In September, many schools will be opening again for the first time since March 20th. Schools have adapted in various ways to the closures, with online schooling and limited school openings across the country. OFSTED, the authority for school inspections, will be conducting visits in Autumn to find out the current status of schooling across the UK. These visits will only be investigating the return to full-time schooling, not any of the education delivered during the lockdown.
Which schools will be visited?
Ofsted will be attempting to visit a representative selection of schools, ranging from public schools to SEN schools. However, inadequate schools where specific concerns have been raised will be prioritised, and these institutions will still receive an inspection. In some cases, an unnannounced visit will be necessary, for example when concerns have been raised by parents or carers.
How will shortcomings that come to light during visits be adressed?
Inspectors will have conversations with school leaders to explore their findings. However, these visits do not lead to graded judgements, so schools and colleges will not be penalised in the traditional way. Serious issues, such as safeguarding concerns, cannot be ignored. These would be identified in a published letter and considered at the school’s next inspection, or, if they required immediate action, they would be referred to the appropriate authority. Inspectors will be sensitive to the difficulties associated with Covid-19 that schools are facing.
What will be done to ensure social distancing during visits?
During Ofsted visits, children who are self-isolating or unwell will be asked to stay in a room not required for the visit. Inspectors will follow government guidance in handwashing, social distancing and physical contact policies.
Relevant evidence may also be requested online first, such as photographs of the building or even a tour through a video call. A training plan for e-learning may also be requested. On-site visits will only happen when the off-site inspection has raised concern or regulatory action needs to be re-assessed. Other instances will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
What will be the result of the visits?
Visits during the autumn will not be graded. Ofsted will be investigating how schools and colleges are getting pupils back up to speed after spending an extended period of time at home. Ofsted will have ‘collaborative conversations’ with school leaders, discussing their experiences during COVID-19 and their plans for the future. The results of the visit and of these conversations will be published in a brief letter, so that parents understand what is being done to get pupils back into full time education.
Additionally, Ofsted will be publishing information about visits to schools on their website, which will contribute towards national research about the return to full education.
Will children who cannot return to school until a vaccine has been found receive special attention to ensure they are receiving proper education?
As with EIF inspections, these school visits will consider the experience of all pupils, including those with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). As well as school visits, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have been commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to visit local areas to help improve their SEND systems following the COVID-19 disruption. Ofsted and CQC will work collaboratively with local areas to understand the experiences of children and young people with SEND and their families during the pandemic, and to support local areas to prioritise and meet their needs. Ofsted will take the needs of the young people into account when planning and undertaking their visits.