Corporate report

Ofsted Annual Report 2018/19: HMCI Commentary

Published 21 January 2020

Applies to England

Presented to Parliament pursuant to section 121 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 21 January 2020.

Letter to Rt Hon. Gavin Williamson CBE MP

Secretary of State for Education
Sanctuary Buildings Great Smith Street London

Dear Secretary of State

The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector 2018/19

I have pleasure in presenting my Annual Report to Parliament, as required by the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

This report addresses the full range of our inspection and regulation both in education and care. It is underpinned by evidence from more than 26,700 inspections of and visits to schools, colleges and providers of social care, early years and further education and skills. I also draw on findings from our research, evaluation, data and analysis this year.

Our aim is to be a force for improvement across education and social care. As Chief Inspector, it is my priority to not only report on individual providers but to offer the national picture of education and care from Ofsted’s unique, independent view in order, unwaveringly, to support improvement and raise standards for all children and learners in England. In this report, I aim to recognise the many successes we have seen, but also to direct attention to areas in which professionals are not acting with integrity or for the benefit of children and learners.

The proportion of good and outstanding education and care providers has remained at similar levels to last year.

We can all be proud of the achievements of all the many professionals who have this year delivered a good, and often improving, standard of education and care.

I trust that this report will provide useful evidence to inform policies aimed at securing the very best futures for our children and learners.

Copies of this report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Yours sincerely

Amanda Spielman

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector

HMCI commentary

Ofsted is a force for improvement across education and social care. Our core job is to inspect, regulate and report objectively and without fear or favour. Sometimes, that means giving difficult messages to hard-working, hard-pressed professionals. Although this may provide uncomfortable moments, we are clear that the standard of education and care for children must come first. We must also continue to highlight the good and important work that we do across our remits, not just to report on individual providers but to provide a national picture of education and care quality. We are the only independent body that can provide that view across England. In doing so, we highlight where those acting with substance and integrity are getting things right as well as where standards are falling short.

The education sectors we inspect continue to present an overall positive picture in terms of quality:

  • 86% of schools are judged to be good or outstanding
  • 96% of early years (EY) providers are judged good or outstanding
  • 81% of inspected further education and skills (FES) providers are judged to be good or outstanding

This picture is partially supported by the results of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, which shows average scores for 15-year-olds in England significantly above international averages in mathematics, reading and science. In 2018, we saw a significant improvement from 2015 in mathematics and a small rise in reading.[footnote 1] However, there was no improvement in science.

We have also seen positive developments in social care. Our inspections of local authority children’s services (ILACS) showed further improvements in the sector this year: 48% of local authorities (LAs) are now judged to be good or outstanding. This compares well with 36% after their first inspections under the previous framework, the single inspection framework (SIF).

Although our regulatory, inspection and enforcement work helps to identify and act on issues and celebrate achievements, much of our impact comes from influence. Ofsted does not legislate, nor do we direct policy in education or social care. We have regulatory powers relating to children’s homes, nurseries and childcare, for example, but not in schools or FES. We investigate illegal schools, but it is the Crown’s role to bring prosecutions to court using our inspection evidence.

Some of our soft power lies in the research we publish to advance thinking and to report back on the actions and attitudes of the sectors we oversee. We speak out about the big issues that have an impact on education and social care. Of course, we also exercise great influence through our inspections and the criteria that we establish for our judgements in schools, children’s social care, EY and FES.

In 2017, we introduced the social care common inspection framework (SCCIF). This was a big step forward for us and for social care providers in terms of consistency and effectiveness. In 2018, we introduced the ILACS framework to make sure that the children’s social care inspections in LAs focus on the things that matter most to children. Finally, in 2019, it was the turn of education to have a new framework – from early years through schools and on to adult learning.

In designing and implementing this new education inspection framework (EIF), we based our criteria on hard research. We could see where and how some schools and colleges had lost sight of the real substance of education: the curriculum. We also assessed honestly the ways in which we had played a role in legitimising that change and what we could do to reverse it. In this part of this report, I explore some of the features of the EIF: curriculum, behaviour, off-rolling and teachers’ workload.

Through our work this year, we have seen good, bad and indifferent practices. It is right that we have a clear focus on substance and integrity, and on the needs and experiences of the children with the greatest and most complex needs, of any kind.

However, focusing too narrowly on children with the greatest needs can obscure the positive impact of education for all children. A good education and a strong bond with their school can not only help children learn and develop, but also build resilience and confidence. A good education helps prevent some of the problems that most exercise parents and policy-makers – from mental ill health to social exclusion, poor adult literacy to a growing prison population.

Similarly, in social care, early preventative work can remove the need for more intrusive, challenging and costly interventions at a later stage. Tightened budgets have led to an understandable focus of resources on children in need of help and protection, and on statutory services. However, a reduced focus on preventative work may in the longer term be more expensive in staff time, cost and of course distress for children. Ofsted’s oversight of the children’s social care system is an important part of our work, this year and every year.

In many of the situations that schools and social care providers struggle with – from exclusions to mental ill health – prevention is better than cure. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate when professionals do their jobs with integrity and make good decisions for young people. It is equally important to identify and tackle the occasions when poor decisions are made, or when providers are not acting with integrity or focusing on what really matters, and when children are therefore not having fulfilling childhoods or being well prepared for adult life.

Ofsted could not have a more important role in demanding substance and integrity in everything educators, social care professionals and sector leaders do.

A good education for all – our new inspection framework

In June 2019, I published a commentary on ‘the roles of inspection and accountability’.[footnote 2] I argued that education systems across the world have to balance carefully the autonomy given to providers to educate as they see fit, with the need to hold them to account for their performance. When we have autonomy without accountability, systems underperform. When the two work well together, educators – and therefore children – can thrive.

