek views on whether to create a safeguarding judgement that is separate from leadership and management – something Labour has suggested it would take forward if elected.

But there is no specific proposal on axing single-word judgments, which would require a change in government policy. However, a free text box in the section of the consultation on reporting can be used for feedback on this issue. 

Disadvantaged young people ‘at heart of reforms’

Oliver has pledged to “champion high standards for all children, especially the most disadvantaged and vulnerable”. Ofsted said poorer learners will be “at the heart of future reforms”.

Views are sought on the importance of reports making clear how disadvantaged students are supported, and includes separate sections aimed at further education providers, schools, the social care sector, and teacher training inspections.

On impact, the survey asks how the inspectorate can best “improve lives and outcomes”, including a question about whether it should be given the power to inspect part-time direct entry provision for 14- to- 16-year-olds in college as well as higher technical qualifications.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the consultation was an “important step in resetting the broken relationship between Ofsted and schools and colleges”.

Chief executive of the Association of Colleges David Hughes added: “Colleges have a unique role across children, young people, adults, skills and working with employers, which Ofsted must learn to both understand and appreciate.

“Ofsted has a wide remit, and we want to help support Martyn Oliver lead the cultural change we believe is needed and support inspectors to fully understand the complexity of the college work.”

The consultation will close on May 31. Findings will be published “later this year”.

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