Back in June last year, when Ofsted announced the changes to inspection under the common inspection framework, we also explained how we intended to strengthen the way we deal with complaints about inspection. In September, we introduced independent scrutiny to make the process more transparent, fair and fully objective.
Bear with me as I do a quick run-through of the way we handle complaints about our work. The majority of concerns by schools, early years or further education and skills (FES) providers are raised directly at an inspection – we call this Step 1 – and in the most part these are resolved promptly by inspectors. Where a provider isn’t satisfied, they can submit a formal complaint (Step 2). An investigating officer calls the complainant directly to discuss issues ahead of a detailed investigation and a formal written complaint response. If the complainant remains unhappy, they can ask for an internal review (Step 3) where another inspector, who is independent of the inspection, looks at the case to check if the investigation process has been carried out properly.
Changes put in place in September 2015
At the start of the academic year, we introduced a new scrutiny panel as part of the Step 3 internal review process. This includes: an independent, external representative from the relevant sector (early years, schools, FES or social care); one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) specialising in that remit; and a Senior HMI. The inspector who is reviewing the case at Step 3 presents their draft findings to the panel and is tested by the panel on the robustness of the complaints handling process. The panel also confirms the final response to the complaint.
It is really important that we get the right external individuals on panels to ensure that the necessary challenge is rigorous and appropriate. Initially, we approached our regional headteacher reference groups and identified leaders from outstanding childcare or social care settings who aren’t involved in carrying out inspections for Ofsted. We had a great response with 60 external members volunteering to be part of this work.
Progress so far
To date these new panels have considered around 39 cases covering early years, schools and social care. These have ranged from reviews of the inspection judgements awarded to concerns about inspector conduct, and the whole process of the inspection itself to the publication of the report.
The panels held up to now have all broadly supported the initial findings of the Step 3 internal reviews. However, the additional scrutiny the panels have offered has led to changes in the way we respond to complainants, providing greater clarity and explanation of the outcomes and reasons for them.
Views from external members
After each panel we ask the external member for feedback. So far, the responses have confirmed the value of this additional scrutiny of our work. The following are typical:
Schools panel member: “My experience of being part of the Ofsted scrutiny panel was overwhelmingly positive. From start to finish the process was thorough, professional, respectful and considerate to all parties. Evidence, from a variety of sources, was scrutinised to an extremely high level over a lengthy period of time and all panel members’ views were sought. I was both reassured and impressed at how protocol and procedures were followed exactly and am certain that decisions were reached fairly and equitably.”
Early years panel member: “The panel is very well organised with a lot of time afforded to the process. I was quite surprised with the large number of man hours, which are already invested into the complaint before it arrives at the panel. It’s very clear to see that Ofsted are really serious about having a transparent and clear process”.
Early years panel member: “It was very informative and encouraging to see how thoroughly the panel looked at the complaint and used the expertise of all those present to examine very carefully to see if there were any grounds for the complaint. It was also encouraging to see the degree to which they wanted input from the external candidate both to examine the complaint and also to look at ways in which they might improve the overall experience for everyone.”
This feedback is encouraging, and chimes with the findings of reports from the Independent Complaints Adjudicator, that our complaints handling process is robust.
However, I’d like to stress that it’s still early days and we are considering several suggestions from the panels about improvements we could make to our complaints responses and to the panel process. This includes looking at whether our responses can be structured better and whether we can do more to convey the key message that the child is at the heart of our work. We’ll continue to consider and act on the feedback we receive from future panels and to make the best use of the valuable information provided by complainants to help us improve the quality of service we provide.
I look forward to comments.
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Comment by Debbie Hepplewhite posted on
I am extremely pleased to see this development to improve transparency of the complaints procedure. My own experience, however, under presumably the 'old' system was one where the actual complaint was not about the implementation and follow-through of Ofsted's 'policies and procedures' but about an actual Ofsted judgement made about a school.
All the conclusions at every level of the 3-step complaints procedure kept referring to investigation of the implementation of the 'policies and procedures' but I was not complaining about the implementation by the inspection team which I have no doubt was according to the official guidance! It was as if no-one was capable of responding to the actual issues and facts of the complaint and no one was able to bring any specific evidence to the table which is what I was seeking - evidence that could explain the judgement transparently or allow the evidence underpinning the judgement to be refuted. Thus, my experience was one of inadequate or inappropriate responses to the complaint where no one at any point sufficiently grasped the nettle of the very important questions of accountability and professional judgement that I raised.
The blurb on the Ofsted Adjudicator's website also stated that it was only the 'policies and procedures' that would be investigated and that, in any event, the adjudicator had no authority. Naturally, I did not waste my time further as I felt this would be a further pointless exercise.
Sean, I give this feedback in good spirit in the hope that it might be of relevance to your aim of improved and transparent accountability processes. In other words, investigations need to distinguish between investigating the protocol and procedures versus the actual 'meat' of the complaint. I support your aims wholeheartedly.
Comment by E P Macintyre posted on
I presume this is written with a significant sense of irony, complaints against inspection findings are rife, the 'new' section 8 inspection is largely seen to lack credibility and is not fit for purpose for the most part. Having been through the complaints procedure recently we were amazed that the review asked the inspection team 'challenging' questions, spoke to the head teacher on the phone but did not actually speak to the staff at school who had significant issues with the inspection and inspectors. This seems to fly in the face of natural justice, it is ripe for a judicial review and MP's are receiving complaint after complaint about ofsted from schools.
Complaints scrutiny panels appear to be mere window dressing on a deeply flawed complaints procedure - fundamentally when the regulator does not enjoy the confidence of the regulated then it is time for a fundamental rethink. ASCL and NAHT should be preparing a national scrutiny of, and consultation concerning, the work of ofsted, when it happens the findings will not be in line with this article I am certain.
Comment by Christine Thompson posted on
I am concerned that there does not seem to be an avenue which an individual can make a complaint about the way Ofsted has dealt with a complaint.
The letter I have recieved back from Oftsed does not deal with the issue I have raised about an Ofsted report (not judgement). The advice is to complain to the setting but the setting advises to complain to Oftsed - so where does this leave the individual.
Comment by Ofsted external relations posted on
Hi, This query should really be dealt with by our national complaints team. Our complaints procedure is available on GOV.UK and sets out the internal and external review processes for customers who are not happy with how a complaint has been handled.