However, for accountability to work well, we need to ensure that the measures we use focus on the right things – in this case, the substance of education. When measures and processes focus narrowly on outputs such as exam results or testing, they can pull people’s focus away from the substance.

In our first phase of curriculum research back in 2017, we found that school leaders were focused on increasing performance measures, too often to the detriment of much else. Teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, off-rolling and qualification-gaming have become all too common. We do acknowledge the role that strongly data-driven accountability, including our own inspection frameworks, has played in distracting us collectively from the real substance of education, at the centre of which is the curriculum.

Primary Science

Our curriculum research this year[footnote 3] showed that, in a number of primary schools, headteachers had decided to focus on English and mathematics over other subjects, including science. This was often done explicitly to improve test results in English and mathematics. We saw that both quantity and quality of science teaching were reduced. In these schools, pupils were often given little access to science content. Little consideration was given to developing scientific concepts and skills and the vocabulary that comes with being taught science.

This research reflects the position of science in primary schools a decade after science was removed from the key stage 2 universal testing programme and from accountability measures and nearly 15 years after the direction of government policy started to limit our capacity to look at what is taught in primary schools beyond English and mathematics.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) own sample test also shows that, while in the first year of the sample-only regime, 81% of children met the expected standard in science, [footnote 4] by 2018 only 21% met the expected standard. [footnote 5]

The deprioritisation of primary science by schools that this reflects may be part of the reason why in the otherwise generally encouraging set of PISA outcomes last year, science showed a further decline. The children who took PISA science tests in 2015 and 2018 are the first who did not take the key stage 2 science test at primary school. However, it is encouraging that the proportion of pupils taking at least 2 science GCSEs has increased, from 63% in 2010 to 96% last year.

We understand the incentives that have led many primary schools to limit science teaching, and the difficulties of ensuring that teachers themselves have sufficient scientific knowledge to teach it well. However, there is enough room in the timetable to give children plenty of time for English and mathematics at the same time as building their knowledge in science. We are pleased that the DfE is planning to work with a small number of schools in the development of complete curriculum programmes for science at key stage 2.

More generally, this erosion shows what can happen when neither inspection nor testing look below the surface at subject level, and the importance of the curriculum focus in our new framework.


In December 2018, I published the third of three commentaries on the final phase of our curriculum research,[footnote 6] along with a report on assessing the quality of education through curriculum intent, implementation and impact.[footnote 7]

In providers that scored highly on the curriculum indicators used, we found that:

  • the curriculum was at least as ambitious as the national curriculum
  • subject leaders had clear roles and good subject knowledge
  • there was effective curriculum planning in all subjects
  • as many pupils as possible had access to a rich and broad curriculum
  • the school’s curriculum had sufficient depth and coverage of knowledge, including a well-thought-out model of progression and sequencing

This research was central to the development of the EIF. It showed that inspectors, leaders and teachers in all types of provider can talk together and in detail about curriculum intent and implementation. Leaders and teachers in the research were comfortable with the difference between intent and implementation. Inspectors could see differences in curriculum quality between schools and also between subject departments within schools. This enabled them to make valid assessments of the quality of curriculum. We used this to establish the new ‘quality of education’ judgement, which we then developed and tested further across all our remits, not least EY and FES, to develop a framework that works for all.

We thought deeply about the EIF throughout its development. We have shaped a framework that enables professionals to consider and discuss the education they give to all their pupils. The input and feedback from those working in education along the way have been invaluable.

We know from feedback that both the research and the intent underlying the EIF have released leaders and teachers from believing that they must teach to the test or narrow the curriculum to secure success at inspection. We know that leaders and teachers have welcomed the opportunities this has given them to think deeply and carefully about the curriculum. And we know that they have been inspired to make their curriculums truly inclusive – to be able to give every single learner the opportunity to acquire the same knowledge and learning.

Of course, we also know that, although we do not want leaders and teachers to teach to the test, attainment does still matter. It would be hard to describe a curriculum as high quality if it does not lead to substantive educational achievement. That is why we are still looking at national attainment and progress measures on inspection. However, we are making sure that we identify and report on curriculum distortions that sometimes exist under apparently strong results.

The consultation on our EIF was the largest we have ever run, involving discussions with many organisations and many wider consultation events around the country. There was extensive input from both staff and senior management from EY, schools and post-16 education, as well as from parents, governors, students and other groups, including unions, local authorities and charities. This shows the level of interest on all sides, and also the overwhelming commitment from everyone involved to making the best possible education for children and learners. In over 15,000 responses to the published consultation, we found strong support for the core proposals, as well as a vast array of constructive ideas.

The most significant changes are:

  • a new ‘quality of education’ judgement, with curriculum at its core (and the removal of the standalone ‘outcomes’ judgement)
  • to separate the ‘personal development’ and ‘behaviour and attitudes’ into two separate judgements, when they were previously combined
  • within the ‘leadership and management’ judgement, to increase our focus on teacher workload and off-rolling

Deep dives

We inspect quality of education by starting with a top-level view of the curriculum and testing this out with ‘deep dives’ into individual subjects. These include:

  • discussions with senior leaders
  • discussions with teachers
  • discussions with learners
  • discussions with curriculum leaders
  • scrutiny of learners’ work
  • visits to a connected sample of lessons

The aim is to assess the planning and sequencing of the curriculum and how this is being implemented in the classroom, workplace or setting.

We were encouraged by the richness of the educational discussion and interest shown on pilot inspections. Professionals across all sectors are clearly passionate about making sure that they build the right curriculum for their learners, and many have seized the opportunity to make more space for real curriculum thinking.

As with all our frameworks, we will be evaluating how well we are applying the EIF. The EIF is one of the main building blocks of our strategy to make Ofsted a force for improvement through intelligent, focused and responsible inspection. Responses to the new framework have been very positive so far.


