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Ofsted Inspections Get Digitalised – and Criticised

Ofsted inspectors are starting the new term armed with electronic evidence gathering (EEG) tools including tablets as the schools regulator goes digital, Ofsted’s National Director Sean Harford has revealed.

The decision to evolve from the traditional clipboard and pen comes amid a modernisation programme supported by UK consultancy Rainmaker Solutions, which has been working with Ofsted since early last year.

The move, which is expected to significantly boost back-office efficiency, comes amid sharp budgetary cuts at the watchdog that saw it heavily criticised by a Parliamentary special committee last week.

See also: Passport Office Digitalisation: £80 Million Contract Opportunity

Ofsted’s Sean Harford said in a blog: “As you probably know, inspectors currently capture evidence on handwritten forms. These forms are collated by the lead inspector and sent to our evidence collection centre, where they are scanned and stored electronically. Let’s be honest, this is all a little bit 20th century. So, in line with many other public sector organisations, we decided the time was right for Ofsted to embrace modern technology in ways that make the very best use of our resources.”

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Inspectors are instead now using Microsoft 365 and related products, including PowerApps, Flow and SharePoint, in a package curated by Rainmaker that brings together a range of new products and technologies. The shift comes as Ofsted’s budget has been slashed in half over the past eight years amid a series of austerity budgets.

See Also: Should AI be Used to Help Ofsted School Inspections?

The shift by the schools watchdog away from paper comes amid a government-wide push to modernise civil service and other departmental infrastructure.

The civil service expects to deliver nearly 100 public services digitally by 2020 and is currently delivering 40 major government transformation programmes, including a new Childcare Choices website, the ongoing Universal Credit system and a fully digital tax system, as well as the biggest courts reform programme in the world.

Mark Hastings Director of Public Sector at Rainmaker,told Computer Business Review: “We deployed a multi-disciplinary team to build on previous research and gather new information by shadowing inspectors in the field, talking to groups and individuals and assessing the technology landscape.”

back to school“That gave us a good grasp of Ofsted’s needs. Leveraging their existing investment in Microsoft 365 and related products, including PowerApps, Flow and SharePoint, within a few weeks, we were able to demonstrate the first iteration of the prototype to give users a sense of how they might use it to gather, tag, sort and collate evidence to produce reports.”

“The EEG system is both effective and efficient during inspections, allowing the sharing of real-time evidence electronically. With Ofsted becoming increasingly confident in its use, it really is revolutionising the Department’s ways of working. EEG is being used as a digital exemplar and Ofsted’s wider digital transformation will extend to the digitisation of inspection reports in the future.”

Public Accounts Criticism

The news however came the same day that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the government’s spending watchdog, came out with some harsh criticism of Ofsted’s inspector performance.

PAC members have stated in the report that: “There have been clear shortcomings in Ofsted’s performance—it has completed fewer inspections than planned, it has failed to meet its targets for how often schools should be inspected, and schools are being left for longer between inspections.”

“Ofsted now inspects good schools through just a short one-day inspection and, under legislation, outstanding schools are exempt from routine re-inspection altogether. Ofsted is therefore not providing the level of independent assurance about the quality of education that schools and parents need.”

The Public Accounts Committee did acknowledge that Ofsted’s budget has been cut significantly in recent years, with the amount it spends on the inspecting of school standards has fallen by 52 percent since the year 2000.
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