Amanda Spielman, the head of the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), said it did not have powers to investigate individual allegations, which had potentially created an “unsatisfied need in the system”.
In March, the Government announced that Ofsted would carry out an inquiry into sex abuse among school pupils, after thousands of allegations from students were posted on the Everyone’s Invited website.
The review is looking at whether schools have effective safeguarding measures in place as well as mechanisms to deal with allegations quickly and effectively.
It is also examining how well school are teaching the new relationships, sex and health education curriculum, which covers sexual abuse, cyber-bullying and pornography and consent.
Another strand of the review is looking at whether current inspections – including those by Ofsted and by the Independent Schools Inspectorate – are robust enough on the issue of sexual abuse.
While Ofsted issues judgement on schools’ safeguarding, Ms Spielman said it did not investigate what had happened in specific cases.
“We don’t investigate individual cases and report on handling of specific cases,” she said.
“We look at the wider safeguarding picture, including instances that have happened to get a holistic picture of where a school is now – they’re slightly different things,” she said.
She went on: “I’m conscious that in the education system, there isn’t a sort of ombudsman who looks at school handling of individual cases for example, so it may be that there’s an unsatisfied need in the system.”
Asked whether the system would benefit from such an ombudsman, she said: “I don’t know yet.”
However, she said the NHS ‘National Guardian’ – an official who conducts case reviews of organisations alleged to have mishandled whistleblowing incidents – had been “drawn” to her attention.
“It’s a slightly different thing, but I was reflecting they have a mandate for a job that I don’t think has a counterpart in the education system.”
She said the review had just completed its fieldwork in schools, so Ofsted would now be considering what recommendations to make.
In recent years, there have been occasions where Ofsted have been accused of giving a clean bill of health to schools which have presided over major safeguarding failure – including cases where schools failed to adequately protect rape victims.
This week, the Labour MP Jess Phillips said that there was “an enormous conflict of interest” in Ofsted carrying out the current review, adding: “It is just another example of marking your own homework.”
Ms Spielman defended Ofsted’s record on safeguarding inspections. “Often the issue is that the safeguarding incident has happened some time ago,” she said. “Sometimes you go along and the management has changed completely in between and the systems have been overhauled.”