On 29th October the House of Lords considered the Government’s Education (Exemption from School and Further Education Institutions Inspections) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 in Grand Committee. The Bishop of Durham spoke on the Regulations, highlighting the need for postponement of Ofsted and schools inspections whilst the vcovid-19 pandemic is ongoing:
The Lord Bishop of Durham [V]: My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. In welcoming warmly this new instrument to ensure that all schools are subject to inspection in the same way, we recognise the continuing value of inspections as a whole. I want to associate myself warmly with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington. However, although we welcome this instrument, we would also welcome the further postponing of Ofsted and school inspections, including the Section 48 inspections of schools with a religious designation, throughout the pandemic period.
As we all know, these are exceptional times and there are extraordinary levels of pressure for all, meaning we must adopt a unique approach, tailored to the circumstances. I note that where schools have been exempt for a long period they could well have a heightened sense of stress about the reintroduction of inspections, simply because it is an experience they have not had for a long period.
Considering the well-being of those working in schools should be of primary importance, all the more so given that head teachers and schools are already experiencing unusually high levels of pressure due to the pandemic. This unprecedented environment of stress and difficulty for teachers must be acknowledged by the Government in the choices they make. Therefore, I urge that consideration is given to further postponement of the resumption of the inspections regime. This would communicate an apposite awareness of the circumstances schools are facing and a necessary level of care from the Government by valuing the welfare of teachers, supporting them in their work and alleviating any undue stress.
Does the Minister agree, especially at this time when there has already been so much pain, confusion and stress caused by the pandemic, that our politics must be compassionate? We must look after those educating the nation’s children by adopting a supportive approach for schools. I ask the Minister how the skills and expertise of Ofsted staff will be used to support schools known to be most in need of improvement so that, when inspections recommence, those schools are at least operating satisfactorily and with a vision that they can become outstanding themselves.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Department for International Trade (Baroness Berridge) (Con):…As the right reverend Prelate said, compassion is of course at the heart of what the Government are trying to do in all their response to the global pandemic, and the supportive approach that he outlined is the nature of Ofsted’s visits. These are visits to schools; they are not inspections resulting in a grade. The school is sent a letter, which is then published and which is useful. As I said, there will be thematic reports.
On Ofsted’s role, which a number of Lords including the right reverend Prelate touched on, Ofsted’s support when no inspections were happening was invaluable. Ofsted staff were redeployed, particularly as part of react teams in the department and in local authorities. Numerous Ofsted inspectors went in and back-filled for local authority children’s services during the pandemic, so they have shown that they are flexible and have given the support that we would have wanted them to provide in relation to the pandemic.