A good education starts with a great curriculum and good teaching, and also helps children develop self-regulation and resilience. Good pupil behaviour is essential for teachers to be able to teach well. If classrooms are constantly disrupted, pupils’ learning is disrupted. That is why we have introduced a new ‘behaviour and attitudes’ judgement.

As well as disrupting pupils’ learning, teachers report that poor pupil behaviour is having a negative impact on their own well-being. Following our research into teacher well-being,[footnote 8] and an earlier report into behaviour in 2014,[footnote 9] we wanted to look at current school approaches to managing behaviour and began a phased research project into this.[footnote 10]

We found some good practice. For instance, staff understood how important it is that behaviour policies are implemented consistently. They also understood the importance of whole-school behaviour approaches. However, work is still needed to bring those policies to life. Good behaviour needs to be taught, along with the routines that enable it. Rewards and sanctions need to be applied consistently and fairly. Also, teachers need support. In the research into teacher well-being, teachers cited lack of support, by leaders and even by parents, in managing behaviour as one of their main sources of stress.[footnote 11]

In the new ‘behaviour and attitudes’ judgement, we focus on the factors that we know, through research and inspection evidence, contribute most strongly to pupils’ positive behaviour and attitudes, and that give them the greatest possible opportunity to achieve positive outcomes.

The new judgement is intended to give inspectors more space to look at this aspect of education in depth, including how behaviour looks from children’s perspectives. It is important that schools do not see behaviour and attitudes as collateral or secondary, but as integral to the delivery of a strong curriculum. It is vital that the next generation of teachers know the important principles of behaviour management, how to create an environment that allows them to focus on learning and how to teach pupils expectations of good behaviour and routines. For this reason, the new framework for inspecting initial teacher education will have a sharp focus on the behaviour strand.

The next step is for us to look at the existing evidence on what schools that are best at managing challenging behaviour do differently from other schools. We will follow this up with in-depth research so that we can use what we know about good practice to inform both inspectors and providers. Our new judgement and second research phase will have given us more insight by the time I next report.

Peer-on-peer abuse

In autumn 2018, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reported a 29% increase in children seeking help from Childline after peer-on-peer abuse.[footnote 12] This includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse, both in person and online. The issue has also understandably caught the attention of the media recently. It is an area that requires effective working across the system, which is too often lacking.

Peer-on-peer abuse that involves sexual assault and violence almost always needs a coordinated response from health, education, police and social care agencies. Children who develop harmful sexual behaviour have often experienced abuse and neglect themselves. As well as supporting and protecting the victim, and taking appropriate punitive and safeguarding action, professionals need to consider whether the perpetrator could be a victim of abuse too.

As an inspectorate, we do not have any role in investigating individual child safeguarding cases, including peer-on-peer abuse in schools. However, we take the protection of children very seriously. That includes making sure that everyone we regulate and inspect has effective procedures to keep children, other learners and vulnerable adults safe from abuse, neglect and exploitation.


Over the past year, we have continued to be concerned about the number of pupils leaving schools without another school to go to, and without a formal exclusion process. Twenty thousand pupils left their state-funded secondary schools between Year 10 (2017) and Year 11 (2018). There are 340 schools with exceptional levels of pupil movement, of which we have inspected around 100 this year.

It is important to understand that there are legitimate reasons for pupils moving between schools, and between mainstream schools and alternative provision or pupil referral units (PRUs). We highlighted this issue 3 years ago and, more recently, have been using our data on exceptional levels of pupil movement to:

  • prioritise which schools to inspect
  • ask schools about exceptional levels of pupil movements in school inspections
  • ask about movements of pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) inspections
  • talk to LAs and multi-academy trusts (MATs) about pupil movements in their area/in their schools, as part of our regular meetings

These questions have been useful in giving leaders an opportunity to explain valid reasons for pupil movement. They have shown that there are considerable grey areas here, and we have directly mentioned off-rolling – removal from the roll without an exclusion and in the interest of the school – in only 5 published inspection reports.

We commissioned a YouGov survey on teachers’ views of off-rolling, which showed that teachers perceive an increase in the practice. Teachers also say that:

  • vulnerable students, with SEND or other needs, are more likely to be affected
  • although schools may say that pupils are off-rolled due to behaviour, teachers believe that academic achievement is more important in the decision-making
  • both senior leadership teams and classroom teachers believe that the pressure of maintaining high performance table positions and good Ofsted ratings can trigger off-rolling
  • parents are pressured to accept off-rolling through elective home education and many teachers think that parents need more support, especially those with the least understanding of their children’s rights and/or who speak English as an additional language

Pupils leaving a school create challenges that go wider than the school system, including for children’s services and wider education services. Many children fall out of sight of any authority. The luckier ones may be placed in a good PRU or into effective alternative provision. Many of these providers are doing well for their pupils. However, when faced with a lack of high-quality supply, professionals sometimes place children in unregistered or unregulated education, which I will return to later.

Teacher workload and well-being

The final aspect of the EIF that I want to emphasise is around workload. The data-gathering culture in our schools, EY providers and colleges has grown out of all proportion to its usefulness. We needed to stop contributing to this overload. Inspectors no longer look at school-generated attainment or progress data, partly because it is simply not possible for them to validate it within the limited space of an inspection. We have also re-emphasised that we do not expect any particular form of marking or feedback. We hope that this will help end any data collection that is asked of teachers ‘for Ofsted’ and so make a meaningful contribution to reducing workload.

I recognise that any change in inspection framework does create some work, but the feedback so far tells us that people find working on curriculum plans and strategies for effective teaching of the curriculum much more rewarding than over-elaborate marking, assessment, data capture and data analysis.

This year’s survey of teacher stress, workload and well-being came at the request of teachers. I spoke at the time about how important it is that Ofsted listens.[footnote 13] We know that education professionals report relatively high rates of work-related stress, although still below the average for all professional occupations in Britain.[footnote 14] Our report looked at levels of occupational well-being, as well as positive and negative factors that influence well-being. We wanted to understand the issues and causes better to provide evidence-based recommendations for further action and to manage our own work to minimise unnecessary stress and workload for teachers.

