Trojan Horse row: can the schools inspector already conduct 'no-notice' checks?

10 June 2014

Sir Michael Wilshaw: "[Unannounced inspections] were something I called for two years ago... [but] we pulled back on that."
Jeremy Paxman: "At [Michael Gove's] say so?"
Sir Michael Wilshaw: "Yes."
BBC Newsnight, 9 June 2014

"Simply untrue that Gove blocked no notice inspection." Sam Freedman, Twitter

The government's response to the allegations of 'Islamic extremism' in Birmingham schools has been to announce plans to extend Ofsted's powers to conduct inspections without prior notice being given to the school.

They were the same powers that Sir Michael said in an interview last night he had pushed for two years ago but which were dropped following discussions with Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Some have pointed out in response to the interview that Ofsted already has the power to conduct 'no-notice' inspections, and while this is correct, it doesn't necessarily mean that Sir Michael's claim that his desire to see this power extended was blocked are "untrue".

Ofsted can currently conduct 'no-notice' inspections, but this usually occurs in limited circumstances

Inspection visits by Ofsted usually fall into one of two categories. Ofsted told us that the default notice period for a school inspected under Section 5 of the Education Act 2005 is half a day: schools are usually told that an inspector will call the afternoon before she does.

Where Ofsted has concerns about a school's ongoing performance it can also conduct emergency monitoring inspections under Section 8 of the Education Act, giving the school no notice at all of the visit. As some have pointed out on Twitter, this power to inspect at no-notice theoretically extends to any school. Ofsted itself says that Sir Michael has "the right to carry out completely unannounced inspections of any school at any time at his discretion."

However this doesn't mean that the proposals put forward by the Education Secretary this week aren't new. As the press release announcing the government's response to the Trojan Horse row states:

"Only schools already rated inadequate for behaviour routinely face unannounced inspections. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector also has the power to order no notice inspection if he feels there is justification to do so, but this is done rarely and normally only in cases of serious child safeguarding concerns... Sir Michael Wilshaw will now examine the practicalities of moving to a position where all schools know they may face an unannounced inspection."

In other words, the government is exploring the possibility of making 'no-notice' inspections the default for all schools, regardless of whether or not Ofsted had previously had concerns about their performance.

Whether or not the Education Secretary did block this measure being introduced in 2012 as Sir Michael Wilshaw claimed in his Newsnight interview is not something that is currently a matter of public record, so only the two men themselves know the answer.

Update (10 June 2014)

The Telegraph and others have reported that Sir Michael has 'backtacked' on his claim that the Education Secretary blocked the move two years ago. We've spoken to Ofsted who said that a statement had been issued, and promised to send Full Fact a copy. We will update once we've seen this statement.

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