Consultation on draft inspection framework opens – Friday 18 January 2019

This week I report on the opening of the consultation on the draft inspection framework and the changes this will mean for schools and governors as well as the publication of updated guidance for maintained schools about setting up or reviewing complaints procedures.

Consultation on draft inspection framework
Earlier this week Ofsted opened its consultation on the draft education inspection framework to be implemented from September 2019. The framework sets out how it proposes to inspect schools, further education and skills provision and registered early years settings. Alongside the framework Ofsted also published draft inspection handbooks and a reports on its research. The consultation is open until 5 April 2019 and if you would like to submit a response you can do so by responding online or via email at inspection.consultation@ofsted.gov.uk.

Key Headlines

  • Increased curriculum focus – shift from scrutiny of pupil data to more discussion of curriculum structure, coherence and sequencing.
  • Continued importance of assessment – published pupil performance data will continue to figure strongly in future inspections under “Curriculum Impact”. However, it’s unclear how much weighting the inspectorate will give to this factor in forming an overall judgement.
  • Pause on full implementation – following concerns around the timetable for implementation Ofsted has inserted a significant caveat on the new curriculum criteria to ensure ‘inspectors will evaluate ‘intent’ favourably’. However, the language surrounding this is vague and open to interpretation.
  • No-notice inspections – Ofsted has proposed that the lead inspector will arrive at the school within hours of notifying the school of inspection but has termed this “on-site preparation” rather than the beginning of an inspection. The scope of activities covered on this first half-day is minimal.
  • Longer short inspections – Section 8 inspections of good schools would double in length to two days, the same length as full inspections, to allow inspectors to cover more ground within an expanded framework. The original intention of short inspections, as a check with conversion to full inspection when inspectors identify problems, appears to have been discarded.

How this affects governance
Inspectors will make judgements on the following:

  • overall effectiveness

and the four key judgements:

  • the quality of education
  • behaviour and attitudes
  • personal development
  • leadership and management

The role that governors and trustees play in the school’s performance is evaluated as part of the judgement on the effectiveness of leadership and management, and each report will contain a separate paragraph that addresses the governance of the school.

The framework references the Governance Handbook indicating it sets out the purpose of governance, which is to provide confident, strategic leadership and to create robust accountability, oversight and assurance for educational and financial performance.

In addition, those with governance/oversight are responsible for ensuring that the school fulfils its statutory duties, for example under the Equalities Act 2010, and other duties, for example in relation to the ‘Prevent’ duty and safeguarding. Inspectors will explore how governors carry out this responsibility. The framework notes that inspectors are not expected to construct or review a list of duties.

The draft inspection handbook for maintained schools and academies provides a section on applying the Education Inspection Framework in different contexts such as junior and middle schools, special schools and pupil referral units.

Updated DfE guidance on school complaints procedures
This week the DfE also published updated guidance for school complaints procedures for maintained schools. There are key additions to the original guidance as follows:

  • Establishing a complaints procedure – the DfE has clarified that responsibility for establishing procedures for handling complaints lies with the governing board. The board must have regard to any guidance from the Secretary of State when establishing and publishing its complaints procedures but that doesn’t mean that schools must adhere to every detail in the DfE’s guidance.
  • Publishing a complaints procedure – where a school deems it necessary or reasonable to deviate from its published complaints procedure this deviation should be documented.
  • Stages in the procedure – though the decision still lies with schools, the DfE now recommends implementing a complaints procedure that consists of two stages.
  • Complaints about the Headteacher or the whole governing board – the guidance confirms that a school’s complaints procedure must also outline the steps to follow if the subject of the complaint is the entire governing board. When a complaint is made against the whole governing board, they need to be made aware of the allegations made against them and respond to any independent investigation. Complaints against the headteacher should be dealt with by a suitably skilled member of the governing board at stage 1 of the complaints process, then by a committee of members of the governing board at stage 2.
  • Managing serial or persistent complaints – schools should establish a policy for managing serial and unreasonable complaints and this should be included in the published complaints procedure. Where a decision to enforce a bar on an individual due to poor behaviour has been confirmed, the individual will be notified in writing, explaining how long the bar will be in place and when the decision will be reviewed.
  • Legal representation – where a complaint progresses to a committee of members of the school governors, it is recommended that neither the complainant or the school brings legal representation. The DfE does, however, recognise that there will be occasions where legal representation may be appropriate.
  • Mediation – including a mediation stage in a complaints procedure can be useful in helping schools and complainants to reach an agreement and move forward; however, there may be occasions where this is not an appropriate course of action.
  • Complying with the GDPR – before disclosing information regarding a complaint to a third party, schools must obtain written consent from the complainant. Notes of meetings and telephone calls should be kept securely and encrypted, where possible, to prevent any later challenge or disagreement over what was said. Recording meetings – consent must be obtained from all involved parties before conversations or meetings are recorded. Audio and video evidence – the DfE may accept independently notarised transcriptions of recordings and may ask for the written consent of all recorded parties. Schools will be supported should they choose to refuse to accept recordings of conversations that were obtained without the informed consent of all parties being recorded as evidence.
  • Communicating the outcome – schools should inform the complainant of the conclusion and reasons for any decisions in writing and any further rights of appeal. Copies of minutes should be issued to the complainant, as failure to do so could lead to further complaint.  The guidance clarifies that when responding to a complaint, schools should advise the complainant of any escalation options at each stage of the procedure, e.g. when communicating the outcome of the stage 1 process, the details of the stage 2 process should be included.

I will review our current Complaints procedures and will bring a revised version, if that is required, to this term’s Governing body meetings for discussion and adoption.