While it is welcome that Government has halted Ofsted inspections planned for next week, NASUWT and NEU have written an open letter to the Education Secretary today calling on him to 'pause Ofsted' until after the February half term. This is to allow schools and colleges the time they need to deal with the anticipated fallout of the Omicron variant over the winter period and prepare their pupils for the spring and summer terms.
Nadhim Zahawi should recognise the exhaustion and stress faced by teachers and leaders who have worked tirelessly to keep education going throughout the pandemic.
Schools and colleges are continuing to face disruption and challenges due to high levels of Covid infection.
More than 200,000 pupils were absent for covid-related reasons on 25 November and since then infection rates among school-age children have risen further. As Omicron spreads this disruption is likely to increase rapidly.
At this intense moment where education recovery is so vital for our nation's young people, and where Covid is leading to such disruption, the return of Ofsted inspections is an unnecessary extra burden.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"School staff are working so hard to keep education for our young people going. It is stressful and many are facing burnout. Now is simply not the right time to return to Ofsted inspections, either before Christmas – as the Government rightly recognises – or in the weeks following. Of course, schools must be accountable but on the current evidence inspections show little or no concession to the disruption of Covid. This is foolish in the extreme and is leading to many good staff leaving or considering their position. Ofsted has no useful contribution to make to schools in this current situation. They need to get out of the way and let schools and colleges concentrate on their essential work. We know that many heads are refusing to work as inspectors at the moment because of this stress - and we congratulate them in taking that stance."
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said:
"The pressures on schools and their staff currently remain exceptional and extreme. It is clear that the resumption of routine inspection has, in many cases, resulted in significant additional workload for teachers and school leaders and has distracted them from focusing on addressing the impacts of the pandemic on their learning and wider wellbeing. Pausing inspection will not only address some of these pressures but would also allow for a plan to be developed to resume inspection in a way that takes account of these extraordinary circumstances and has the support and confidence of the profession".
The full text of the open letter is as follows:
Dear Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi,
CC: Amanda Spielman
Covid-19 cases are once again on the rise, causing huge disruption in schools and colleges. Education staff are battling high pupil absence, staff illness, a sharp rise in the mental ill health of our children and young people, as well as the usual pressures that come with this part of the academic term – all while continuing to deliver high quality, face-to-face teaching and learning. School staff need to be provided with as much support as possible to allow them to keep going what they do so well – supporting the learning and wellbeing of our children and young people.
We are, therefore, writing to thank you for acknowledging this enormous pressure and cancelling Ofsted inspections for the final week of term. We are also writing to urge you to pause the resumption of routine Ofsted inspections in England until after the February half term, to allow schools and colleges the time they need to deal with the anticipated fallout of the Omicron variant over the winter period and prepare their pupils for the spring and summer terms.
Given the extraordinary circumstances and pressures schools have faced during the pandemic, they have, entirely appropriately, sought to concentrate their attention and resources on ensuring the continuity of education and have done so in the face of unrelenting pressure. The suspension of inspection during the height of the pandemic provided important support to schools in this respect.
Our members have told us that the resumption of routine inspection from September has distracted many schools from their ongoing efforts to meet the needs of children and young people. Schools have, in too many cases, felt under pressure to divert their time towards preparing for inspection rather than continuing to prioritise support for pupils’ learning. This places an additional and unnecessary burden on teaching and support staff, as well as school leaders, during a time in which education professionals are already overstretched.
Additionally, we are concerned that in recent weeks reasonable requests for the deferral of inspections, particularly those relating to staff shortages, have not been considered sympathetically in all cases.
School leaders only request deferrals in extreme circumstances and in these challenging times the inspectorate must take into account the unique context schools and colleges are currently operating in. Pausing inspections until after the February half term would reduce in the short term some of the pressures that schools and their staff are experiencing currently and would allow them to continue to focus on managing the pressures they are continuing to experience during this time of national emergency.
Pausing Ofsted inspections until this extraordinary pressure abates is the right thing to do. It will allow our teachers, leaders and support staff to continue focusing on their most important role in the New Year – teaching children.
Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretaries, National Education Union
Dr. Patrick Roach, general secretary, NASUWT