The Future of Ofsted’s Complaints Process …


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How can Ofsted improve its post-inspection complaints process?

This blog highlights the complexities and proposed reforms of the Ofsted complaints process, highlighting the need for a fairer, more transparent approach …

Past experiences have been ignored …

I have firsthand experience with the Ofsted complaints process – you can read everything I have uncovered, even sticking my neck above the parapet several years ago!

In summary, Ofsted marks its own homework, with people on its own team determining whether or not a school’s complaint is ‘fair and worthy’ of consideration.

I have thought very deeply about this, developing a more balanced view of the wider inspection system. It remains a topic very close to my heart, publishing updates as and when relevant to the wider conversations.

An unfair and flawed process!

House of Commons Education Committee Ofsted’s work with schools First Report of Session 2023–24Earlier this week, the Education Select Committee published its first inquiry into Ofsted’s work with schools.

The Ofsted complaints process has long been contentious, with many school leaders feeling it’s akin to Ofsted “marking its own homework.”

Despite a 2017 High Court ruling that found the process to be “unfair and flawed,” subsequent appeals and reviews have maintained the status quo. Schools seeking to challenge ‘inadequate’ ratings face a daunting path, with the process often perceived as biased and ineffective.

The fairness of the complaints process is fundamental to the credibility of Ofsted inspections. An opaque or unresponsive system erodes trust and increases helplessness among school leaders.

The stakes are incredibly high; an ‘inadequate’ judgement can have profound implications, not just for the school’s reputation but also for the morale, mental health and retention of staff. I’d argue that it leads to an enormous waste of taxpayer cash to bring in external people to fix – what so often can be resolved – by the people already working there, providing additional support!

In Ofsted’s annual report 2022/23, they received 747 complaints from providers following an inspection.

Complaints about Ofsted

When taking a closer look at the ‘Independent Review’ panel, which represents the final stage of Ofsted’s complaints process for complaints about Ofsted’s work, ICASO (page 8) reported 18 investigations. The reasons reported are largely:

  • Inspector/staff conduct
  • Alleged failure to follow procedures, and
  • Alleged failure in complaint investigation.
Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO)
Number of investigations

Moving towards an equitable process …

The need for a transparent, equitable process is more critical than ever, given the potential for these judgements to exacerbate educational inequality and impact teacher attrition.

Schools can navigate this challenging terrain by meticulously documenting interactions during inspections, engaging legal support when necessary, and effectively leveraging the complaints procedure. But, having spoken with legal teams and other leaders, it is time-consuming and expensive, which can lead to so many schools giving up on the process!

It’s also vital for ALL schools – regardless of judgement – to engage in broader dialogues about the inspection framework; so easily forgotten if you sit on top of the cake! If we all advocate for reform, we can ensure a fairer assessment that genuinely reflects a school’s performance and context.

Questions to consider

  1. What proactive measures can schools take during an inspection to safeguard their interests?
  2. How can schools effectively document and present their case if they need to contest an Ofsted judgement?
  3. In what ways can schools support one another across the sector to advocate for a more just inspection process?
  4. How can schools maintain a focus on providing quality education amidst the pressures of Ofsted inspections?
  5. How do we ensure a school’s unique challenges and context are always recognised by inspectors?
  6. How can schools contribute to the ongoing dialogue about reforming the Ofsted inspection framework?
  7. What role does the legal system play in contesting an Ofsted judgement, and when should it be considered?
  8. How can we ensure that the stress of inspections does not detract from teaching and learning?
  9. What steps can schools take to rebuild trust in the inspection process?
  10. How can we contribute to a fairer, more transparent Ofsted complaints process?
  11. More importantly, what role can Ofsted play without keeping its head in the sand?

The select committee said, “The evidence we received was heavily critical of Ofsted’s complaints procedure … and that the process was difficult to access and cumbersome.


2 thoughts on “The Future of Ofsted’s Complaints Process …

  1. As a head teacher of 20 years, now supporting schools as an adviser, I too have witnessed staggering inconsistencies in standards and criteria used by Ofsted Teams in different schools, as well as some shocking behaviour towards staff at times. I have been called in to assist several times, when it appears to be going wrong and Heads have been in despair.
    I have found that, when challenged by an objective and dispassionate external professional who is not subject to the stress and pressures that head teachers and staff are, and who challenges the evidence base and provides solid counter evidence against potentially negative judgements, inspectors are forced to re-think and modify their proposed stances.
    I suggest that Head teacher Associations and other friends of schools could make a real difference if they galvanised rapid response people to support schools under stress, until the crude and flawed system is changed.
    I speak as someone who was head of an Outstanding inner city school who knew strengths and weaknesses in effectiveness and how to support rather than destroy, where Ofsted had to have them pointed out.

    1. Dear Patricia. Thank you for your comment. I think you raise a very valuable point about your additional support – when you’re not directly involved with all the stress, you can offer a calm and pointed perspective which really does expose the subjectivity of inspectors. It needs a total overhaul…

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