The report’s headline findings

Long working hours in schools and colleges affect teachers’ work–life balance. Teachers reported spending less than half of their time on teaching, and almost a third on lesson planning, marking and administrative tasks. They also said that they do not have enough time for the important aspects of their role.

Staff believe that lack of resources – both human and physical – affects their ability to do their job as well as they could. Human resource shortages increase the already high workload, decrease staff’s ability to do their core job effectively and mean that they are often asked to take on additional responsibilities outside their expertise. Staff also feel hampered by a lack of physical resources such as computers or library materials. This all contributes to a sense of disempowerment, despite having the skills and knowledge needed to deliver good-quality education.

Pupils’ behaviour often has a negative effect on teachers’ well-being and teachers do not always feel supported by senior leaders or line managers in addressing poor behaviour. This is often because behaviour management is inconsistent.

Teachers also reported that Ofsted inspections can affect well-being and stress levels, especially when senior leaders expect more administrative work in preparation or if they focus too much on data and exam results.

The leadership and management judgement in the EIF reflects the extent to which leaders take into account the workload and well-being of their staff. I look forward to reporting on the outcomes in next year’s Annual Report.

Social care – making the right decisions for children

The national children’s social care system involves 151 LAs, some types of school, providers of children’s homes, fostering and adoption agencies, foster and adoptive parents and other provider types. LAs play a strategic and commissioning role in their area, but only Ofsted can join up those often-disparate bits of the system into an overall picture of whether children are being well served by the state, and where improvement needs to be made.

Under the ILACS framework, we have visited more than half of LAs this year. Twenty-seven had improved since their previous inspection. As we highlighted earlier in this report, the proportion of LAs that we have judged to be good or outstanding has improved from 36% to 48% compared with their first inspections under the previous SIF. The proportion judged as inadequate has decreased considerably, from 22% to 12%. This is heartening, but government must continue to create the conditions for good social work to thrive, so that those on the frontline can make the best possible decisions for children.

Lack of capacity in the social care workforce

The main challenges in the children’s home sector are sufficiency and capability. No single LA can fix this. What is needed is national oversight and strategic leadership – the system needs to work as a whole.

We do not have enough children’s homes in the right places across the country. Information on children’s needs is fragmented nationally and locally, and there is no central joined-up strategy or plan to meet children’s needs.

The residential workforce is low-paid and undervalued. Although progress has been made on minimum qualification requirements, there continue to be concerns about staff qualifications and training in weaker settings. A common feature of inadequate children’s homes is limited capacity of the workforce to meet the needs of the children. This is usually because workers have inadequate training, receive poor support or lack management oversight or leadership.

Unregulated providers and unregistered children’s homes

In last year’s Annual Report, we raised the issue of unregistered and unregulated social care provision, which LAs often use because of a lack of registered places. We called for the sector to step up and to better oversee currently unregulated provision, which is a stepping stone to independence for care leavers. We did, however, say that any regulation needs to be proportionate, ‘right touch’[footnote 15] and with all parts of the system working together in the best interests of children.

A number of well-intentioned initiatives, such as reducing the number of children in the criminal justice and mental health systems, have placed additional and unintended stress on the children’s home system. The sector needs sufficient and suitable provision. We know that increasing numbers of older children are in care (over 3,000 more aged over 16 in 2019 than in 2015)[footnote 16] but not enough has been done at a national level to understand the needs of children in order to be able to plan. It needs collective consideration and action.

Without purposeful planning and an injection of capacity into the system, the children’s home market will continue to grow in a way that does not necessarily meet children’s needs, either in terms of type of service or location. Government and agencies involved also need to develop a workforce strategy to increase capacity and competence.

To really improve standards and improve safeguards for children, we need:

  • a better understanding of the needs of children in care at a national level
  • investment in the sector so that there are enough places in the right areas
  • a review of the type of qualifications that will best equip the workforce to meet children’s needs
  • investment to create the right qualification systems
  • portable registration for registered managers
  • to improve the status of care workers so that more people are attracted to work and stay in the profession

Secure training centres and secure children’s homes

Unfortunately, it is occasionally necessary to incarcerate young people because they have committed serious crimes or are at risk of serious harm themselves. Children placed in secure children’s homes (SCHs) and secure training centres (STCs) continue to be the most vulnerable and at risk, with highly complex needs as well as in some cases posing a significant risk to others. However, we cannot always be sure that the right people are working in those settings or that they are clear on what they can and cannot do.

In July 2019, the government published new guidance on restraint and restrictive intervention (RRI), which covers health services, social care services and special education, but not STCs.[footnote 17] This same guidance should apply to all settings in which children are cared for and educated. It should enable staff to work positively and confidently with children and apply the least intrusive method to keep children safe.

It is important to recognise staff members’ rights to use reasonable force when in their professional judgement it is right to do so. There may be circumstances when de-escalation has failed and staff need to physically intervene to keep children safe. However, we have also seen pain-inducing techniques used to control children in STCs, along with high levels of violence. This is never appropriate.

We have also seen RRI being used by providers without them realising it as such. Providers may not recognise that door keepers who inadvertently restrict a child’s choice to leave the room could amount to RRI.

The national capacity of SCHs remains a significant concern, with approximately 20 children awaiting a placement on any given day and the same number are placed in Scottish secure units. This increases pressure to use unregulated provision. Provision is also not always in the right place, so that some children are placed a long way from their home and family.

Our concern about staff recruitment and retention is reflected more broadly in our concerns about sufficiency in the sector as a whole, and consequently the system’s ability to meet children’s needs.

