England’s schools inspectorate, Ofsted, has been overwhelmed by more than 10,000 emails from parents, mostly singing the praises of their children’s schools, after Gavin Williamson urged them to complain if they were not satisfied with the remote education on offer.
The education secretary’s comments last week sparked outrage among teachers and parents, but there are now fears the growing deluge of complimentary emails could result in genuine safeguarding concerns being delayed or missed by overstretched staff.
Ofsted’s call centre team are sorting through emails to identify genuine complaints or concerns, but the vast majority are believed to be from parents praising their child’s school during lockdown in defiance of Williamson’s advice.
Addressing MPs in the Commons last week following the start of the third national lockdown and the closure of schools to all but vulnerable pupils and children of key workers, Williamson said Ofsted would enforce legal requirements for state schools to provide high-quality remote education.
“We expect schools to provide between three and five hours teaching a day, depending on the child’s age. If parents feel their child’s school is not providing suitable remote education they should first raise their concerns with the teacher or headteacher and, failing that, report the matter to Ofsted.”
There have been concerns about patchy remote provision since the pandemic began last year, but Richard Brown, headteacher of the Urswick school in Hackney, north-east London spoke for many in the sector when he said of Williamson’s comments: “What an absolute kick in the teeth.”
By Friday, according to Schools Week around 5,000 emails had been sent to Ofsted’s general enquiries inbox, which normally deals with safeguarding concerns, questions about how to register as a child minder and complaints about schools. By Monday that had more than doubled and additional staff may have to be brought in to deal with the backlog. Ofsted declined to comment.
It coincided with new Ofsted guidance on remote learning, which advised that live online lessons – frequently held up as the gold standard during lockdown – were not always the best way to deliver remote education and that sometimes text books and worksheets might be more effective.
The guidance also found that pupils using a laptop tended to spend longer accessing a remote lesson than those using a phone or tablet.
“This means that we need to think carefully about whether pupils have access to the right kind of device when we’re using digital remote education. If they don’t, and we can’t provide enough devices, it might be better to consider non-digital approaches as well,” said Daniel Muijs, Ofsted’s deputy director, research and evaluation.
Ofsted had been due to resume on-site monitoring inspections of schools currently judged inadequate or requiring improvement from next week, but on Tuesday it announced it had changed its mind “in light of a change in emphasis from the government” and all planned inspection activity “will be undertaken remotely until after the February half term”.