Issue 131 - 2024 Summer term
ASCL’s Tom Middlehurst asks: What does Ofsted’s new complaints process mean in practice?

Ofsted inspection complaints

Tom Middlehurst
ASCL Curriculum, Assessment and Inspection Specialist
Following a consultation last autumn, Ofsted published a new complaints process in April 2024, which reflected many of the recommendations we made during the consultation. We cautiously welcomed it. To be clear, this is the process of complaining about an inspection, not parents complaining about a school. But what does this mean for schools and colleges being inspected now, or in the coming months?

Who does it apply to?
All schools and colleges will be inspected between September 2021 and July 2025. So, if you haven’t had an inspection yet, you will have one soon.
The new complaints process applies to any inspection that took place after 4 April. Schools and colleges in ongoing complaints, related to inspections that happened before 4 April, will need to follow the former procedure.

What used to happen?
As remains the case, the expectation was that most complaints could be handled at the time of inspection, between the headteacher and the lead inspector. On receipt of the draft report, schools had five days to raise any additional concerns. Only after receiving the final report could schools lodge a stage two complaint, in which they could raise concerns about the judgement itself or the conduct of the inspection. Only after all that could they escalate the complaint to the Independent Complaints Adjudications Service for Ofsted (ICASO).

In many cases, this whole process ended up taking months, with the school community often wondering why the report hadn’t been published.

What’s changed?
The new policy separates out the processes of raising minor factual points about your report from a more formal complaint.

The new policy follows a six-step process:
 
  1. As is currently the case, headteachers should raise any concerns with lead inspectors during the inspection. This might relate to the conduct of an individual inspector, concerns about the emerging judgements or any other aspect of the inspection activity. Regular keep in touch (KIT) meetings should be scheduled throughout the inspection, during which lead inspectors should check on headteachers’ wellbeing.
 
  1. During the initial phone call, you’ll be provided with the phone number of a senior member of Ofsted staff (separate to the duty desk number). This person will be independent of the inspection team, and you can call them during the inspection or on the working day after the inspection.
 
  1. Ofsted will normally send you your draft report within 18 working days of the end of your inspection. If you have any unresolved complaints during this period, ASCL strongly suggests that you capture these in writing as an internal aide memoire for the next steps of the complaints process.
 
  1. After receiving your draft report, you have five working days to respond. You can either accept the draft report in full, raise minor points, and/or make a formal complaint.
 
  1. The two concurrent routes of complaints are now:
  1. making minor points of clarity or factual accuracy
  2. making a formal complaint about the conduct of the inspection or a graded judgement
        Schools don’t have to publish their draft report if they have lodged a complaint within the five-day timeline.
 
  1. The final report will usually be sent by Ofsted within 30 days of the end of the inspection and will be published on its website five days after being sent (unless a formal complaint is ongoing).
What about escalating a complaint beyond Ofsted?
In addition to these changes, a further reform is the ability for schools to raise concerns directly with the ICASO, without having to go through Ofsted’s internal process first.

However, note that the ICASO only regulates Ofsted’s complaints process, so raising a concern about the inspection itself can be of limited value. Furthermore, the ICASO doesn’t have the power to overturn a judgement – that remains the sole privilege of the inspectorate itself.

What are the implications for schools?
In theory, these changes mean that complaints should be resolved more quickly, without the need to go through each stage of the process.
The ability to talk to a senior member of staff, independent from the inspection, is likely to be significant, especially as many ASCL members tell us they feel uncomfortable raising issues with the lead inspector at the time in case it affects the inspection outcome.

Likewise, being able to raise a formal complaint after receiving the draft report, rather than having to wait for the final report, will make a big difference where there are unresolved complaints.

What further changes do we expect to see?
Ofsted’s Big Listen closed in May. We’re unlikely to see any major reforms to inspection before this information is fully processed and considered. Some of the big changes we would like to see – not least the removal of single-phrase judgements – lie with the government, not with Ofsted, and may require a change in government before reforms are made.

Given the timing of the Big Listen, and that all schools will be inspected under the current education inspection framework (EIF) by summer 2025, it’s unlikely we’ll see any major changes to the framework or inspection handbook until at least September 2025.

Top tips for complaining about an inspection
Of course, we hope that most schools don’t find themselves in the position of needing to complain about a report or an inspection, but if you do, here are five points to consider:
 
  1. Take your own notes and minutes during KIT meetings, the end of day one meeting, and the final feedback session. If possible, have another member of staff take notes, so you can engage in constructive dialogue with the inspection team.
  2. Try to raise any concerns as soon as possible, either with the lead inspector or with the independent member of Ofsted staff. Many issues can be addressed at the time of the inspection.
  3. If you remain unhappy after the inspection, put your points down on paper as soon as possible so you don’t forget the details when the draft report comes. Be as specific as possible (times, verbatim comments, particular meetings, and so on).
  4. If you are unhappy with the judgement, remember that the inspection team is inspecting you under the EIF – which you may or may not think is fit for purpose. Therefore, focus on how the conduct of the inspection, or the evidence used, undermined the conclusions reached rather than a general complaint.
  5. Remember that ASCL is here for you, and if you need further support you can contact our Hotline for advice.
For schools and colleges due to be inspected soon, we wish you the best of luck and hope that this process won’t be needed at all.

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