In this article
Ofsted is the national regulator for all caring, educational, and learning establishments for children and young people in England.
It is a non-ministerial government department that reports directly to Parliament, ensuring that all children’s services across England are of a high standard so that children and young people get the best start in life. Its name stands for Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED) reflecting the many establishments that it inspects and regulates.
The services that fall under the remit of Ofsted regulation include:
- Public schools.
- Independent Schools Inspectorate.
- Teacher training providers.
- Learning and skills providers for children and young people.
- Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS).
- Children’s social care.
- Children’s services.
- Child minding.
- Day care.
For the purposes of this article, we shall be focusing on the role of Ofsted requirements in promoting equality and diversity in schools. Ofsted conducts its work by inspecting, regulating, and reporting. Its tag line describes the organisation as a “force for improvement through intelligent, responsible, and focused inspection and regulation”.
In completing its duties, Ofsted scores schools using a four-point scale consisting of outstanding, good, requires improvement, and inadequate. This is similar to the regulatory works of the Care Quality Commission or the Food Standards Agency.
The results of a school are shared publicly upon inspection and reporting, so that the public can use these scores. The scores can be used to help parents, carers, or guardians decide on an appropriate provider and setting to care for their child, and be reassured that they are receiving high quality care. More than half of parents, carers, or guardians use the scores when choosing a school for their child.
The Department of Education rely on Ofsted’s regulation to help it steer the public school system and ensure that it is serving children’s needs. Interestingly, if a school is assessed as requiring “improvement” or “inadequate”, it is not the role of Ofsted to intervene.
The scoring allows local authorities and the Department of Education to intervene with any schools that are underperforming. In its reports, Ofsted outlines the areas for improvement but does not specifically outline how schools should act to rectify these improvements. These actions are matters for the school; to make the necessary changes in time for the next Ofsted inspection.
The monitoring of a school happens periodically, and the time period depends on the outcome of the previous inspection (for new schools, Ofsted should conduct its first inspection within the school’s first three years of existence).
If a school has been scored as “outstanding” or “good”, Ofsted will inspect the establishment every four years under what is called a section 8 inspection (the school is not re-scored under a section 8 inspection if everything is as expected). The period for inspection increases if the school is underperforming and has what is called a section 5 inspection. Section 5 inspections are always scored and must take place within 30 months of the previous inspection. In exceptional circumstances, a school can request to cancel or defer its inspection, but this is rarely approved.
What is looked at in an Ofsted inspection?
Ofsted falls under the Department for Education, but completes its inspections independently. However, the Department for Education outlines the requirements for Ofsted such as its work responsibilities, whether additional inspections are required, and its allocated working budget from the HM Treasury. Changes to Ofsted requirements are often instructed at the start of a new financial year, the start of a new government, or the start of a new strategy, but they can also happen at any time.
Prior to an inspection, Ofsted may not necessarily notify schools. At most, schools will be notified 24 hours before to ensure that Ofsted can capture a true reflection of the school’s functioning. The schools do not have to prepare any of their own reports or paperwork prior to inspection, but Ofsted may ask to view records or policies as part of its observation.
On inspection, inspectors will usually be present at the school for two days, observing the environment and gathering evidence to inform their report. As well as observing, inspectors will interact with children, teachers, and parents to obtain their views, and hold discussions with the headteacher of the school.
In 2018, the National Audit Office reported that 6,079 public school inspections were completed by Ofsted. When completing its inspections, Ofsted reports on and scores many aspects about a school in five separate areas, which are:
- The overall effectiveness of the school – This is where the inspector uses all evidence gathered to determine the real-life experience of attending the school. The inspector will consider their evaluation of the four other areas prior to coming to this conclusion.
- The quality of education (teaching, learning and assessment) – Inspectors will consider the curriculum and how this is taught, and the outcomes that pupils achieve as a result of this.
- Behaviour and attitudes – This considers how teachers create a calm and positive environment for their pupils.
- Personal development – Inspectors will consider the steps that schools have taken to create opportunities for personal development in their staff and pupils.
- Leadership and management – How school leaders ensure the school has a positive impact on pupils.
Also included in the five areas listed above, are equality and diversity requirements that schools must adhere to. Equality and diversity fall under each of the areas listed above and inspectors will use the following considerations to assess the equality and diversity of a school:
- The quality of education for its disadvantaged pupils and pupils with SEND.
- Effectiveness of school policies and procedures.
- Consistent treatment of pupils by staff.
- A positive and respectful school culture.
- How safe the pupils and staff feel at the school, protected from bullying, discrimination, harassment, abuse and violence (online and offline).
- Effective safeguarding.
- Engaging families and communities in supporting pupils’ education.
- How equality and diversity is promoted across all parties.
- The effectiveness of training so that everybody can understand their role in promoting equality and diversity.
- How incidents breaching equality and diversity policy are managed and resolved.
- How equality and diversity is monitored and performance improved.
Equality and diversity in schools
Equality and diversity are crucial in society to eliminate discrimination and unfair treatment. Equality means that each person has a fair chance to opportunities no matter what their background.
