Government accused of having ‘strange ideas about priorities’ as watchdog told to accelerate school inspections



The government has been accused of having “strange ideas” on education catch-up priorities after Ofsted was told to accelerate school inspections.

The watchdog has received a funding boost of nearly £24m in a bid to speed up visits to all schools and colleges in England, saying it should now take a year less to cover all settings.

The government said all schools and colleges should be inspected by 2025 in order to “give a quicker assessment of how well education is recovering” from the Covid pandemic.

But the boost for school inspections has been criticised by headteachers, who have cast doubt over whether it is the best way to support pupils in bouncing back from Covid’s disruption.

“We have to say that the government has some strange ideas about the priority for education recovery,” Julie McCulloch from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said.

“It isn’t Ofsted inspections that will help children to catch up with lost learning caused by the pandemic but ensuring that schools and colleges have sufficient funding from the government to deliver recovery programmes at the scale required.”

The union’s director of policy added: “At the moment, many schools and colleges are still dealing with the disruption caused by the pandemic, and the prospect of also having to deal with a visit from an inspection team isn’t particularly helpful.”

Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the announcement felt “completely tone-deaf” given the “pressure” schools are facing and calls to pause inspections this term.

“We are still a very long way from business as usual in schools,” he added.

Figures from the Department for Education (DfE) estimated 130,000 pupils in England were off school for a Covid-related reason last week, with over half of these pupils having tested positive for the virus.

Speaking after the Ofsted announcement, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “Government ministers are showing, yet again, that they have no understanding of the exhaustion and stress felt by teachers and leaders.

“Inspection adds hugely to the stress they face coping with high rates of Covid infection in schools and college.”

A former national schools commissioner said on Tuesday he was “worried about the strain being placed” on headteachers, amid pressure from anti-vaxxers, Covid absences and Ofsted.

“We need these people more than ever and I fear if we don’t look out for them we may lose some brilliant leaders in 2022,” Sir David Carter tweeted.

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of Ofsted, said: “Everyone working in education must do everything they can to give this generation the best possible chance to fulfil its potential.”

She added: “Ofsted will play its part – by giving parents and learners up-to-date information, and by helping schools and colleges shape their plans.”

Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, said: “Nobody underestimates the scale of the challenge schools, colleges and other education providers have experienced through the pandemic.”

He said: “Accelerating the rate of Ofsted inspections over the coming years will provide parents with an up-to-date picture and swifter recognition of the hard work of leaders and teachers.”

Additional reporting by PA



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