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Covid-19: Education Secretary announces suspension of Ofsted inspections

Gavin Williamson’s decision follows pressure from a number of teachers’ unions.

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Gavin Williamson

Ofsted inspections are being halted to “remove unnecessary burdens” on schools during the coronavirus pandemic, the Education Secretary has announced.

Gavin Williamson said he instructed Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman to suspend all routine checks on schools, further education, early years and children’s social care providers.

Tuesday’s decision follows pressure from a number of teachers’ unions, including the National Education Union, which said it was “unacceptable” for inspections to be going ahead.

Urgent inspections where specific concerns have been raised will still be carried out, according to Ofsted.

In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Williamson said: “I know that staff shortages are presenting teachers and headteachers with great challenges and I want to say how deeply grateful I am for their civic and community leadership.

“I also want to remove unnecessary burdens to help schools to cope.

“Given the pressures on our school leaders and their staff, it is only right that Ofsted temporarily suspends its routine inspection timetable.

“This will help schools to focus on their core functions at an already very difficult time.

“I’ve therefore instructed the Chief Inspector, who is in complete agreement, to suspend all routine inspections.”

Ms Spielman said she was “grateful” for the Education Secretary’s permission to suspend routine checks.

“It’s clearly the right thing to do when teachers and social workers are under pressure as a result of the coronavirus outbreak,” she said.

“We all need to support them in their work.

“We will monitor what’s happening across education and social care and we will reserve the right to inspect where we believe the safety of children could be at risk, or we have other serious concerns.”

She added they will continue to register and regulate social care providers, childminders and nurseries, “so that these vital services can continue to support children and their families”.

The suspension was welcomed by Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, who held talks with Mr Williamson on Monday afternoon.

He said: “We now expect the same to be said of all performance tables and other accountability measures.

“The Government has placed a significant responsibility on schools to stay open in order to keep other areas of society functioning, at least in the short term.

“It would be entirely wrong to hold schools to account in the normal way when the situation we are facing is far from normal.

“The Government must move quickly now to provide clarity for the dedicated public servants working in education about what the state expects them to do. NAHT is in daily contact with the DfE to bring this about.”

On Monday, the Welsh education inspectorate announced that it was suspending inspections until further notice.

Estyn’s chief inspector Meilyr Rowlands said halting routine checks would allow staff to “focus fully” on the wellbeing of their pupils, staff and families.

School inspections have been halted in Scotland until the Easter break to allow teachers to focus on their staff and students, according to a spokesman for Education Scotland.

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