How Ofsted’s proposed new complaints process will work

No more internal reviews, a direct line to a senior inspector and new complaint routes put forward

No more internal reviews, a direct line to a senior inspector and new complaint routes put forward

Ofsted is consulting on a new complaints procedure following prolonged criticism and its acceptance the current system is “not working”.

In January, FE Week’s sister paper Schools Week revealed that senior leaders were reviewing the process to make it more human and less bureaucratic.

And pressure for change has since been ramped up amid the fallout from the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Ofsted’s complaints policy was in the spotlight again last week as training provider UKTD Ltd remarkably overturned its ‘inadequate’ judgement following a botched inspection last year.

Now Ofsted has revealed its plans that would see it throw out its current system of internal reviews and allow leaders unhappy with how their complaints are handled to go straight to an external adjudicator.

If approved, the changes will replace the cusrrent procedure that was put in place in 2020.

Here’s what you need to know…

1. Formal ‘checks’ with leaders during inspections

Ofsted said its inspectors already routinely check with leaders throughout an inspection if they have “queries or concerns”.

The watchdog has proposed formalising this by asking inspectors to check with leaders at specific stages of the visit, “where appropriate”.

These stages will be…

  • during the pre-inspection notification call or when an inspector arrives
  • at the end-of-day meetings
  • at the final feedback session

Ofsted said inspectors could then address any issues raised at the time, rather than after the inspection has taken place.

2. Direct line to a senior inspector

Providers will be given a “new opportunity” to call Ofsted on the day after their inspection to discuss “any unresolved issues”. It is understood this has been piloted in one region of England already.

The watchdog said this may include raising informal concerns about the process and its “likely outcome”, queries about what happens next or highlighting “information that they feel was not fully considered”.

Ofsted said these calls would be directed to senior inspectors “relevant to the type of inspection, but separate to the inspection in question”. 

The inspectors “will then discuss any issues with the provider so that they can be resolved at the earliest opportunity”.

3. Two routes to address concerns

At present, complaints about Ofsted follow a four-step complaints process. 

The first step is raising concerns informally shortly after inspection. The second, if issues are not resolved informally, is a formal complaint. The third is an internal review and the fourth is an external complaint to an official adjudicator.

Ofsted is proposing a new first step, with two routes. Leaders can either highlight “minor points of clarity or factual accuracy”, which will be considered “promptly” before the report is then finalised.

The watchdog said it expected “the vast majority of providers to follow this route”. 

However, those that do will “not normally have a later opportunity to raise a formal complaint or challenge”, which is a change from the current approach, though Ofsted will consider each provider’s circumstances.

The other option is a formal complaint.

4. An inspector calls…

Formal complaints will be investigated by a member of Ofsted staff “independent of the inspection”. 

This will involve a phone call to “explore their concerns fully and, where possible, resolve issues quickly”. Principals/CEOs can highlight information they feel was “not fully considered”.

There will be four possible outcomes to an investigation…

  • No change to a report
  • Changes to a report’s text only
  • Changes to a grade, including overall effectiveness
  • The inspection is deemed incomplete and confirmation of a further visit to gather more evidence

Ofsted said it would also revise complaint outcome letters to be “clearer for providers about the reasons for decisions made”.

5. Internal review process scrapped

Ofsted said it believed its proposals would help it achieve a “right first time” approach and “strengthen” complaints-handling arrangements.

As a result, the watchdog plans to scrap internal reviews of how it handles complaints, which currently form step three of its process.

Under the current scheme, schools, colleges and providers have to go through this internal review before they can ask for an external, independent review.

Under the new scheme, providers concerned that their complaint did not correctly follow the right process would be able to go directly to the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO).

This will “reduce the burden on providers raising concerns”, the watchdog said. 

“Instead of the current escalated levels of review, Ofsted will consider any formal complaints once, and thoroughly.”

6. External reviews of closed complaints

Ofsted also plans to introduce periodic reviews of how it handles complaints.

This will be done by taking a sample of closed complaints, which would be submitted to a panel of external reviewers, which will include external representatives from the sectors Ofsted inspects.

They can “provide challenge and transparency on how we have handled complaints about our work”.

Have your say by September

The consultation, which opened today, will run until Friday, September 15

Ofsted said the “information you provide us with will inform our new post-inspection arrangements and how we handle complaints about our work”.

“We will publish on our website a report on the outcome of this consultation in due course.”

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  1. People are complaining about Ofsted and the single word judgement, not about the complaints process!

    A valid question about the complaints process – How many providers given Outstanding will complain about an unfair judgement and seek to be downgraded? I think we all know the answer to that one.

    If a process doesn’t also work in reverse, then it might not be the process that is the problem.

  2. Phil Hatton

    Far better to put more effort into getting the inspections right in the first place. For example, with UKTD and their last few inspections get a team that knows about work-based learning as a minimum, with a decent proportion of inspectors who have expertise in hairdressing. Having seen a letter from an investigating inspector about a complaint it was not acceptable to say ‘Ofsted consider it acceptable for an inspector to be suitable/expert in work-based learning once they have completed an inspection in work-based learning’. The Adult Learning Inspectorate had far fewer complaints than Ofsted because effort was put into getting the teams to reflect provider expertise. It is a very simple but essential step.