‘More transparent’ Ofsted complaints process gets go ahead

Internal reviews scrapped and new post-inspection calls allowed in changes to speed up process and increase transparency

Internal reviews scrapped and new post-inspection calls allowed in changes to speed up process and increase transparency

24 Nov 2023, 10:46

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Ofsted will go ahead with four proposed changes which will make its post-inspection complaints process “quicker” and “increase transparency” following a consultation with the sector.

It follows the inspectorate admitting its current policy wasn’t working, as first revealed by FE Week, amid widespread criticism.

The consultation, which ran from June to September, received more than 1,500 responses from providers in all sectors it inspects.

In a report published today, that watchdog said this was an increase of over 150 per cent from a consultation it ran on the same subject in 2020.

Of the respondents, 934 were from schools and 85 were from further education and skills providers.

The changes include “enhanced” on-site “professional dialogue” during inspections to address any issues and the scrapping of its internal review process.

They will come into effect from January and April next year.

Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said the inspectorate had piloted enhanced professional dialogue and allowing providers to contact Ofsted the day after the inspection “and these worked well”.

“I’m confident these changes will help resolve complaints more quickly, reduce the administrative burden on those making a complaint, and increase transparency in the process.”

Enhanced on-site professional dialogue

Ofsted said it would provide all inspectors with guidance on “developing and formalising” enhanced professional dialogue during inspections.

Under the change, inspectors will be asked to check with headteachers at specific stages of the visit “where appropriate”, including at end-of-day meetings and the final feedback session.

It said this would help inspectors “address any queries, misconceptions or concerns as soon as possible”.

It added that responses to the proposal were “very positive”, with 84 per cent of FE and skills respondents agreeing it should enhance professional dialogue during visits.

This will be rolled out from January.

Contacting Ofsted the day after inspection

Providers will be given an opportunity to call Ofsted the day after the end of an inspection visit if they have “unresolved issues”.

Previously the watchdog said this may include raising informal concerns about the process and its “likely outcome”, or queries about what happens next.

Ofsted said that “noting the comments received and wanting providers to be confident in contacting us”, it believed the call should be with an experienced inspector who is independent of the inspection in question.

“Where appropriate, this inspector may contact the lead inspector to help understand the context of any issues raised”.

Of the FE and skills providers who responded, 84 per cent agreed with the proposal.

It will also come into effect in January.

New arrangements for finalising reports

This change will see a new first step in the complaints process, with two routes, introduced.

Heads can either highlight “minor points of clarity or factual accuracy”, which will be considered “promptly” before the report is finalised.

Or they can submit a formal complaint.

Ofsted said some respondents acknowledged “the benefits” of separating existing processes and that most cases “are likely to involve providers raising minor points”.

But some were concerned they would not be able to make a formal complaint if they already chosen to highlight only minor points.

The watchdog said it would offer “clarity” so that providers could understand how the new arrangements will work “in new policy documents in due course”.

Three-quarters (78 per cent) of FE and skills providers agreed with this change.

It will come into effect from April.

Ofsted internal review process scrapped

The watchdog will scrap internal reviews of how it handles complaints, which currently form step three of its process.

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

Ofsted will also introduce periodic reviews of how it handles complaints.

Its consultation report said many respondents said this would make the process “easier to navigate” and “reduce the stages that they have to go through”.

But some noted that ICASO’s role was to “review whether the complaints process was carried out properly, not to review the inspection itself”.

Ofsted said it welcomed the “independent scrutiny” the changes will bring, and believed that removing the internal process would “reduce the burden” on providers.

Of the FE and skills providers which responded, 88 per cent agreed with this change.

It will also come into effect from April.

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  1. Richard Moore

    Really nothing of any substance here at all.

    Any good lead inspector attempts to resolve issues why they are onsite and has the skills set to encourage this to happen. Without blowing my own trumpet, I used to do this all the time and thus never had a written formal complaint about any inspection I led in 15 years.

    The second point does not increase the chances of the complaint being upheld one iota.

    The third point is ‘as was’.

    The fourth point is the only real change and not a very meaningful one at that…

  2. Phil Hatton

    Inspectors who worked for the FEFC, TSC, ALI all know Ofsted are a different animal when it comes to complaints. There were internal reviews by senior inspectors and subject specialists if a complaint was raised but the big difference was that the focus was on if anything was not done well enough, not protecting brand ‘Ofsted’. I and another inspector reviewed all complaints annually to see if there were any themes that arose so that they could be eliminated by training. This included talking to the adjudicator who had very little work from us. I have seen some of the frankly unbelieveable responses from inspectors reviewing complaints which I cannot believe are their own conclusions. One provider, post covid, was given an inspector on a team of three with no knowledge of the area they were inspecting who had a broken leg, and carried out the inspection from home. By looking at reports I noted the two OIs often worked with the HMI leading, so she was clearly comfortable with them. The rejection of the complaint stated that Ofsted had carried out inspections remotely [yes, but during lockdown conditions]. Another work-based provider who complained they had a team with no WBL experience nor a very specialist experience were told that if an inspector had been on a WBL inspection that Ofsted considered them ‘badged’ to carry out WBL inspections.

    It would be far better to get inspectors with real WBL and subject experience and AVOID the most common cause of complaints. Ofsted do not consider enough the impact of sending an inspector to make judgements about the skills [KSBs??] that apprentices have developed. They simply can’t. It is highly unlikely that they will understand and be able to make a judgement about the knowledge being taught if it were wrong, or if safety practices were being taught correctly. Not getting the right workforce in place to conduct inspections is only going to cause complaints and dissatisfaction with the process, changing the complaints procedures is like ‘locking the stable doors after the horse has bolted’ – pointless.