What to expect when Ofsted receives a complaint about your school

In recent weeks I have spoken to several ASCL members who expressed concern after receiving notice from Ofsted that someone, often a parent, had complained to the inspectorate about their school. But are these isolated cases or indicative of a wider trend? Stephen Rollett, Inspections and Accountability Specialist writes for the ASCL.

Having raised this question with Ofsted’s national director for education, Sean Harford, I have set out some key points below which school leaders should keep in mind.  

There are three things school leaders need to know:

  1. Complaints to Ofsted are indeed on the rise – something that Sean Harford confirmed.

  2. Ofsted is aware of the need to treat complaints with caution and not rush to judgement.

Leaders need to be appropriately reflective but also keep a sense of perspective.

Why are complaints to Ofsted on the increase?

It’s difficult to know for sure. There may be system-wide exacerbating factors such as curriculum reform and changes to the governance of schools. However, there has been no general decline in satisfaction with schools. In fact, as of January 2018, Ofsted’s own ParentView data indicates that 87% parents would recommend their child’s school to another parent – an increase of 2% from 2016’s figure of 85%. 

It is far more likely, in my view, that the increasing number of complaints mirrors a general shift in consumer behaviour in the age of mobile technology. An article in The Guardian in 2015 reported that customer complaints to businesses via social media underwent an eight-fold increase on the previous year. It may be that parents, and others, are taking advantage of the increased opportunity to interact with schools and Ofsted via mobile devices.

Does Ofsted investigate all complaints it receives about schools?

The simple answer is no. Some complaints relate to issues for which there are other appeal mechanisms and statutory processes. Where Ofsted may be the appropriate body, inspectors have to establish whether complaints may be indicative of wider failings, so they can investigate and take a view on whether inspection is necessary. 

How should we respond if Ofsted advises a complaint has been made? 

Firstly, take the opportunity to reflect on practice, policies and procedures in your school. Although Ofsted won’t usually reveal the identity of the complainant, leaders are often aware of what may have prompted the complaint. Are your policies having the desired impact? What have you done to seek and address the views and concerns of parents or other relevant people? Is there anything you should do differently? 

Some leaders express frustration that they’ve not had a chance to set out their side of the story. However, such a view works on the assumption that Ofsted has reached a view that the complaint was legitimate. As noted above, receiving notification of a complaint will  not mean this at all. At your next inspection you should have an opportunity to present your evidence.

Read more information What to expect when Ofsted receives a complaint about your school

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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