Ofsted have announced that it will embarking on a three-month consultation on proposed changes to its post-inspection and complaints-handling process to ensure that concerns about inspections are dealt with quickly and robustly, but not in a way that is overly burdensome for providers. This move follows widespread dissatisfaction with Ofsted among the childcare sector.
What is the current process?
The current process is broken down into the following stages:
- Draft report issued within 18 working days of the inspection;
- A provider has five working days to provide factual accuracy comments to Ofsted. This process enables a provider to raise concerns about the process followed, conduct of the inspectors, and judgements reached.
- Ofsted will consider the comments and make any necessary changes to the report or, if appropriate, conduct a new inspection. The comments are usually considered by the inspector who conducted the inspection. Ofsted will share the final report within 30 working days of the inspection itself;
- If a provider continues to have concerns, they must submit a complaint within five working days of the final report being shared;
- The complaint will be allocated to someone not involved in the inspection, and Ofsted have 30 working days to respond. The report is not published during this period. After a complaint has been considered by Ofsted and responded to, the report will usually be published within a couple of days;
- If a provider remains unhappy, they are able to submit an internal review to Ofsted within 15 working days of the complaint outcome. An internal review is limited to concerns about the way in which the complaint was handled, rather than a review of the findings;
- Ofsted will respond to the internal review within 30 working days; and
- If a provider wishes to escalate their concerns, they can ask the Independent Complaints adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO) to review the case. They must do so within 3 months of the date of Ofsted’s response to the internal review. ICASO cannot change the outcome of the complaint, but they can make recommendations to Ofsted.
What are the proposed changes?
Ofsted are proposing the following changes:
Enhanced on-site professional dialogue to help address any issues
Whilst inspectors are encouraged to check with providers throughout the inspection whether they have any queries or concerns, Ofsted propose to formalise this by asking inspectors to check this at specific stages of the visit, including during the initial pre-inspection call, at the end of the day meetings, and at the final feedback session.
Introduce an opportunity for providers to contact Ofsted the day after the inspection if they have any unresolved concerns
At present there is no formal opportunity to raise concerns immediately after the inspection, with many providers often told to await the draft report and utilise the factual accuracy process. Ofsted are proposing to introduce an opportunity for providers to raise concerns immediately after the visit itself.
Introduce new arrangements for finalising reports
Ofsted plan to reduce the current process down to make this easier and less burdensome for providers. They plan to introduce two new routes:
- If providers are happy with the report save for a few minor points of clarity or factual accuracy, they can do this and then the report will be published. Provider’s will forgo any opportunity to raise a complaint; and
- If providers wish to challenge the findings and judgements, they can submit a formal complaint. This will remove the need to submit a factual accuracy challenge and then a complaint, allowing a provider to go straight to the complaint stage. Ofsted propose that this stage will include a telephone call to explore the concerns fully.
Removing the internal review stage
Ofsted propose to remove the internal review step in the complaint procedure, allowing a provider to move forward to a complaint to ICASO much earlier than under the current process.
They will also introduce periodic reviews of complaints handling by an external panel.
Are these welcome changes?
The new process will certainly be less burdensome as there are less hoops to jump through to have someone independent of the inspection consider the complaint. Furthermore, the option to be able to speak with the complaints handler will enable providers to be able to express their concerns verbally as well as in writing, which may assist in clarifying some issues highlighted within the complaint.
However, there clearly remain areas that need to be addressed or clarified by Ofsted. The new proposal suggests that anyone submitting factual accuracy comments will not be able to submit a formal complaint, leaving Ofsted open to refusing to make factual accuracy changes to report and a provider with no way to challenge this further. This needs to be clarified.
A key issue with the current process is that Ofsted are reviewing their own findings at the most important stages, with the external bodies (primarily ICASO) having a very limited remit. This does not appear to have been addressed within the proposals. Ofsted will still be reviewing the complaint internally, and ICASO’s remit will still be limited to reviewing how the complaint was handled and making recommendations, rather than enforcing changes to the outcome of the inspection or the report itself.
In addition to this, at present Ofsted refuse to share their evidence base with providers. This means that providers are often raising complaints based on the discussions held during the course of the inspection, without full knowledge of the findings relied upon by Ofsted. Again, this has not been addressed within the proposals put forward.
Finally, it could be questioned whether these changes go far enough. There remain widespread concerns across the sector about the variability of Ofsted inspection findings that, arguably, requires greater overhaul of the overarching inspection process.
Do you want to submit your comments? The consultation process is open until 15 September 2023, comments can be submitted here.
How can we help?
Our specialist Ofsted lawyers regularly assist providers in respect of factual accuracy challenges and complaints to Ofsted. Please visit our case studies page to find out more about how we’ve helped childcare providers, education providers and social care providers in England and Wales challenge Ofsted inspections.
If you would like assistance with a factual accuracy challenge or a complaint to Ofsted, it is imperative that you seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible given the timeframes involved. For a confidential discussion with a member of our team, please contact us on 0161 696 6250 or complete our online enquiry form.