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Inspecting the Inspectors

Ofsted play an important role in monitoring educational standards for children, young people and learners of all ages.

The outcome of an Ofsted inspection and resulting public report is of real concern to any school, and any inspection and report must be proper and fair.

The inspection process normally starts with a telephone call to the Headteacher warning of an imminent inspection.  It is at this stage that any potential deferral of an inspection should be discussed.

Ofsted must carry out their inspections in accordance with their handbook (School inspection handbook, August 2015), which sets out what inspectors must do and what schools can expect, and provides guidance for inspectors on making their judgements. 

Ofsted are understandably keen to avoid losing the element of surprise and deferring an inspection, which the school will then know is coming in the near future. However, there are exceptional circumstances in which an inspection must be deferred and these are contained in Ofsted’s deferrals policy (Deferral of Ofsted Inspections, August 2015).

As a public body, the decisions made by Ofsted in and around inspections are susceptible to challenge in judicial review proceedings which may (where publication of a report is imminent) need to be combined with urgent applications to Court.  Due to the potential impact of an unfavourable report, schools will need to consider these options if they believe that they have been subject to an unfair or irregular inspection or report.

A team of litigators led by Schofield Sweeney partner Alistair Kennedy, with assistance from Nigel Brook, has recently prevented publication of an Ofsted report on the very day that publication was scheduled. The report was stopped on the basis of procedural flaws with the relevant inspection. A subsequent re-inspection of the school has also now been achieved.

Whilst Ofsted remain a powerful entity, where mistakes have been made, schools have the opportunity to challenge and even prevent a resulting report.  It is right that Ofsted be held to their own standards, as set out in their handbook and policy documents.

Schofield Sweeney’s education team advises schools on day to day legal issues that can arise including governance, employment and commercial matters.  In addition we support schools through the Academy process, Multi Academy Trust conversions and through subscription to our Just Teach package.

For more information or if you are concerned about an inspection, please contact Alistair Kennedy .