- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Further supplementary memorandum submitted by Ofsted to Fiona Mactaggart MP


  I was grateful for the opportunity to give evidence to the Select Committee on Wednesday 6 May, as part of your inquiry into School Accountability. During the session, you raised two connected, but separate, queries. The first queried the number of occasions when, following a complaint from an inspected school, Ofsted has changed its inspection judgements. The second specifically concerned a complaint about the inspection of Wexham School in your constituency and how Ofsted processes such complaints.


  Of the 7,866 maintained school inspections carried out in the academic year 2007-08, Ofsted received 304 complaints about 248 inspections. This represents a complaint in 4% of inspections but, allowing for the fact that some inspections had more than one complaint, only about 3% of inspections led to a complaint.

Of the 278 complaints responded to in the academic year 2007-08 (including those originally received in 2006-07), just over 30% were upheld to some extent. 10 (3.6%) were upheld fully and 75 (27%) were partially upheld. The remaining 69.4% complaints were not upheld.

  A complaint can cover several aspects of the inspection process. 158 complaints (24% of all complaints) were about the validity of judgements as an aspect of the complaint. Of these, 19 (12%) were upheld and 139 (88%) were not upheld.


  Following our discussion, I have looked into our handling of the complaint from Wexham School, particularly in relation to the time which elapsed during the different phases of the complaints process.

Wexham School was inspected on 9 and 10 December 2008. Our procedures require that, following the completion of our internal quality assurance process and a factual accuracy check by the school, a final version of the report is sent to the school within three weeks of the end of the inspection. The school is allowed five days to distribute the report to parents and carers and thereafter it is published on the Ofsted website. The report on Wexham School was published on 12 January 2009 and, allowing for the Christmas and New Year public holidays, this was within the required timescale.

  The school submitted a formal complaint about the inspection to Prospects Learning Services, our regional inspection provider, on 10 February 2009. Ofsted requires that complaints submitted within 30 calendar days of the publication of the report should be considered and, consequently, Prospects Learning Services undertook an investigation of the complaint. Their response was sent to the school on 5 March 2009, which is within the 20 working day target period set by Ofsted.

  Where complainants are not satisfied with the response to their complaint they may submit a request for an internal review by Ofsted within one month of receiving the initial response. Wexham School requested an internal review on the 6 April 2009. This was carried out by Sheila Brown, Regional Director for the South Region on behalf of Peter Duffy, Deputy Director, Corporate Services, and was sent to the school on 7 May 2009. Allowing for the Easter and May Day public holidays, this was within the 20 working days in which we aim to complete internal reviews.

  I acknowledge that a considerable period of time passed between the inspection and the completion of the internal review, but the complaint was dealt with within our agreed timescales. It is entirely appropriate that the school wished to consider carefully the framing of its initial complaint and subsequent request for an internal review, but it is clear that this contributed to the time taken.

  More generally, I understand your concern that our handling of complaints should be fair, objective and rigorous. These are key elements in the principles which are set out in the Ofsted publication Complaints procedure: raising concerns and making complaints about Ofsted (December 2008). Internal reviews are completed by senior managers in Ofsted and involve careful scrutiny of the way in which complaints have been handled. On the very few occasions when inspections do not meet the high standards which Ofsted expects, we acknowledge this openly and apologise that it has occurred. We are determined to learn from our mistakes and, where necessary, issue further guidance or arrange additional support and training for individual inspectors.

  While I am confident that our complaints procedures are rigorous and objective, I agree that it is important that they are subject to independent and external scrutiny. In the hearing on 6 May, I referred to the new Ofsted Adjudicator Service which is provided by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, who have substantial experience of dispute resolution in the public sector. A complainant who is dissatisfied with the outcome of an internal review can refer the matter to the adjudication service. The scope of the adjudication covers the behaviour of inspectors, the implementation of inspection procedures, the management of the complaint and the quality of the response. I know from our experience of both the newly appointed and previous adjudicator, that this process is independent and rigorous. The recommendations of adjudicators are occasionally challenging for Ofsted, but they are always considered carefully and, in the great majority of cases, accepted fully and incorporated within our procedures and guidance to inspectors.

  While there are many strengths to our handling of complaints, I am determined that we should adapt a more streamlined approach, which avoids the lengthy timescales evident in the Wexham complaint. In 2008 Ofsted commissioned an independent review of its complaints procedures and we are now piloting new arrangements which will be fully implemented later in the year. We are proposing a rapid initial assessment of each complaint, distinguishing clearly between concerns about the conduct of inspectors and the validity of the inspection judgements. Wherever possible we will attempt to resolve the complaint through informal resolution involving direct contact with the complainant. Where this is not possible, it is anticipated that there will be a formal investigation which is similar to what occurs in our present arrangements. However, this will be subject to critical scrutiny by an independent panel of inspectors who will test the conclusions of the investigation against the inspection evidence and the views of the complainant. This independent scrutiny will, in effect, embed the internal review process within the initial investigation and avoid the lengthy timescales experienced in the case of Wexham School.

  I am grateful to you for raising these matters and I hope you are reassured by my response to the issues that you have raised. Please do come back to me if you would like further detail about our general approach or, indeed, Wexham School.

Christine Gilbert

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector

June 2009

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