Select Committee on Education and Employment First Special Report


Fourth Report: The Work of OFSTED (HC 62-I)

Fourth Report:  The Work of OFSTED (HC 62-I)
Published: 14 June 1999
Government Reply:  Fifth Special Report, Session

 1998-99 (HC 791)


Published: 29 July 1999

Recommendation

Government Response

Further Government Action

1. We recognise the considerable efforts made by schools, by the wider education community and by the Government to raise pupils' achievements. Throughout our inquiry we have considered how best OFSTED's work can and should contribute to their efforts. At the outset we wish to state clearly and unambiguously the principle which provided the starting point for our consideration of the many issues which have arisen during our inquiry: we support thorough, independent, external inspection of education services in England.

The Government welcomes the Select Committee's helpful review of the work of OFSTED and in particular their endorsement of the principle of external inspection of education services. Inspection has a central place in the Government's strategy for raising standards and we believe that the independence of inspectors is an important safeguard for pupils, parents and the community. We have worked with HM Chief Inspector since May 1997 to improve the quality, consistency and value for money of OFSTED and the inspections for which he is responsible. The Committee's report will help to focus our minds on taking that work further.

In line with the Government's policy of intervention in inverse proportion to success, the new differential school inspection regime is now in place. The new Framework for inspection and associated guidance handbooks took effect from January 2000 and incorporate important developments including the identification of under-achieving schools, the reduction in the period of notice given to schools prior to inspection and the introduction of short inspections for the most successful schools.

The Government is committed to ongoing development of the inspection process and continues to work with OFSTED to refine procedures and improve quality, consistency and value for money. For example, through extending OFSTED's remit and other measures under the Learning and Skills Act 2000 we will ensure a greater coherence and rigour in the inspection of education and training provision for 16-19 year olds. There will be an increased focus on the inspection of sixth forms, and statutory arrangements for area wide inspections examining the accessibility and suitability of provision in specific localities.


2. The Inspection Framework was widely praised in evidence to our inquiry as a valuable tool for school development and self-evaluation.

The Government welcomes the Select Committee's endorsement of OFSTED's Framework for the inspection of schools. We understand the Committee's concerns relating to special schools.

 

3. A rigorous and appropriate approach is needed to the inspection of specials schools. The Inspection Framework needs to be applied in a way which takes account of the genuinely special nature of special education and the varying aims of different kinds of special schools and their aspirations for different children at the school. Given the importance of this issue, we recommend that OFSTED keep under review the way in which the Framework is used in the inspection of special schools. We also recommend that the DfEE keep under review the way the National Curriculum is applied in special schools.

As above (see recommendation 2)

 

4. We look to OFSTED to monitor closely the composition of the teams that inspect special schools to determine the extent to which their experience reflects the particular challenges which special schools face.

The Government recognises the need for the expertise and experience of inspectors to be well-matched to the provision to be inspected. This is of particular importance in special schools, but is also relevant to units and specialist provision within mainstream schooling. OFSTED has procedures in place to ensure that this need is reflected in the composition of inspection teams.

 

 5. We recommend that the Inspection Framework be amended specifically to take account of the effect of high mobility on school performance. Inspection reports should be required to specify the level of pupil mobility, and inspection teams should evaluate the effect that this degree of mobility has on the school's attainment in relation to national standards or expectations. We also recommend that the DfEE establish mechanisms to record annually levels of pupil mobility at school level.

The Department is developing a common basic dataset (CBDS) which will include details of individual pupils will be collected for the first time in January 2000 through the Annual Schools' Census (Form 7). To prepare for that, each pupil will be given a unique pupil number (UPN) from September 1999. Collection of Form 7 data will enable the Department to track pupil mobility. We expect that information about pupil mobility will thereafter be available to inspectors and be included in the PANDA and PICS reports issued to schools by OFSTED. We will also be examining how this information can assist with the development of value-added measures.

OFSTED's revised Framework for Inspection, will require inspectors to collect data on the level of pupil mobility and to comment where appropriate. The DfEE has commissioned research about pupil mobility in order to build on our existing knowledge and to inform future work.


