Why has Ofsted visited some schools more than once?
On 8th November 2018, I made a Freedom of Information request to Ofsted. I was keen to why some schools required a follow-up inspection; I wasn’t interested in the schools, but the factors associated with this decision. Is it school circumstances, or inspector performance?
Freedom of Information
My letter asked:
“Dear Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted). Please, could you provide a list of schools who have required an additional inspection (if the visit failed to reach a conclusion) following a first inspection that needed a follow-up visit – from September 2017 to July 2018. E.g. dispute, paperwork error; inspector or school personnel reasons. N.b. not monitoring visits due to being in a category.”
Please break down the information by:
- Name of school
- Date of the first visit
- Inspection outcome
- Date of the second visit
- Inspection outcome.”
Ofsted responded …
[We] can confirm that, during the period you have requested, 22 inspections were deemed to be incomplete, where a further visit had to be completed to gather more evidence. This can be for a number of reasons, including where the school may have had to close during an inspection due to an emergency/staff illness, or any other reason where we have completed a further visit to gather more evidence.
I can also confirm of the 22 inspections, that required a further visit, three of them resulted in a change in judgement. It is important to highlight that during the final feedback meeting with the school, it is confirmed that the inspection judgement grades are subject to the quality assurance processes as conducted by Ofsted and therefore may change.
We consider that a further breakdown of this data, to include the individual details of each school, dates of their inspection and follow up visit is exempt from disclosure. For the purposes of the FOI Act, schools are considered to be public authorities. Through our published inspection reports we hold providers to account for how effectively they use the resources at their disposal. Our published inspection handbook sets out the processes undertaken prior to, during and after an inspection.
As explained in the handbook, all judgements given at the end of an inspection are provisional and may be subject to further change prior to the final report being published and up until the period of challenge has passed. At any point during this process, we may deem it necessary to gather additional evidence as per our published protocol. The final result of the audit process is the publication of the final report.
Undermine Ofsted authority?
We believe that the disclosure of data which would identify individual inspections, which have been subject to the gathering additional evidence process, is likely to draw unwarranted attention to those reports and their findings. We believe this would be likely to undermine the authority of those findings by bringing attention to them and would result in assumptions being made about their validity solely based on the fact that a further visit was associated with the inspection. Although the individual reports identify where further visits have been conducted, if we were to disclose a list, we would be effectively publishing ‘official’ data and tacitly supporting any analysis that might be done with it.
There is an argument that there is a public interest in disclosing this information as this would underline the thoroughness and rigour of the inspection process. We believe that disclosure of the information being requested would be likely to harm Ofsted’s audit function.
Reasons for re-inspection?
The fact that an inspection has been subject to an additional inspection visit does not allow the public to gain any additional information about the circumstances of the inspection. There are a number of reasons why a further visit to a school may be necessary, which should not impact on the security of the final judgements in the report. However, drawing attention to the fact that further visits were conducted would bring uncertainty and questions about the reasons for the visits, and would be likely to result in some public concerns about the validity of reports.
There is a very clear public interest in ensuring that schools are effectively appraised through inspection, that the published results of this activity are authoritative and accurate, and that effective action is taken to address any weaknesses that are identified. Any disclosure of information that is likely to prejudice our inspection function, in this case by removing the focus from the published outcomes of our inspections, would be contrary to the public interest; particularly where this may harm any action that is required to secure improvement.
Consequently, we believe that section 33 of the Act applies and we will not be disclosing a list of inspections that have been subject to a further visit.
We consider that identifying which schools have been subject to an incomplete inspection would allow individuals to, rightly or wrongly, profile particular inspectors who have been on inspections where a further visit has been completed. We believe this is identifiable information about the inspectors as individuals.
Who watches the watchmen? If you are reading this and would be interested in viewing this data, share the message above.
We don’t ask inspectors for permission!
We do not have consent from those inspectors to disclose to the public information about their performance in the form of collating lists of inspections they have conducted which have been subject to a further visit. They would have no expectation that this sort of performance data, generated through their work, would be used in this way.
We then have to consider whether it is reasonable to disclose this information to the public without their consent. We consider that the disclosure of information relating to inspectors’ work activity, from which it may be possible to discern or make assumptions about their performance in their roles, would be unfair.
At least Watchsted presents the very latest Ofsted inspection data in a simple and meaningful way to save people time. If you dig deep enough, once you know who your lead school inspector is, you can analyse which schools they have visited and what their final decision was on the performance of the school.
Surely, if I were to sign up to be an Ofsted inspector, once would assume my work would be shared in the public domain at some point? Obviously not in this case …
Ofsted inspector performances
Disclosure of this sort of information would reveal data about the performance of the inspectors in their role and allow assumptions to be made about their expertise and experience, possibly incorrectly. When an inspector carries out an inspection and the report is quality assured and published, their name appears on the final report and they are publicly accountable for it.
Good! It’s a shame the lead inspector doesn’t come back to visit and support the schools they place into ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’.
However, identifying lists of inspections that have involved a further visit also identifies those carried out by a particular inspector; this goes beyond accountability for individual reports and allows a profile of the work carried out by that inspector, and their overall performance, to be created. Doing this and disclosing it to the public may lead to a misleading impression being formed of the work carried out by an inspector.
Judging Ofsted inspectors
Inaccurate conclusions may be drawn if an inspector has carried out more or less inspections than their colleagues that have been subject to a further visit. For example, if an inspector is perceived to have conducted more inspections that have been subject to a further visit than one of their peers, it may be assumed that they are less able in the role, where in fact, it may simply be coincidental and the further visits have been required for reasons unconnected to the inspector.
Although some information could be discerned by reviewing individual inspection reports on our website and carrying out searches, if we were to supply the list to you, we would be effectively publishing ‘official’ performance data and tacitly supporting any analysis that might be done with it.
Again, take a look at Watchsted and search for the school inspectors who are due to visit your school. You’ll soon be able to make some form of assessment, evaluating if you will need to spend the day ‘arguing your case’ or not.
The overall performance of an inspector is for Ofsted to manage and it is not appropriate for this performance management to be conducted in the public domain through the provision of performance data. Ofsted has a legal obligation to ensure that it processes personal data in line with the data protection principles set out under the GDPR; we believe that disclosure of this personal information would be in contravention of those principles.
Who watches the watchmen? You can download Ofsted’s letter here.