In a 2017 Ofsted survey, 50% of parents gave Ofsted’s reports as an important factor when they are choosing schools for their children. This was the second most important factor given, after proximity to home (61%). The NAO surveyed headteachers when preparing its report, and found that 44% said that Ofsted’s inspections had led to improvements at their school, while 71% agreed that inspectors provided useful feedback during visits. The NAO reported these figures to illustrate the importance of Ofsted’s role.
However, the report detailed Ofsted’s struggles to meet both its statutory and internal targets. The NAO found that Ofsted did not meet its statutory target to re-inspect schools within five years in 43 cases between 2012/13 and 2016/17. The report also found that between 2012/13 and 2016/17, Ofsted did not meet its own target to re-inspect schools graded as inadequate in 78 cases.
Mainstream newspapers paid attention to the report’s finding that at August 2017, 1,620 schools had not been inspected for six years or more, including 296 schools that had not been inspected for 10 years or more. Ofsted has not technically missed its targets in this regard, as ‘outstanding’ schools are exempt from routine inspection. Nonetheless, some commentators were concerned that the ‘outstanding’ ratings may have become outdated during long periods between inspections.
Financial and staffing challenges at Ofsted were identified as factors contributing to these issues. The funding provided by the Department for Education for school inspection is 52% less, in real terms, than it was in 2000. Ofsted has also had a shortfall in inspectors since it brought all its inspection work in-house in 2015 to improve quality. The report found that while staff levels were improving, Ofsted still employed fewer inspectors than it budgeted for, and also that staff turnover was high (19% in 2017-18). Departing inspectors frequently give workload as a reason for leaving. Some also say that shorter inspections have left them with narrower roles, with less opportunity to work with schools towards improvement.
On the report’s publication, Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, focussed his comments on the financial challenges, saying that: “The Department needs to be mindful that cheaper inspection is not necessarily better inspection. To demonstrate its commitment, the Department needs a clear vision for school inspection and to resource it accordingly.”
Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, responded to the report by acknowledging that the financial climate has compelled tough decisions about how to prioritise resources. She further commented that: ‘An increase in either the number of inspections or time spent on inspection will quite simply require greater funding’.