The Common Basic Data Set (CBDS) and the individualised pupil element of Form 7 will be in operation from January 2002 with the first estimates of the impact of pupil mobility following the 2003 Form 7. The final report of the Department's commissioned research about pupil mobility will be published shortly.

 6. We agree with those witnesses who told us that, at present, there is little danger that schools will use the Inspection Framework in such a way that it has become an 'orthodoxy'. But the DfEE should not be complacent. We recommend that the DfEE keeps under review the ways in which schools use the Inspection Framework.

The Government is pleased to note that evidence to the Committee has confirmed that the Framework has not led to the development of an "orthodoxy" amongst schools and will look to local education authorities to ensure that this does not happen. The Standards and Effectiveness Unit will take account of this concern in its outreach work with LEAs and schools.

 

 7. We are anxious to ensure that the quality of every inspection team is high, and we have some sympathy with the concerns of inspection contractors who argued that the current process did not provide incentives for contractors to put in place high-quality training, development and quality assurance systems.

8. Our interest, of course, is not in the financial well-being of contracting organisations but in the quality of inspection provided to schools. We therefore take these concerns seriously as the contracting process has a significant impact on the quality of inspection team which is assembled by the successful contractor. The overall aim is to reach the highest level of quality which can be provided for by the system. We believe it is important that the duty placed on the Chief Inspector to promote efficiency of inspection by competition should be clarified to ensure the emphasis on quality is central to the duties of HM Chief Inspector. We would expect changes to the contracting process to flow from such a clarification, particularly with regard to the number of contracts awarded to contractors judged to be in OFSTED's highest QAS category.


The Government believes that safeguarding and, wherever possible, improving the quality of school inspections is essential. Further work in this area is among the priorities for action by OFSTED which were agreed by the Secretary of State and HM Chief Inspector in September 1998. The contracting system is designed to take full account of HM Chief Inspector's statutory responsibilities relating to the standards of inspections.

 

9. We agree with HM Chief Inspector that it is not desirable to reduce the number of inspection contractors. Nevertheless we expect OFSTED to monitor closely the effects that competition for inspection contracts has on the abilities for contractors to invest in quality assurance measures such as inspectors' training and development opportunities. The results of such monitoring should be made public.

As above (see recommendation 7)

 

10. The issue of inspectors' pay is complex and we do not feel competent to judge the technical aspects of the proposals put to us to establish a minimum daily rate. It is also difficult—as in the case of teaching—to draw clear links between quality of inspection and rates of pay. But we recognise the strength of feeling on this issue among inspectors, which are at odds with the confident assertion by HM Chief Inspector that rates of pay are not threatening the quality of inspections provided to schools. Our interest is in ensuring that experienced, high quality inspectors remain within the OFSTED system. Therefore we look to OFSTED, as a matter of urgency, to undertake a study into the comparative rates of pay of their Registered, Team and Lay Inspectors, compared to other education professionals working in either inside or outside schools.

As above (see recommendation 7)

 

11. We do not wish to see remuneration declining to the point where experienced professionals decide not to train as inspectors, or decide to leave the inspectorate, because it is financially not worthwhile. Nor would we wish to see a situation where only those inspectors with other means of support (for example a pension) can afford to undertake inspection work.

As above (see recommendation 7)

 

12. We recommend that OFSTED implement systems to provide inspection contractors with sufficient information on the work of Registered Inspectors to ensure that individual do not conduct more inspections each term than is consistent with high quality.

As above (see recommendation 7)

 

13. On the balance of evidence provided to us, we are reassured that procedures for assembling inspection teams are improving. We also note that the move to a six-year inspection cycle will reduce the pressure on contractors and inspectors to meet the tight deadlines imposed by the initial requirement for all schools to be inspected within four years. This, we believe, will allow greater care in ensuring the skills and experience of inspectors will be better matched to the circumstances of the school they are inspecting. To allow easier monitoring of whether this is in fact the case, we recommend that OFSTED publish information on the match between inspection teams' experience and the context of the schools they inspect.

