Following a public consultation, Ofsted have announced that it will be revising its post-inspection and complaints-handling arrangements to ensure that concerns about inspections can be dealt with quickly and before an inspection report has been finalised.
What is the current process?
At present, following an inspection a provider will receive a draft report for review. They will usually be given five working days to provide factual accuracy comments to Ofsted, however the timeframe provided can often be less than this. Once factual accuracy comments have been provided, Ofsted will consider the same and make any necessary changes. They will usually publish the report within a couple of days of the final report being sent to the provider.
The factual accuracy process is limited in its remit, namely because it is an opportunity to challenge the accuracy and completeness of the evidence upon which the gradings are based (for example, typographical and numerical errors), but not the judgments made by Ofsted. For this reason, many providers also choose to make a complaint about the inspection. A complaint must be submitted within 10 working days of:
- The inspection taking place;
- Receipt of the draft report; or
- The final report being published.
When a provider choose to lodge a complaint will largely depend upon what issues a provider is concerned about. For example, if the provider is only concerned about the conduct of an inspector rather than the judgements made, a complaint would be submitted within 10 working days of the inspection itself. On the other hand, many providers exhaust the factual accuracy process first and will therefore lodge a complaint following the publication of the final report.
At present, inspection reports are published even if a provider has lodged a complaint. Ofsted will only withhold publication of the report in exceptional circumstances. Generally, concerns about the judgements in a report would not be considered exceptional. The concern for many providers is that the report is in the public domain for the period of time that the complaint is being dealt with (this is usually at least 30 days), which can cause reputational damage to the business and can be very confusing for stakeholders. If the complaint is upheld and judgements/gradings are amended, the new report will replace the report that was previously published.
What changes will be implemented?
Ofsted have confirmed that from September 2020, the following changes will be introduced:
- Greater consistency in post-inspection arrangements across inspection remits;
- Standardise at 5 working days the period allowed for providers to review their draft report and raise any issues of factual accuracy and about the inspection process;
- Consider and respond to formal complaints from inspected providers before publication of their inspection report, if these complaints are submitted within 5 working days of Ofsted issuing the final report; and
- Retain current arrangements for internal reviews into complaints handling, including the scrutiny panel.
One of the more major changes is that Ofsted will now be ensuring that all providers will have five working days from receipt of their draft report to provide factual accuracy comments. This arguably ensures that the process is much more consistent than it currently is. In addition, Ofsted have confirmed that providers can also comment on ‘the inspection process’. This means that providers can not only comment on the factual accuracy of the report, but will also have the opportunity to raise any concerns that they may have about the judgements made. This will ensure that any concerns about the judgements are raised at the first opportunity and may prevent the need to pursue a complaint.
Another major change is that if a complaint is submitted within 5 working days of Ofsted ‘issuing the final report’, Ofsted will consider and respond to such complaints before the report is published. Whilst this means that providers will have less time to lodge a formal complaint following the factual accuracy process, it will ensure that providers’ concerns are considered before a report is in the public domain, which prevents any reputational damage caused during this period. This is particularly important if a complaint is upheld.
It is at present unclear whether providers will still be able to lodge complaints within 10 working days of receipt or publication of the final report. This is likely something to be addressed by Ofsted in due course.
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 on our website 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 time frames involved. For a confidential discussion with a member of our team, please contact us on 0161 696 6250 or complete our online enquiry form.