June 2011


  • Fledge funds?
    When budgets are squeezed, schools and colleges need to drum up new sources of income. And, like any management task, it requires a properly thought-out plan of attack. Val Andrew offers some ideas. More
  • The generation game
    From carpentry and childcare to hosting conferences and opening a professional gym, schools and colleges are finding imaginative ways to generate new income. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Brave admissions
    UCAS boss Mary Curnock Cook is leading an overhaul of the 50 year old university admissions system, tackling some of the problems previously labelled 'too difficult' to address. She talks to Liz Lightfoot. More
  • Taking up the challenge
    If you decide to challenge an Ofsted decision, what can you expect? Jan Webber explains the dispute process and looks at the case of one institution which refused to accept an inaccurate report. More
  • Hives of activity
    Co-operative schools, with their emphasis on work ethic, self-help and social responsibility, are booming. Dorothy Lepkowska explores what makes them tick and looks at plans for the first co-op academy. More
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Taking up the challenge

If you decide to challenge an Ofsted decision, what can you expect? Jan Webber explains the dispute process and looks at the case of one institution which refused to accept an inaccurate report.

Disputing an Ofsted report or even the conduct of an inspection is not easy. It is a time-consuming task and not something that a senior leadership team would welcome after undergoing the inspection itself.

Most SLTs want to put Ofsted behind them and get back to leading and managing the school or college. Consequently, unfair reports go unchallenged and inconsistent practice in how inspections are carried out continues.

Surprisingly, Ofsted has told ASCL to encourage members to complain for those very reasons.

So why do some schools and colleges dispute their report or the inspection? W What is the process and what are the outcomes?

Process first. Should you wish to challenge either your report or the conduct of an inspection, the forms and guidance you need are on the Ofsted website.

A school or college can bring a concern to the lead inspector’s notice during the inspection; if this fails it can contact the Ofsted helpline, which may result in some changes to the report before publication. Following this, if a school or college is not satisfied it has up to 30 calendar days from the publication of the report to make a formal complaint in writing.

A crucial document for schools to consult is the Ofsted Guide to Conducting School Inspections, written for the inspectors. For colleges the equivalent is Handbook for the Inspection of Further Education and Skills.

It is also useful to understand how inspectors come to their judgements by viewing the grading criteria document and accompanying information, if you wish to check the validity of their report. These show the importance of past and current attainment, learning and progress, and the limiting judgements with the effect they have on other judgements and on the summary judgement. Both documents are on the Ofsted website.

ASCL’s hotline is there to offer advice to members considering a complaint about their inspection, either the result or the process.

The following is a real example, referred to me from the hotline, which illustrates the complaints process. While it refers to a school, the same will apply to a college inspection.

School X was fairly confident about its impending inspection. The data for the three-year trend painted a positive picture of rising attainment (including that for five A*-C GCSEs with English and maths) and progress measures had moved from significantly minus to significantly plus.

However, the school was placed into a category – a judgement which the governors, the local authority and the school improvement partner all saw as flawed.

Protocols breached

From the start the inspection had not gone well. Protocols set out in the code of conduct were breached and brought to the attention of the lead inspector. It resulted in a better day two but not a good outcome.

Moreover, the process did not feel to the senior team like the collaboration Ofsted believes it has moved towards and lacked the professional dialogue that the advice in Conducting School Inspections leads us to expect.

The 2009 inspections framework for schools emphasises that an important element in making judgements is what is seen in the classroom – this will be even stronger in the new framework. The judgement on learning and progress combined with that on attainment leads to the achievement judgement, which is a limiting one as it is linked to many others.

The guidance updated each term and put on the Ofsted website tells inspectors to look at evidence provided by the institution when making judgements. So a school will demonstrate current and past student progress and share their records of teacher performance. The inspectors should take this into account, especially if joint lesson observations show that school leaders assess teaching and learning correctly.

According to Conducting School Inspections, headteachers should be invited to comment on inspection trails in order to ensure that the inspection takes account of and tests the school’s self-evaluation. Often this allows heads to suggest that the sample of lessons is not wide enough and even name staff who should be observed. But the inspector does not have to do this. A lot depends on the spirit of collaboration and the professional dialogue that takes place.

We know of some excellent lead inspectors who really involve the leadership team in the process, do look at the school’s evidence base and observe teachers where asked. The one at School X did not and the evidence as a result was based on a skewed sample of lessons.

When the report arrived, the school felt it was riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies as well as being an unfair assessment of the school. However, those inconsistencies and inaccuracies actually made the report easier to contest.

Clear, detailed and factual

The senior team consulted a range of professionals for advice and secured the support of governors, the local authority and the SIP in its challenge. They thoroughly researched the documentation from the website to ensure they made the strongest possible case. Their complaint had to be clear, detailed, factual and not affected by the emotional fall-out from the report. They had to use the Ofsted system to fight it.

The school followed the procedures set out on the Ofsted website and they proceeded to the formal stage.

The investigating officer appointed to School X was thorough, helpful and supportive. The school based its case on three things: factual inaccuracies in the report, unsupported statements, and how the team had ignored the code of conduct protocols for inspections.

In particular, it used progress data to prove that the inspectors’ assessment of progress was inaccurate. It used performance data and students’ results to prove that assumptions made from lesson observations were wrong. It showed how a skewed sample of lesson observations had caused inspectors to make inaccurate and misleading statements about teaching, learning and progress.

It also showed how the inspectors, possibly due to time constraints, affected the dynamics of the inspection, resulting in a less than satisfactory and, in fact, demeaning experience.

So they had the evidence to support all of their challenges to the report.

What was the outcome? The thoroughness of the investigating officer and the complexities of the situation meant that the verdict took longer than Ofsted guidelines indicated but the sheer hard work and courage of the school leaders paid off. The school has been removed from the category and is now deemed satisfactory.

They are delighted and were happy for me to share these details with others to encourage them to do the same. However, their story comes with a health warning in terms of the time, emotion and resources involved.

Be prepared

What can we learn from this? First, disputing your Ofsted report and/ or the conduct of the inspection is a hard choice to make. Even at the first stage it involves time and effort.

You also need good grounds for your challenge and to do your homework in terms of reading the relevant documentation, otherwise you could expend a lot of time, energy and resources for nothing.

You need to be clear about your challenge and provide factual evidence to support it. It helps if you have a SIP, LA officer or senior team member who is skilled at data analysis and can produce the concrete evidence or who "knows a man who can". This will make your case strong and reduce the work for you.

Remember, however, that the senior team will have to do this while leading and managing the school or college (catching up with those things Ofsted distracted you from) and keeping everyone’s morale up. Sometimes the emotional and physical effort is not worth the result – sometimes it is. That is a call only you can make.

  • Jan Webber is ASCL's inspections specialist.

Further information

Ofsted’s complaints procedure: www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Footer/How-to-complain

For Conducting School Inspections: www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Forms-and-guidance/Browse-all-by/Other/General/Conducting-school-inspections-guidance-for-inspectors-of-schools-from-September-2009

For inspection of FE and skills: www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Forms-and-guidance/Browse-all-by/Other/General/Handbook-for-the-inspection-of-further-education-and-skills-from-September-2009

Taking up the challenge