As above (see recommendation 7)

 

14. We do not agree with those witnesses who argued against the inclusion of Lay Inspectors in inspection teams, and against Lay Inspectors leading inspection teams. We believe that Lay Inspectors bring a valuable perspective to the work of inspection teams and they should be involved as far as possible in the full range of the inspection. In particular, Lay Inspectors can often bring the parent's perspective to the inspection. A key question which Lay Inspectors can ask is: Is this a school which I would wish to send my child to? We also believe that it would be valuable for the Lay Inspectors to be a school governor or to have had experience as a governor.

The Government welcomes the Committee's confirmation of the valuable input which lay inspectors make to school inspections. There are around 1,300 lay inspectors at present, bringing a wide range of experience to school inspections. OFSTED has opened a route for a small number of experienced lay inspectors with appropriate skills to progress to Registered Inspector status, and thereby become eligible to lead inspection teams, and we note the Committee's support for this initiative. OFSTED's routine monitoring of samples of inspections and reports has shown that the work of Registered Inspectors who had progressed from lay inspector status has fully met the required standard.

The definition of lay inspector in the School Inspections Act specifically includes those with experience of schools "as a governor or in any other voluntary capacity" and the Government believes that such experience would be likely to help a lay inspector to make a focused and appropriate contribution to the work of an inspection team. OFSTED are not currently seeking to recruit more lay inspectors but will take account of the Committee's comments when they next do so.


 

15. We agree with those witnesses who highlighted the benefits of serving teachers undertaking OFSTED inspections. Therefore we recommend increasing the number of teachers who train as OFSTED inspectors and who conduct occasional inspections. We recommend that the DfEE, local authorities and OFSTED work together to identify strategies to increase the number of serving teachers who train as OFSTED inspectors. Such teachers would need to conduct the minimum number of inspections necessary to remain on OFSTED's register as an active inspector (currently one per academic year). Inspection work carried out by teachers should be taken into account in their appraisal process. We recommend that funds be identified to provide OFSTED training for headteachers and other school leaders such as deputies, heads of department and subject co-ordinators.

The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of our aim of encouraging more serving teachers to participate in school inspections. That is of value both to the school inspection system and to the professional development of teachers, headteachers and those aspiring to headship (and hence also to the schools where they are working and will work in the future). The Green Paper Teachers meeting the challenge of change (December 1998) sets out the Government's plans for a more structured approach to teachers' continuing professional development. OFSTED has already taken steps to identify how this recommendation can be pursued.

 

16. This recommendation will require support from governing bodies in releasing teachers from their normal duties for the period of the inspection. We hope that governing bodies will recognise the benefits which would come to their school from agreeing to such absences. Guidelines will also have be established to ensure that serving teachers only become inspection team members where they have no link with the school being inspected. They should not, for instance, be allowed to inspect within their own LEA area. In order for this proposal to work in practice, the pay and conditions of inspectors will have to be sufficiently attractive for serving teachers to undertake inspections. A funding mechanism will also be needed to ensure that no school is financially worse off as a result of its staff undertaking inspections. This two conditions may have implications for the overall cost of school inspections.

As above (recommendation 15)

 

17. We note that OFSTED has announced, following consultation, that the period of notice given to schools will be between six to ten weeks. We are in favour of reducing the period of notice of inspection to the shortest period which is practical. It is important to maintain a balance between ensuring inspection teams obtain an accurate picture of the school, and ensuring schools can act on the "spur to action" which reasonable notice of inspection can provide. We believe the period of notice should normally be four working weeks. This, we believe, will be welcomed by parents, as it will help reassure them that the OFSTED inspection team sees their children's school 'as it is'.

The Government is pleased that the Committee has welcomed the decision to reduce the period of notice given to schools before an inspection. That will reduce the time available for preparation so that schools will only be able to address the essentials and will avoid a lengthy and potentially damaging build-up of pressure. We have made it clear, for example in OFSTED's guidance Making the most of inspection, that schools should not divert the attention of teachers into unnecessary preparatory work during the pre-inspection period and we will continue to seek ways of reinforcing that message. We are looking for ways to share good practice across the school improvement agenda and OFSTED will consider whether further guidance would help schools to prepare more effectively for an inspection.

