Monday, 4 April 2016

Ofsted ‘failing to check’ equality law compliance

For almost a year, we have pressed Ofsted on the issue of inspecting schools' compliance with the Equality Act and its Regulations. The background can be read here.

Recently, one of our committee members, lawyer Debbie Sayers, was asked to contribute an article to the TES's SEN blog. Debbie chose to write a piece about equality and apparent failure of Ofsted to check compliance with the Act in accordance with the commitment in its Common Inspection Framework Document. Debbie questioned whether Ofsted were, as a matter of routine practice, checking compliance with the Act and what form this inspection was taking. She also noted Ofsted's comments in a letter to the ERA that a breach of the law would not necessarily prevent a school being graded 'good' or 'outstanding'. She argued "if Ofsted inspectors don't consider these issues, why should schools bother? Ultimately, Ofsted may find that the disconnect between its policy commitment and practice carries legal consequences."

The TES decided to produce an article instead of using the blog. The article is usually only available to TES subscribers but, with the kind permission of the TES, the article, written by Charlotte Santry, can now be reproduced here.

Two lawyers are quoted in the article. John Halford from Bindmans notes: " Schools would be breaking the law if there was no written evidence that they had complied with equalities legislation and could show that they had discussed it.... Ofsted could be challenged if it failed to demand the evidence."

Sarah Woosey, from Irwin Mitchell LLP, confirmed that "the issues raised by the ERA suggested “shortcomings” in the way that Ofsted had carried out its role in accordance with general public law principles, including acting fairly, rationally and in good faith. “There seem to be some important concerns raised here that would need thorough investigation”.

We think that it is time for Ofsted to face these issues head on and set out very clearly:

(i) how will it be checking compliance with the law. The duties imposed by the Equality Regulations are very clear. This is not just about "outcomes" but about everyday practices and procedures; and

(ii) how they will deal with schools who break the law. We believe that a failure to comply with the law should prevent a school from being considered 'good' or 'outstanding'.

We are happy to meet to discuss this with Ofsted. We believe that it is now time for Ofsted to demonstrate a genuine understanding of the law in this area and set out the concrete steps it intends to take to ensure compliance with it.

This is a more effective use of public money than becoming embroiled in legal proceedings.

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