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Ofsted risk assessment guide

Risk assessment guide to help employers, in consultation with the recognised trade unions, assess the extent of harm that may be caused by the Ofsted process and take practical steps to minimise these risks. 

Exemplar of the risk assessment form

Ofsted risk assessment form

What is a risk assessment?

It is a systematic process of identifying hazards (anything which could cause harm in the work environment), evaluating the risk of such harm arising and implementing reasonable control measures to prevent or reduce the risk. It is a legal requirement upon employers who have a duty not only to assess the risks to the health and safety of employees whilst at work but also to do the same for ‘persons not in their employment’, which includes pupils. Schools also owe a duty of care to pupils to safeguard them from harm and promote their wellbeing.

Who should undertake such a risk assessment and when should it happen?

Risk assessments are the responsibility of employers under health and safety law. In a school this could be a local authority, trust, or governing body, depending on the school’s status. Doing this properly means employers ‘having the back’ of school leaders and other staff so that nobody feels that they are bearing this burden alone.

The role of NEU reps/health and safety reps is to press for, and be consulted on, the risk assessment to make sure it is suitable and sufficient.

Such a risk assessment should be conducted and reviewed at regular intervals, not just undertaken once Ofsted has announced its visit, because the impact of an Ofsted inspection isn’t limited to the actual inspection, nor to the immediate time before or after.

Why should the Ofsted process be risk assessed?

Ofsted is a pressurised and high stakes inspection system which can cause anxiety, stress and unsustainable workload for staff, including leaders. According to the latest health and safety statistics, the education sector has higher-than-average rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Ofsted can also cause distress for pupils according to latest NEU polling, which highlights pupils feeling belittled and in tears following meetings with inspectors.

The impact of an impending Ofsted inspection and its aftermath on staff, including leaders, is well documented. NEU’s Job Quality report (2023) shows that teachers have increased job satisfaction when they believe that the tasks that they undertake are worthwhile to their pupils. Being overburdened with tasks that only serve a bureaucratic purpose leads teachers to feel stressed and undervalued as professionals. The NEU’s School leadership in current times: As school leaders see it (2023) shows that leaders feel that Ofsted pressure and preparation for inspection is the major cause of their frustration.

In some tragic cases, Ofsted has been identified as a contributory factor to suicides. In the case of Ruth Perry, the coroner found that a ‘rude and intimidating’ Ofsted inspection contributed to her suicide, a belief shared by her GP. The coroner also stated that unless action is taken there is a risk that future deaths could occur.

The title of Ofsted’s response to the coroner’s findings: ‘Prevention of Future Deaths’ is a stark reminder about the severity of the harm that can be caused by Ofsted.

How should an employer undertake an Ofsted risk assessment?

NEU suggests the five steps approach as recommended by the Health and Safety Executive

Step 1

Identify the hazards

Employers should consult staff and all their trade union representatives, including health and safety representatives, about how they feel Ofsted is affecting them, but obvious common factors are stress caused by uncertainty over when the inspection will take place, additional workload in the run up, anxiety around how the inspector might behave and how the children will react, fear around the outcome and possible consequences for the school and its staff, particularly for the head teacher. Teachers may be understandably anxious that a poor Ofsted judgement of their classroom performance could be the trigger for heightened performance scrutiny, capability and ultimately dismissal.

Step 2

Assess the risk

(who might be harmed and how and how likely is this to happen?) Once hazards have been identified, the next step is to decide:

  • who might be harmed;
  • how likely it is that someone could be harmed; and
  • how serious it could be.

This is what we mean by assessing the level of risk.

Although all staff could potentially be at risk, some may be particularly likely to be affected because they are new or inexperienced, have existing mental health conditions which could be exacerbated, are already subject to greater scrutiny via the appraisal policy or informal capability, or have just returned from sick leave.

Are measures already in place to support staff? If so, is the risk already being adequately controlled, or does more need to be done? Use our risk assessment form to help make this assessment and see below for examples of risk control measures.

Step 3

Control the risk

In respect of Ofsted, the hazard cannot be eliminated altogether because school inspection is a statutory obligation currently. This means that an employer needs to anticipate and control the risks so that harm is minimised as far as is possible. How can this be done?