The changes have been implemented as intended with the period of notice prior to inspection reduced to 6-10 weeks, preventing the lengthy build up of pressure which many teachers have said is damaging, and limiting the scope for time to be devoted to unnecessary and unproductive preparatory work.

18. We also believe that reducing the period of notice in this way would benefit schools. It would allow schools sufficient time to prepare the essential information which is required by the inspection team to reach a clear view of the school prior to inspection. It would, however, reduce the time for schools to assemble unnecessary and irrelevant masses of paper. It would also reduce the amount of time teachers have to develop 'anticipatory dread' of the forthcoming inspection. We recognise that contractors would require more notice of inspection than schools, as they need to assemble the inspection team as well as give the inspectors time to consider the information provided by the school. Our recommendation should not preclude OFSTED from providing contracting organisations with this information in advance of schools being told the date of their inspection.

As above (see recommendation 17)

 

19. We are pleased to see the efforts made by OFSTED and by the Chief Inspector to encourage schools not to 'over-prepare' for inspections, particularly in terms of the paperwork collated in advance of their inspection. Nevertheless, we remain concerned that the disruption which some schools experience prior to inspection as a result of over-preparation may have a detrimental effect on pupils' education. We therefore recommend that OFSTED or the DfEE's Standards and Effectiveness Unit prepare exemplary material or a good practice guide which would sit alongside the formal Inspection Framework. This would reinforce the positive effect of reducing the notice period of inspection.

As above (see recommendation 17)

The Department's website provides an increasingly comprehensive range of material aimed at disseminating good practice, in line with the Government's commitment to provide an appropriate balance of pressure and support to schools. These include case studies of good practice in preparation for inspection on the 'cutting burdens' area of the Department's website.

20. Evidence shows that in the great majority of cases, inspections are conducted in a fit and proper manner and that inspectors are, in the main, courteous and professional in their dealings with pupils, staff, parents and governors. Of course, this experience of inspection is not shared by all schools. A number of schools have described what appear to be genuine cases of grievance against the conduct of their inspections. We have not considered these examples in detail, as it has not been our intention to examine individual inspections. These examples of poor inspection practice occur in a small minority of cases. It is therefore regrettable that they have been the focus of media headlines. This, we have no doubt, has contributed to what one of our witnesses described as the 'demonisation' of the OFSTED process. We believe that OFSTED should continue its efforts to address poor inspection practice.

The Government strongly endorses the Committee's comments. Inspections are important both as an input to the school improvement process and as part of the mechanism by which schools are held accountable to parents and the wider local community. Inspection should leave a school with a clear picture of its strengths and weaknesses and advice about post-inspection action, which the governing body can use to develop the school's action plan. We hope that teachers, headteachers and governors will therefore regard inspection as an opportunity, not as a threat. A high standard of practice is fundamental to maintaining the confidence of schools and communities in inspections and reports, and OFSTED's quality systems requirements and monitoring arrangements are designed to ensure that those who conduct inspections meet the quality standard required of them.

 

21. OFSTED should aim to ensure that the "optimal tension" should exist between inspectors and teachers: the relationship should be neither too stressful nor too close. OFSTED should amend their guidance to inspectors if necessary.

As above (see recommendation 20)


22. We hope and expect that, as schools gain more experience of inspection, the process will become a standard part of the life of a school, rather than something which is perceived as a threat. We urge headteachers and other school leaders to promote this. Ultimately the key test of the effectiveness of an inspection is the extent to which it enhances the education of the children.

As above (see recommendation 20)


23. We believe that the concerns expressed to us over inspectors observing only parts of lessons are justified. In some cases, observing only part of a lessons may not enable inspectors to make a proper assessment of teaching quality. This could contribute to false impressions of the overall quality of teaching in the school. This could be addressed by a commitment by inspectors to spend more time in each lesson. For instance, inspectors should always observe the whole of any Literacy Hour they attend. This should be matched by revision of the guidance from OFSTED. Closer dialogue between staff and inspectors prior to inspection, as we have already recommended, would also help.

