Ofsted have announced that, following a three-month consultation, it will be making changes to the post-inspection and complaints-handling process to ensure that concerns about inspections are dealt with quickly and robustly. This move follows widespread dissatisfaction with Ofsted amongst the childcare sector.
What are the changes?
Ofsted will implement the following:
1. 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 intend 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. This will be implemented from January 2024.
2. 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. As of January 2024, providers will have the opportunity to raise concerns immediately after the visit itself. After considering the consultation comments, Ofsted have confirmed that the point of contact will be an experienced inspector who is independent of the inspection in question.
3. 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.
Ofsted will commence with this proposal in April 2024, and prior to this will be issuing new policy documents to provide greater clarity on how the new process will work.
4. Removing the internal review stage and introduction of an external, periodic review of complaints
Ofsted will be removing 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. Ofsted are yet to confirm how the panel will be selected.
These changes will be introduced from April 2024.
Are these welcome changes?
Ofsted have reported that the consultation process highlighted that the majority of respondents were supportive of the changes.
Over 80% agreed that professional dialogue at an inspection would assist in addressing any concerns, with many assured that this would mean that this happens more routinely. In addition, over 80% agreed that being able to contact Ofsted the day after the inspection would assist. Nevertheless, many continued to highlight concerns about the inconsistently at inspections, with some stating that inspectors can make it difficult challenge the views/conclusions being formed during the inspection. This change will hopefully remove this barrier. If it does not, this is a concern that could be raised the day after the inspection through the independent inspector.
The introduction of new arrangements also appears to be supported by the majority of respondents. As expected however, many were concerned that 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 still needs to be clarified by Ofsted and it is expected that greater detail will be provided by Ofsted in due course, within new policy documents.
Over 80% of respondents agreed that introducing ICASO at an earlier stage and removing the internal review step. However, some did raise concern that Ofsted continue to have no independent body reviewing the inspection work, with Ofsted ‘marking their own homework’ and the external bodies (primarily ICASO) having a very limited remit (this being reviewing how the complaint was handled and making recommendations, rather than enforcing changes to the outcome of the inspection or the report itself). This appears to have been partially addressed with the introduction of an independent panel who will conduct an annual review of a sample of complaints, however it is unclear how this will work and what outcomes could be reached as a result of such a review. This will hopefully be clarified by Ofsted within the new policy documents set to be released in due course.
Could these changes go further?
There still continues to be widespread concern across the sector about the variability of Ofsted inspection findings that, arguably, requires greater overhaul of the overarching inspection process. It therefore could be said that the changes do not go far enough, particularly when considering that some responses highlighted the need for an independent review at an earlier stage (i.e. someone independent considering complaints raised).
Furthermore, there continues to be a lack of clarity around what information will be shared by Ofsted about the reasons for their inspection findings. Whilst Ofsted state that greater reasoning will be provided, no mention has been made of the evidence base and whether this will be shared with providers. This means that providers will continue to be raising concerns based on verbal information given to them during the inspection, rather than based on the evidence base gathered.
Overall, it is positive that changes are being made to ensure a simpler and fairer process. How these changes work in reality will need to be closely monitored over the coming months.
How can our Ofsted lawyers 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 frame involved. For a confidential discussion with a member of our team, please contact us on 0161 696 6250 or complete our online enquiry form.