Elizabeth Derrington may be soft-spoken, but when she talks, Ofsted pays attention. The independent complaints adjudicator for Ofsted and Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI), Elizabeth spoke to SHA members about the inspection complaints process during a forum session at the June Council meeting.
She typically handles 20 to 25 cases a year and about half of these deal with schools. While she cannot overturn inspectors' professional judgement, she can comment on whether processes were correctly followed. For example, if she believes due consideration hasn't been given to particular information, she can tell them to "go back and do it again".
Ofsted and ALI must heed her recommendations or publish reasons for not doing so. So far not one of her recommendations, and there are three to four per case, has been rejected.
Common issues revolve around communication, or lack of it. For instance, in the pre-inspection report, a school may feel the inspector has made prejudgements or has not followed guidelines for taking the head's comments and perspective into account.
An issue that increasingly arises involves a difference in judgement between the school or college's self-evaluation and the final report, without an indication from the inspector of why.
Schools and colleges may also turn to Elizabeth because of Ofsted's or ALI's reaction to a direct complaint. For instance, they may take too long to respond (up to eight months), may fail to make contact to clarify or get more information, may decline to adjudicate because they weren't privy to a conversation or inspection, or refuse to disclose an evidence base.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, Ofsted has used the exemptions to deny access to evidence, but it is likely that the information commissioner will hear a case involving this in the near future.
Recent outcomes have been for the inspectorate to apologise, offer a complete explanation, create guidance, offer an addendum to a report, or disclose full evidence. At present though, if an inspector refuses to change a report, Ofsted has no power to insist.
Elizabeth also discussed the new complaints procedure. There will be an Ofsted helpline to resolve questions and issues as they arise. Complaints will go directly to regional offices, which does raise issues of consistency. There will also be a standard internal review process available.
While the changes will hopefully streamline the complaints process, with the uncertainty around the new inspection framework in September, Elizabeth shouldn't find herself out of a job in the near future.
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