As above (see recommendation 20)

 

24. External inspection, if it is to be accepted by teachers and parents, must be fair and accurate. We were therefore surprised by the evidence provided to us highlighting the scale of administrative error in relation to some lesson observations. We consider that the examples quoted to us to be unacceptably poor inspection practice. If this level of basic errors is widespread, it is difficult to see how teachers can have confidence in the judgements of their inspection team. We recommend that OFSTED examine any potential flaws in their quality assurance system that may give rise to this problem, and issue appropriate guidance to contractors. Contractors which are found to be particularly at fault in this respect should not expect to win any further inspection contracts until they have demonstrated improved quality assurance.

As above (see recommendation 20)

 

25. We do not believe that the gradings of lessons by OFSTED inspectors should play a formal part in the new arrangements for teachers' appraisal. There would be a considerable danger of OFSTED inspections being seen as inspections of teachers rather than inspection of schools if lesson gradings were used formally in teachers' appraisal.

The evidence of inspections provides a "snapshot" of the quality of a teacher's performance which we would expect teachers and their managers to consider alongside other evidence. As schools are inspected at intervals of between two and six years, the system for teachers' appraisal cannot be reliant upon inspection evidence being available.

 

26. The amount of feedback from the inspection team to individual teachers has improved significantly since the inception of OFSTED inspections. We endorse the efforts made by OFSTED to enhance this aspect of the inspection process, particularly through the guidance given to inspectors on the nature and purpose of feedback. We hope that all teachers will view the feedback which is offered to them by their inspection team as an important professional development opportunity.

The model of inspection used by OFSTED involves inspectors engaging with schools for a specific purpose and over a limited period. They inspect, make professional judgements and report their findings. We expect inspectors to provide detailed feedback to teachers and the governing body after an inspection in addition to the detailed picture of strengths and weaknesses in their report. It is not part of the inspector's role to provide continuing advice to schools after they have made their report. The responsibility for action following an inspection rests with the governing body and it is for them to decide whether external advice and support is required and, if so, who is best placed to provide it.


27. We do not believe that the debate on inspection should be based on the supposed dichotomy between 'audit' and 'advice'. This is not an 'either/or' situation. There is a broad spectrum of activity stretching from detailed advice—telling the school what to do—at one end, and a wholly 'hands-off' audit at the other. The point along this spectrum at which inspectors should work will depend on the individual circumstances of the school. A more confident school may require a response from their inspection team which is closer to the 'audit' end of this spectrum, while other schools may benefit from a response which is closer to the 'advice' end. We therefore do not agree with those witnesses who argued that OFSTED inspectors should always provide advice per se based on their inspection findings. Neither do we believe that schools are best served by the pure audit model of inspection—the "trenchant critique" of a school's strengths and weaknesses and nothing else.

As above (see recommendation 26)

 

28. We do not think that OFSTED inspection teams should become involved in the provision of formal advice or school development. It is not the role of inspectors to come into the school and tell the headteacher how to run it. It is up to the school itself to build on the outcomes of the inspection, rather than depending on the inspectors for guidance. OFSTED inspectors can best act as catalysts for change and improvement. This, we believe, can best be achieved through the development of a 'professional dialogue' in which the potential benefits of inspection are realised.

As above (recommendation 26)

 

29. The amount of feedback provided to teachers and managers in schools has increased since the first OFSTED inspections. We welcome this strongly and wish to see it become a more significant feature of school inspections. We believe that such feedback is at the heart of 'professional dialogue' between inspectors and staff. Opportunities for such dialogue should be promoted and enhanced. This is likely to require an increase in the time available in most inspection contracts to allow for professional dialogue between teachers and inspectors. Such dialogue between inspectors and staff should be appropriately timed (not necessarily directly after the lessons concerned), and should afford the opportunities for teachers to see clearly how inspectors have reached their judgements. It is important that this dialogue provides a platform for the school as a whole to move to the next stage of development, regardless of whether this is undertaken by the school alone, or in conjunction with LEAs or other external agencies in implementing the school's post-inspection action plan. We recommend that OFSTED consider how its training for Registered, Team and Lay Inspectors should reflect this.

