Schools watchdog under funding pressure struggles to hit targets

25 May 18

The schools watchdog has failed to hit targets while suffering “constants cuts” to its budget for more than a decade, the National Audit Office has said. 

The full spend on inspecting the schools sector in 2017-18 has fallen in real terms by 52% compared to 1999-2000 - from £125m to £60m, the public spending watchdog highlighted in a report released yesterday

Ofsted had failed to meet its statutory target to re-inspect schools graded ‘inadequate’ in 6% (78) of cases between 2012-13 and 2016-17.

It also did not meet its statutory target to re-inspect schools within five years in 43 cases between 2012-13 and 2016-17, mainly due to it categorising 32 schools as new when they were expanded or amalgamated, the NAO publication showed.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The fact that Ofsted has been subject to constant cuts over more than a decade, and regular shifts in focus, speaks volumes.

“The department [for education] needs to be mindful that cheaper inspection is not necessarily better inspection. ”  

He added: “To demonstrate its commitment, the department needs a clear vision for school inspection and to resource it accordingly.”

Cuts have occurred while Ofsted has been handed new responsibilities, including evaluating children’s social care, early years and childcare, the public spending watchdog noted.

The NAO highlighted a high level of turnover- 19% in 2017/18 - of HM Inspectors, who cited workload pressures as a key reason for leaving.

A lack of inspectors has meant that Ofsted has “found it difficult to meet inspection targets,” according to the NAO report.

Under current legislation, schools graded as ‘outstanding’ are exempt from routine re-inspection, meaning that at August 2017 1,620 schools had not been inspected for six years or more.

Of these, 296 schools had not been inspected for ten years or more.

The NAO estimated the cost of inspection per school in 2017-18 was £7,200.

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, said: “Like much of the public sector, we are operating in a difficult financial climate.

“We have had to make tough decisions about how we prioritise resources. I am confident that Ofsted gets the balance right.”

She added: “The NAO’s conclusion that we cannot prove the value for money we represent is explicitly not the same as demonstrating that we do not provide value.”

In 2017-18, Ofsted spent £44m on inspecting state-funded schools. 

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