Ofsted stands accused of being “unaccountable to anyone but themselves” after it emerged scrutiny panels that oversee how it handles complaints about inspections have been suspended.
The panels, which crucially include a sector representative who does not work for Ofsted, check the “robustness” of how complaints are handled at the internal review stage.
Introduced in 2015, Ofsted said the “independent scrutiny” would make the complaints process “more transparent, fair and fully objective”.
But the panels have been paused as Ofsted reviews how it deals with complaints. FE Week revealed last month a review had been launched after the watchdog admitted its complaints policy was “not working”.
Ofsted told FE Week the panels had been suspended since Covid. They remain so while officials consider “how best to incorporate external sector representation in our complaints handling process”.
The watchdog aims to consult on any changes later this year.
Ian Hartwright, a senior policy adviser at the leaders’ union NAHT, said the suspension was a step backwards.
“An independent external view is required if schools and colleges are to have more confidence in Ofsted’s handling of complaints, otherwise the inspectorate will stand accused of marking its own work.”
Independent representatives on scrutiny panels were originally chosen from Ofsted’s headteacher reference groups.
Alongside an His Majesty’s Inspector (HMI) and a senior HMI, the panel would “test” the “robustness of the complaints handling process” for each case before confirming a final response.
Following internal reviews, complainants are able to apply to the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO).
The service may then investigate alleged failures by Ofsted to follow proper procedures.
The Association of School and College Leaders said the internal review only considered if Ofsted followed its proper procedures and could not overturn outcomes.
An external representative “does not change the fact that this is a largely toothless stage of the process”, a spokesperson added.
Eastleigh College said Ofsted’s complaints process was “not fit for purpose” after the inspectorate published a reputationally damaging ‘requires improvement’ report while its complaint was still live.