Multi-agency working across the system

As above, no one local area can solve the systemic issues in children’s social care. We use inspection and research to highlight good and poor practice across the country, to help practitioners do the best for children. We have now completed five rounds of joint targeted area inspections (JTAIs) across the country with the inspectorates of health services, police, probation and youth offending services.

The subject of the JTAIs have been:

  • child sexual exploitation
  • domestic abuse
  • neglect of older children
  • child criminal exploitation
  • sexual abuse in the family environment

From this work, we have identified several areas that we continue to report are weak. These include:

  • partnership working
  • information-sharing
  • adult services
  • support for children and families
  • over-optimism of professionals

Partnership working

In all JTAIs, we have found continued weaknesses in some aspects of partnership working. Agencies in too many areas work in silos. They do not make decisions together or use each agency’s expertise to full effect.

This can mean delays in decisions for children. It can also mean children missing out entirely on services such as medical treatment, mental health support or youth services. Agencies need to be empowered to work better together.


One result of weak partnership working that we have seen time and again is that information about children’s experiences and safety is not always shared with partner agencies, even when they are making critical decisions. This results in poor decision-making that can – and has – left children at serious risk of harm. All agencies should be following the DfE’s principles of information-sharing.[footnote 18]

Adult services

In several of our JTAI deep-dives, we have reported that adult mental health and substance misuse services are not good enough at sharing information about the welfare of children whose parents they are treating. In other cases, children living with domestic abuse or neglect have suffered unduly due to delays in adult services sharing information that was necessary to protect them. These findings are particularly worrisome given the fact that we and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) highlighted this problem as long ago as 2014.

Support for children and families

Access to therapeutic intervention and support for children and families can be very poor. Although in some areas children can obtain services promptly and the services make a difference, children in other areas face significant delays in getting access to the help and support they need. When they do, it is often not provided for long enough. Many of the children we see in our inspections have multiple vulnerabilities that are complex and require specialist approaches. Unfortunately, not enough good support is available. This leaves children at risk of further harm.

Over-optimism of professionals

There is a pattern of findings that show that professionals can be over-optimistic about the ability of adults to change. In domestic abuse, for example, we highlighted poor use of written agreements with mothers, through which professionals expected them to police their homes from abusive partners. We saw the same again when we looked at child sexual abuse in the family environment. In neglect, we see some professionals being over-optimistic that parents will improve things in the home when there is no evidence to suggest that they are more capable of doing so than they were previously.

Professionals must always ensure that they have a realistic view of the risks to children and the capacity that the adults in their lives have, or lack, to effect real and lasting change.

Special educational needs and disability

Another area in which effective multi-agency working is essential is for children and young people with SEND.

Identification of SEND is one of the main complexities and drivers of change in the sector. Official identification rates for special educational needs (SEN) vary widely across Europe and are often not comparable across countries. This is linked to differing definitions of SEND and is further complicated by different categories within the SEND definition. For example, not all countries define complex needs in the same way England does.[footnote 19] This makes it almost impossible to know what the ‘right’ identification rate is.

Identification rates in England of broad special educational needs are currently increasing, but the percentage of pupils identified as having SEND and supported without statements or education, health and care (EHC) plans dropped sharply after the ‘SEND code of practice’ reform in 2014 following the revision of categories.[footnote 20] The current increase in numbers to almost 15% still leaves the percentage well below its peak of over 21% of pupils in 2010. However, pupils with statements or EHC plans have steadily increased by almost 17% since 2014.[footnote 21]

Our area SEND inspections show a decidedly mixed picture. In the most successful areas:

  • needs are identified effectively
  • leaders have a strong understanding of the effectiveness of SEND arrangements
  • co-production is working well and area leaders jointly plan, commission and provide services that are responsive to the needs of children and young people with SEND and their families[footnote 22]
  • education, health and care professionals work together in a joined-up way to improve outcomes for children with SEND

However, in too many areas, this is not yet the case.

Joint commissioning is a weakness in around a third of areas we have inspected to July 2019. We see leaders not understanding children’s education, health and care needs in enough depth and not having enough insight into children’s lived experiences. They therefore do not have enough understanding of what services to commission. This leads to considerable waste, especially where different services overlap.

System leaders across education, health and care in a local area do not always see themselves as collectively accountable for this provision. Too often, parents encounter significant fractures in statutory arrangements such as EHC assessment and planning, even in areas that seem to be working well.

In these cases, the system is not working well as a whole to make the best decisions and achieve the best outcomes for children and young people.

Our area SEND inspections and the insights we can draw from them have exposed a lack of coherence and coordination in SEND provision across local areas. We welcome the DfE’s review of SEND and we are contributing our expertise.[footnote 23] All agencies involved in this area must think carefully about why partnerships are not working well enough and about why resources are not being employed effectively.

Mental ill health

Mental ill health is the focus of our next JTAI. In 2017, NHS Digital found that one child in eight aged between five and 19 had at least one mental disorder. Emotional disorders such as anxiety or depression were the most prevalent, with 8% having an emotional disorder, and rates are on the rise.[footnote 24]

Adolescence is a tough period in children’s lives. Around half of all people who have a mental health problem at some point in their life will experience the first symptoms before they are 14 years old.[footnote 25]

Ofsted has continued to focus on risks to older children since publishing our JTAI report on neglect of older children in 2018.[footnote 26] We have now begun JTAIs on multi-agency responses to children with mental ill health.  

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

This year we submitted evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) hearing on residential schools. The inquiry heard upsetting testimony from several participants about historic failures to keep children safe, but also some encouraging testimony about improvements in recent years.

In my closing statement to the inquiry, I set out Ofsted’s view on how to improve the system further below.

Policy makers need to strike a balance between detailed regulation and guidance on the one hand and the need to ensure that this regulation is effective and capable of being implemented.