Diversity means that a group should celebrate people from all backgrounds and with different characteristics, and that no one should be discriminated against because of being different. Promoting positive equality and diversity ensures that schools are inclusive of all staff and children; giving children the foundation for anti-discriminatory values to take through other areas of their life. There is a Public Sector Equality Duty introduced by the Equality Act 2010 which ensures that schools must eliminate direct and indirect discrimination and well as reduce chances of victimisation and harassment. These terms shall be explained further below.
Direct discrimination in schools
Direct discrimination occurs when a child is treated less favourably than others because of a protected characteristic (such as having a disability). It also includes a child being treated less favourably through association or perception of a protected characteristic.
Indirect discrimination in schools
Indirect discrimination is often more difficult to identify than direct discrimination, because sometimes it is not intended, and may arise due to lack of consideration and understanding of the law (or genuine error of judgement about an individual).
Harassment in schools
Harassment is any form of unwanted behaviour that is related to a protected characteristic or behaviour of a sexual nature. Its intentions violate a child’s dignity or create an environment which may be described as intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive.
Victimisation occurs when a child experiences what is referred to in law as a “detriment”, which is something that causes disadvantage, damage, harm, or loss.
Equality and diversity in schools is assessed by Ofsted in checking how the school is complying with its relevant legal duties that promote equality and diversity. These will be explained further in the next section. In equality legislation there are protected characteristics of age and gender.
However, in a school setting there are some caveats to these characteristics which mean that some discrimination is lawful and would not be assessed by Ofsted as failing to comply with regulations.
These instances are:
- If the school is a single gender school (also considering pupils who are questioning their gender or in the process of gender reassignment).
- The age of children in school admissions. Age will only be considered a protected characteristic in employment of staff.
These are the only exceptions, and if a school failed to comply with Ofsted equality and diversity regulations, a tribunal claim could be brought against it by a victim. The Equality and Human Rights Commission produces ongoing guidance about equality and diversity, and can also be contacted in instances of suspected discrimination. Ofsted could also give the school a low scoring and place it in special measures due to compliance issues. Failure to improve on equality and diversity would result in a closure.
What are the laws and regulations?
Ofsted was initially formed back in 1992, under the Education (Schools) Act 1992. This was shortly after the national school curriculum was introduced. During this time, its only remit was to regulate schools. In the year 2000 it also regulated further education colleges, nurseries, and childcare provisions, until 2007 where it included all other children’s services (as it still does today). Currently, the Equality Act 2010 is the underlying law that makes schools comply with equality and diversity procedures.
The Equality Act 2010 is an amalgamation of nine prior pieces of legislation that protect the following characteristics:
4. Sexual orientation.
5. Gender reassignment.
6. Marriage and civil partnership.
7. Pregnancy and maternity.
9. Religion and belief.
These protected characteristics are features of people’s lives upon which discrimination in the UK is now illegal.
Also introduced by the Equality Act 2010 was the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which is often referred to as the “general duty”. All public bodies in England must comply with the PSED, no matter what their function. It introduced three main functions that must be adhered to which are:
1. Eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act.
2. Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it.
3. Foster good relationships across all characteristics – between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
To show adherence to the functions above, schools must demonstrate how they have considered the PSED in their decision-making and policy making. It is good practice for schools to keep a record of their PSED consideration prior to implementing new procedures to keep as evidence as having due regard for equality and diversity. This, among other actions, can be used to show how the school is meeting Ofsted requirements and adhering to equality and diversity regulations. We will share other ways that schools can show adherence to equality and diversity in the next section.
How to meet Ofsted requirements in equality and diversity
Schools can meet the Ofsted requirements in equality and diversity by:
Keeping up to date with legislative changes
As a public body responsible for keeping children safe in education, schools must remain up to date on government legislation, policy, and guidance updates. This could include the way in which the designated senior person (who is responsible for safeguarding) supports children and responds to reported cases of abuse or discrimination.
Having the relevant policies in place
Schools should demonstrate to Ofsted their policies and procedures relating to equality and diversity such as: equality policy, bullying policy, safeguarding policy, recruitment policy, admissions policy, extenuating circumstances policy, performance policy, and equality impact assessment policy.
Schools should evidence training that is undertaken by staff and how this is reviewed to demonstrate the impact of that training. Training could include: anti-discriminatory practice, ethics and values, and dealing with disclosures.
Ensuring that extra-curricular activities are inclusive and promote advancement of equal opportunity and fostering of good relationships.
Ensuring that the curriculum is inclusive of diversity and teaches children about prejudice and bias.
Keeping records of parent surveys and child surveys to show how feedback is incorporated into school functioning.
Schools should understand the differences in their communities to ensure that their functioning promotes equality across all student backgrounds. Schools should collect data and hold records about student protected characteristics that can be shown to Ofsted.
A good demonstration of positive equality and diversity in schools are records of successful learning outcomes for all pupils from a range of backgrounds.
Ofsted requirements in schools are not designed to be burdensome, so schools should not have to complete additional work during their Ofsted inspections. There are many ways that schools can document how they are adhering to equality and diversity. The list above shows just some of the ways that schools can evidence their good practice. Equality and diversity should be routinely upheld in schools, to celebrate difference and create an inclusive culture that pupils can continue with throughout their lives; to make more positive contributions to society.