  • By not operating in a constant state of Ofsted readiness in the months leading up to a likely inspection. Addressing and reducing the intense workload that ‘Ofsted readiness’ creates for staff and leaders needs to be actively discussed.
  • Mock inspections, and preparation for them, can be disruptive, cause excess workload and lead to work-related stress. There is no statutory requirement or sensible reason to use or arrange ‘mocksteds’. Neither mock inspections, nor deep dives, are required by the DfE or Ofsted. Staff should not be asked to participate in mock inspections or mock deep dives.
  • Ensure that all staff are aware, in advance of any inspection, of the standard of behaviour expected of inspectors in the Ofsted code of conduct so that problematic behaviour can be challenged, whether towards staff or pupils.
  • Make it clear that observation and appraisal protocols will not be altered, and that no member of staff will be placed on a capability procedure due to a forthcoming Ofsted inspection.
  • Ensure that all staff who have line management responsibilities are trained in mental health awareness so that they can build supportive cultures for everyone at work, including themselves, understand different mental health conditions and spot when colleagues are struggling. Offering mental health first aid training to all staff who wish to receive it will help broaden this supportive culture and demonstrate commitment to championing good mental health for all.
  • Remove references to Ofsted grading from banners at school gates and from letterheads and don’t mention it at parents’ evenings and open days. This will help diminish the standing of Ofsted in schools. Celebrating Ofsted gradings isn’t compatible with taking steps to reduce the harm caused by Ofsted. Similarly, working as an Ofsted inspector gives undeserved credibility to the organisation, so members who serve as Ofsted inspectors are urged to step down from the role.
At the start of, and during, the inspection

Remind staff about the standard of behaviour expected of inspectors in the Ofsted code of conduct so that poor behaviour towards staff or pupils can be challenged. In terms of the kind of behaviour that should be modelled, the Prevention of Future Deaths report clarifies that the inspectors will act with ‘professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect’.

  • Communicate with the inspector before they begin their inspection about any factors that might need to be taken into consideration. Factors that might be impacting on the mental health of the head teacher or any other members of staff could include large numbers of staff on sick leave, family issues, recent returns from sick leave, staff undertaking phased returns to work, schools experiencing high levels of vacancies, problems with premises, or recent bereavements among staff or pupils.Inspectors should also be reminded not to cause distress and breach safeguarding by divulging confidential SEND or pupil premium information about pupils in front of other pupils.
  • Even if the inspector doesn’t respond positively such an approach, they will at least have been ‘put on notice’. Although Ofsted is not the employer of school staff, it has duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in respect of persons other than its employees – to ‘conduct its undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.’ This includes staff and pupils.
  • Where particular pupils are showing signs of distress, ensure that staff are actively encouraged to call a halt to any interaction that is causing concern.
  • Where concerns about an ongoing inspection cannot be resolved through the lead inspector, make use of the Ofsted national helpline to raise any concerns with an Ofsted senior leader who is independent of the inspection process.
  • Request a pause to an inspection if it is necessary in order to provide additional support for a leader, because of signs of distress. (In such circumstances the inspectors must also, as set out in the Prevention of Future Deaths report, contact senior Ofsted colleagues and the person responsible for the leader’s wellbeing at work.). 
  • As set out in our advice for school leaders, if teachers are employed without a TLR, and without the necessary non-contact time. 

to undertake the responsibilities of subject leader, a senior member of staff should accompany those teachers to any meetings with Ofsted inspectors.

  • Staff should not be given additional school-generated workload or meetings while the Ofsted inspection is in progress.
In the immediate period after inspection
  • Ensure that staff have the opportunity to share concerns, fears and experiences in a comfortable and supportive environment.
  • Raise any serious complaints about the way the inspection was conducted with the inspectorate using its complaints procedure.
  • Use the NEU risk assessment form to assess how to mitigate and respond to the pressure and fear which Ofsted is known to create, before, during and after their inspections. The consequences of taking no action are likely to be ‘severe’ or ‘extremely likely’ to occur, and therefore action must be taken to remove or reduce the risk.
  • Ask staff if they feel physically and mentally fit and be alert to signs and symptoms of mental distress by staff who may not openly admit to them. Ofsted inspections have been known to trigger heart attacks as well as mental health breakdowns and so this is a particularly important period in which to prioritise wellbeing and ensure the leader and others can seek support around their mental health where required.
  • Allow time for recuperation, with reduced or no after school commitments for the following week, or whatever period is reasonable.

Employers need to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect staff from harm. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk.

Once the findings of the inspection are known
  • Staff should be told the outcome before the report is published. Both occasions could be triggers for adverse reactions.
  • If the news is not good, it is essential that employers are proactive in offering support to employees, particularly the headteacher. It is important to consider worst case scenarios and actively check on the mental health of all staff, up to and including the head teacher.

Step 4

Record the findings

Where 5 or more people are employed, employers must record significant findings from a risk assessment, including:

  • the hazards (things that may cause harm).
  • who might be harmed and how,
  • what is being done to control the risks The NEU risk assessment form can be used, but it is vital that employers do not allow this to become a paper exercise as the priority should be to act to control the risks.

Step 5

Review the controls

Measures and steps which have been introduced need to be subject to regular review to make sure they remain relevant. This should happen in consultation with union reps/health and safetyreps. Reasons to review them could include:

  • If existing measures are seen as inadequate, following an inspection.
  • If the way in which Ofsted conducts inspections has changed.
  • If the staff profile changes significantly.
  • If NEU reps/health and safety reps raise the need for a review.
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