Inspection provides a level of assurance about the quality of safeguarding but, unfortunately, a minority of those working in schools and other institutions seek to cover up, conceal or ignore safeguarding issues. Ofsted needs stronger regulatory tools to address this.

We broadly support a mandatory duty on professionals to refer allegations of child sexual abuse provided that it:

  • is clear and unambiguous in its scope
  • is accompanied by high-quality guidance
  • does not conflict with existing guidance
  • is limited to those in leadership or designated positions
  • contains safeguards for those who report
  • is not regarded as a single solution to a complex issue

All residential schools should be required to notify Ofsted or the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) about allegations of abuse.

Further consideration should be given to introducing a duty of candour on schools, to strengthen the existing requirement for schools to provide any information reasonably requested by inspectorates.

There should be one quality standard for all children living away from home. This would mean that the current national minimum standards for residential special schools should be replaced by quality standards equivalent to those imposed on children’s homes, ensuring equivalent high levels of protection and care.

The independent school standards need to include specific requirements about governance. The standards should require evidence that a school’s governance structure can hold headteachers to account effectively and scrutinise school policies and practice independently.

Where Ofsted has the remit, powers and funding to regulate and inspect, there are steps we can take if we find that children are not safe. We also highlight good practice and push for improvement where we see that it is needed. What are most concerning are those areas that have no oversight, from Ofsted or anyone else.

Closing old loopholes and addressing new realities

There are areas of provision for children that we cannot see and about which we have serious concerns, owing to gaps and weaknesses in the law and current regulatory regimes.

The use of unregistered residential homes for children is one area in which the definitions of what is and is not acceptable could and should be more tightly drawn. The oversight of unregulated provision for older children leaving care should be strengthened. The weak definition of a school, which means that some schools cannot be registered and regulated because they teach a very restricted curriculum, is another loophole that is exploited by the unscrupulous to operate out of reach of legislators, law enforcers and regulators. Even when those running illegal schools have been successfully prosecuted, there are no powers to close them down and some have continued to operate. The DfE has made it clear that it is committed to strengthening the legislation for illegal schools. Ofsted welcomes these commitments and urges the DfE to make progress on them as soon as possible.

I report on that below. However, there are also other changes that would allow us to inspect and address issues that currently lie outside our purview, although not to the level that we see in illegal schools.

Increasingly, some of the decisions that affect children’s education and care are being made by central management, in large MATs, nursery operators or children’s home operators. Decisions about the curriculum, the model of care, staffing, safeguarding and behaviour policies go to the heart of what Ofsted needs to consider through inspection and regulation, but the legal framework for accountability is not keeping up with the evolution of the education and care sectors. It is not easy to form a view of quality and sustainability when we cannot talk to the person actually responsible. Also, when groups use standard models in all their provision, it is wasteful to test these out in full in every inspection.

Prosecutions of illegal schools

We have made strong progress in investigating unregistered schools and our work has led to three sets of convictions. However, legal constraints still make it too easy for illegal schools to operate in defiance of the law.

Since it was established four years ago, Ofsted’s unregistered schools taskforce has investigated over 600 suspected unregistered schools. Of these, we found reasonable cause to believe that an unregistered school may be operating in over 290 settings. We have inspected all of these. We found safeguarding or health and safety concerns in over a third of them and issued warning notices to 83 that we believe are unregistered schools.

Since these warnings, over 50% of the unregistered schools visited have changed the way that they run to comply with the law. They achieve this most commonly by reducing their hours to below 18 hours per week. Fourteen per cent have closed and 12% have registered as independent schools.

However, the legal constraints around collecting evidence make this work much more difficult than it could be. For example, we urgently need stronger powers to seize documents. We also need the government to tighten the legal definition of a school and of full-time education. Otherwise, we are investigating with one hand tied behind our backs. This is a frustration that I have had to repeat in every Annual Report I have presented, and conversations with government continue.

The lack of regulatory teeth encourages some settings to continue in wilful non-compliance. In September 2019, a court convicted the headteacher and the proprietor of Ambassadors High School, Streatham, an unregistered school with a faith ethos, of operating an illegal school.[footnote 27] Despite their conviction, the proprietors informed the presiding magistrate that they intended to continue operating. This highlights the need for greater enforcement powers to prevent those convicted from running these or other educational institutions.

We welcome the DfE’s announcement of a proposed register of children not in school.[footnote 28] The DfE hopes that this will make it easier to recognise unregistered education settings. This in turn will help identify and tackle the misuse of home education to conceal children attending unregistered schools.

Stuck schools

We have previously expressed our concern about schools that remain ‘stuck’ at inadequate or requires improvement grades for a long time.[footnote 29] There are currently over 400 of these stuck schools.

We know that although these schools may face extremely challenging circumstances, it is possible for them to break free from their cycle of underperformance, particularly with the support of a strong MAT.

We have recently published the results of our research to find out why some schools are able to sustainably improve and others are not.[footnote 30] It is clear from the evidence that whatever the context or environment these schools operate in, it is possible to turn them around. However, we found that in some cases the separate systems of inspection and support are not working together as effectively as they could.

We recognise that we have a role to play here. We are currently working with the DfE to develop proposals to help improve education for children in stuck schools. We are considering how we might seek to diagnose in more detail, and work with those responsible for school improvement more closely, to improve the quality of education that these schools are providing. Subject to funding, we will be looking to pilot our approach in a small number of schools in spring 2020, with a view to a larger number of visits in 2020/21.

Inspecting outstanding schools

Since 2012, we have been prevented by law from routinely inspecting outstanding schools. We are working closely with the DfE on this and welcome its intention to remove this exemption, and await the results of the DfE’s recently launched consultation.[footnote 31] It’s a change that is overdue – and one that we have repeatedly called for. There are currently around 3,600 schools and 150 FES providers in this category, and we do visit if our risk assessment shows them to be at risk of significant decline. This year, we inspected 10% of exempt outstanding schools. Eighty-four per cent lost their outstanding grade, while 28% dropped to requires improvement or inadequate. A high proportion is to be expected, given the risk profile, but it is nonetheless concerning that only 16% remained outstanding and that so many were less than good. Of 12 FES providers inspected, 3 dropped to requires improvement and only 2 remained outstanding.

However, more than 1,000 schools and 30 FES providers have now not been inspected for a decade. Nine hundred schools that ‘inherited’ their predecessor’s grade (for example, schools that have converted to become academies) have never been inspected. Long periods without inspection are unpopular with parents and with teachers: 85% of teachers say the exemption should not be indefinite.[footnote 32] The exemption has left us with blind spots about the quality of education, training and safeguarding in these schools and providers.

Inspecting MATs

As the trend of individual schools consolidating into MATs continues, we are getting a greater understanding of the link between decisions and activities at the MAT level, and their impact on school quality.[footnote 33] We are therefore aiming to increase the amount of work we do at MAT level.

Since December 2018, we have carried out MAT summary evaluations (MATSEs).[footnote 34] The first seven MATSEs have shown us:

  • MATs are more likely to focus on back-office functions than designing the curriculum, despite the clear value that can be added there. This is not to say that MATs should necessarily design the curriculum, but they should be making active and logical decisions as to where responsibility lies. Inspectors need to focus on understanding those decisions and their impact.[footnote 35]
  • Our early MATSEs and our research have highlighted the role of MATs in creating data workload for schools. Too many people tell us that there is no workload reduction from Ofsted’s new approach to school-collected assessment data because their MAT continues to require extensive data collection and analysis, beyond what is valuable for monitoring and improving the quality of education.
  • We have also seen examples of MATs failing to take enough action to improve performance in inadequate schools. We have highlighted this when we have seen it, but we are concerned that, due to the lack of rating from a MATSE, the MATs concerned may not take effective action based on our assessment of these problems.

Although our work tells us that MATSEs are working well and that the sector finds them useful, their scope is limited and we can only carry them out with a MAT’s permission. To address this, we are looking at a methodology refresh that we hope will enable us to give a far richer picture and take us a step further in the direction of an inspection system that reflects the way the sector operates today.

Developing the skills our economy needs

Overall, the FES sector performance has remained static this year. However, the rapid growth in new apprenticeship training providers and the planned changes to the qualification landscape through the introduction of T-levels will continue to require careful monitoring.

Apprenticeships have the potential, through training and skills development at and away from work, to be a major development channel for the skills needed for our changing economy. They can transform the lives of young people seeking their first job and allow adults to retrain and change job roles. They can enable employers to target skill shortages and drive up productivity.

However, too many training providers are not clear on the purpose of an apprenticeship. As a result, their provision can lack adequate sequencing or attention to education outside the workplace. The gap between the knowledge and skills required for our economy and future and current provision remains, in particular in relation to a lack of training for low-skilled workers.[footnote 36] The FES sector needs to work much more in tandem with the government’s Industrial Strategy.[footnote 37]

The latest update to the Industrial Strategy highlighted four grand challenges that we need to meet for our future economic prosperity:

  • artificial intelligence and data
  • ageing society
  • clean growth
  • future of mobility

However, the Industrial Strategy fails to recognise that the skills our nation needs may depend on the scale of apprenticeship delivery, particularly at higher levels.

Out of every 100 apprenticeships started in 2018/19, 15 are health apprenticeships, 12 are business management, only 6 are in construction, 5 in ICT and 5 in engineering. Business management and health accounted for almost half of all higher-level apprenticeships started in 2018/19. This does not appear to align well with our grand challenges as a country. The current mismatch in provision needs addressing urgently while discussions about Brexit and future national productivity continue. The apprenticeship funding system needs to target levy money more directly at skills shortages.

Inspecting nursery chains

EY providers that run multiple nurseries have a single registration with Ofsted, rather than a separate registration for each individual nursery. Under current legislation, the provider must apply to Ofsted to add additional nurseries to its registration, and each has to be inspected separately.

Nurseries that are part of a larger organisation are more likely to be rated as outstanding. This suggests that for the larger nursery chains, strong practice and sound improvement measures can be shared effectively across the whole chain. There may be benefits from a different inspection model that would allow individual inspections of nurseries to be brought together and the outstanding features across the whole chain to be analysed.

The changing picture of children’s home ownership

Over the years, the children’s homes sector has continued to change and develop. A sector that was historically mostly LAs and voluntary sector organisations is now 75% privately owned. Forty-nine organisations now own half of all private or voluntary run homes, an increase in their market share for the third consecutive year.

It is right that we continue to inspect children’s homes at the level of the individual home. This is where some of our most vulnerable children live and we know that things can change rapidly if poor decisions are made about who lives there or if the manager leaves. Children’s homes are not like nursery chains. They are not part of a ‘brand’ and sometimes it is not even clear that homes or groups of homes are owned by the same organisation. This can leave us not knowing how companies link together or indeed who is at the top of the company ‘tree’.

Legislation has not kept pace with this changing sector. As a regulator, we can only use our regulatory powers on individual homes. It is a gap that we have no power to look at the wider organisation. No-one has the responsibility for overseeing this market and making sure that it is a stable market that is growing and developing for the best interests of children.

To improve the system, we need:

  • a nationally agreed framework that sets out the expectations for supported living of care leavers and children in care
  • regulation that is ‘right touch’ and that minimises unintended consequences
  • increased capacity in Ofsted to deal with the unregistered social care provision that we are finding
  • more joined-up working across government and clear leadership in planning provision that meets children’s needs

We regulate and inspect nearly 80,000 EY, childcare and care services for children. The EY and care sectors have changed and developed significantly since we became their regulator. However, legislation has not always kept pace with these changes. This context, and the recommendations put forward by the Regulatory Futures Review in 2017, [footnote 38] has prompted us to review the purposes of the regulation that we operate and the role that Ofsted plays.

We want to maximise our impact as a regulator, while achieving ‘right-touch regulation’. The review will also take forward any lessons that come from the IICSA inquiries. We are engaging with the DfE and the sector about possible changes, such as a better regulatory system for supported lodgings.

New research and evaluation programme

We are also continuing our programme of evaluation and research to ensure that we continue to base our own work on best evidence, evaluate our own quality and impact, and inform the education and care sectors.

Future work includes:

  • an evaluation of the EIF
  • a new programme of thematic subject reviews, in which we will be looking at national curriculum subjects
  • evaluation of inspection of subcontractors in FES
  • our ‘good decisions’ research programme in social care, which will look at decision-making at different points in children and young people’s lives
  • a research programme on child sexual abuse within the family
  • research on how the three prime areas of learning (personal, social and emotional development; communication and language; and physical development) are delivered in the EY sector

We remain committed to transparency in our research and evaluation work and will publish reports or commentaries on all projects.


Through all our work, we are uniquely able to look across the system and take an independent view of how the country educates and protects children and young people, and what needs to be better.

The best possible education and care can only be realised when all leaders consistently act with integrity, take evidence-informed approaches and create the environment across all services in which great practice can thrive. We see good practice, in which children’s social care departments, schools, health agencies, police, families and others take complicated situations and work through them together to ensure that children are safe, cared for and well educated.

We can see from our inspection outcomes that the vast majority of people in education and social care make the right decisions for children day after day, week after week, month after month. For most children, the systems in place work well. Where improvements are needed, we say so.

In the areas in which Ofsted works, we see these decisions being made. We see schools’ and colleges’ decisions about the curriculum, teaching, assessment, behaviour policies and personal development. We can see whether all partners in an area are supporting children with SEND effectively. We can see how LAs are making life-changing decisions about vulnerable children and doing purposeful work with children and families to make positive changes.

We also see where things are not working as they should: when the wrong decisions are made for children. We have reported on schools that are off-rolling vulnerable pupils to gain exam results or entering pupils for sham qualifications. We have seen schools and colleges narrow their curriculum and teach to the test. We gave evidence to IICSA on the limitations of inspection in settings in which leaders do not act with integrity. We have highlighted for LAs, police, schools, youth offending services and probation services areas in which they could improve outcomes for children suffering neglect or criminal exploitation or at risk from knife crime.

Most concerning, though, are the settings we cannot see. Our blindspots are caused by weak legislation, weak powers and weak enforcement. These areas, like unregistered children’s homes, unregulated provision for care leavers and unregistered and illegal schools, are where children are potentially coming to significant harm as a result of poor commissioning decisions, ill-informed parental choices or simply unsafe and unsuitable conditions for children.

There are also settings that we inspect but that we are unable to look closely at where important decisions are being made. For instance, we inspect schools but the important decisions about finance, curriculum, behaviour or exclusions may be taken by a MAT. We inspect individual nurseries, but actually they may be part of a large chain. We cannot always know who the owners of children’s homes are. We are blind to the impact that has on each setting.

In the coming year, we will look harder at some of these areas to see if we can do things differently to improve outcomes for children.

  1. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 

  2. HMCI commentary: the roles of inspection and autonomy 

  3. Intention and substance: primary school science curriculum research 

  4. Key stage 2 science sample test results published, Department for Education (coalition) 

  5. Key stage 2 science sampling 2018: methodology note and outcomes, Standards and Testing Agency 

  6. Commentary on curriculum research - phase 3 

  7. An investigation into how to assess the quality of education through curriculum intent, implementation and impact

  8. Summary and recommendations: teacher well-being research report 

  9. Below the radar: low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms 

  10. HMCI commentary: managing behaviour research 

  11. Teacher well-being at work in schools and further education providers 

  12. 29% rise in counselling sessions on peer sexual abuse, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children 

  13. ‘Amanda Spielman at the ‘Wonder Years’ curriculum conference’ 

  14. Health and Safety Executive 

  15. Professional Standards Authority 

  16. Children looked after in England including adoption: 2018 to 2019 – national statistics, Department for Education 

  17. Reducing the need for restraint and restrictive intervention, Department for Education and Department of Health and Social Care 

  18. Information sharing: advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services, Department for Education 

  19. European Agency statistics on inclusive education: 2016 dataset cross-country report, European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. The 2016 dataset includes data from participating countries from 2014/15 academic year. 

  20. The SEND code of practice, Department for Education and Department of Health and Social Care 

  21. Special educational needs in England: January 2019, Department for Education (main text and table 1). Co-production is a way of working where children and young people, families and those that provide the services work together to create a decision or a service that works for them all. 

  22. Major review into support for children with special educational needs, Department for Education, September 2019; . 

  23. Mental health of children and young people in England, NHS Digital 

  24. Mental health of children and young people in England, NHS Digital; 

  25. Review of children and young people’s mental health services: phase one, Care Quality Commission 

  26. Growing up neglected: a multi-agency response to older children, Ofsted, Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services 

  27. Two convicted of running illegal school in London 

  28. New register to help all children get the education they deserve, Department for Education 

  29. Further information on stuck schools is contained within part 2 of this report. 

  30. Fight or flight? How ‘stuck’ schools are overcoming isolation 

  31. Ofsted inspection: removal of the outstanding exemption, Department for Education 

  32. Annual teachers survey 2019: teachers’ awareness and perceptions of Ofsted 

  33. Multi-academy trusts: benefits, challenges and functions 

  34. Multi-academy trust: summary evaluations 

  35. Multi-academy trusts: benefits, challenges and functions 

  36. Adults skills gap, Social Mobility Commission 

  37. The UK’s industrial strategy, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy 

  38. Regulatory Futures Review, Cabinet Office