If schools and individual teachers are to gain the maximum benefit from an inspection, it is important that they receive constructive feedback, including feedback to teachers after classroom observation. OFSTED issued new guidance to inspectors in August 1997 which makes it clear that they are required to offer oral feedback on the quality of teaching seen to qualified teachers during, at the end of or as soon as practicable after, an inspection. That feedback should focus on explaining judgements and, through professional dialogue, should ensure that teachers are aware of the strengths and weaknesses in the lessons seen. This advice will be included in the revised guidance handbooks which OFSTED will issue later this year.

The potential value of an inspection will vary from school to school and the new short inspections for the most effective schools, and the variable interval between inspections, reflect this. The Government shares the Committee's hope that headteachers, teachers and governors will make good use of the feedback and professional dialogue offered by the inspection team.


Useful advise concerning the requirements and objectives of performance feedback is contained in the revised guidance handbooks.

30. The relationship between inspectors and school staff is the most important factor in the success of an inspection. It is therefore important that the inspection team should decide what is appropriate in terms of maximising the value of the pre-inspection visit made to the school by the Registered Inspector. In some inspections, particularly of large schools, it may be the case that other team inspectors should also visit as this will help establish a professional dialogue between the school and the inspection team. This may have implications for the overall cost of inspections. However, if inspection is to make a contribution to improving standards of achievement, the cost of finding such time will be a worthwhile investment. Given that the introduction of short inspections will reduce the overall cost of the inspection system, it should be possible for the DfEE and OFSTED to meet the additional costs from these savings.

The revised Framework for Inspection and accompanying guidance will include advice about the pre-inspection visit and how to gain best value from it.

Useful advice concerning the pre-inspection visit and effective preparation is contained in the revised guidance handbooks.

31. We believe it is important that governors are fully involved in the inspection of their school. We are therefore concerned that some governors do not feel they have a close involvement with the inspection. We recommend that OFSTED consider ways in which governors' understanding of, and involvement with, their school's inspection can be improved.

The Government believes that dialogue between governors and the inspection team is valuable at each stage of the inspection process. We will consider whether further guidance for governors would be helpful.

The Department is currently working on new guidance for schools on the inspection process, including information aimed at supporting governors, to complement the existing material. This will be available shortly and displayed electronically on the Department's website.

32. We are sympathetic to the views expressed to us by school governors that too often inspection reports can obscure the judgements made by inspectors with formulaic language and excessive use of jargon. We recommend OFSTED continue efforts to improve the clarity and usefulness of inspection reports, particularly with regard to the needs of governors.

The Government is firmly committed to the publication of school inspection reports and it follows that they must be comprehensible to "lay" people, including governors and parents. The lay inspector in each inspection team can have a useful role in this area. OFSTED will continue to give high priority to the need for report-writing to be of high quality and appropriate to the needs of the audience.

 

33. We welcome the introduction of short inspections, which accords with the wider principle, laid down by the Government, of 'intervention in inverse proportion to success'. Success in this case should imply more than just academic achievement, narrowly defined.

The Government welcomes the Committee's support for the differentiated approach to school inspections which will come into operation in January 2000. The criteria for determining whether a school will have a short inspection will take account of a range of factors including, but not limited to, pupils' academic achievement. Those criteria will be reviewed in the light of experience and as more data about schools and pupils' achievements become available, for example through the new common basic dataset.

Short inspections for the most effective schools were introduced in January 2000 with selection criteria thresholds designed to ensure that all schools, including those serving disadvantaged areas are eligible. Initial feedback suggests that this more flexible approach has been welcomed by schools.

34. It would not be appropriate to conduct either 'full' or 'short' Section 10 inspections without any notice period, and to do so might lead to some confusion about the purpose of Section 10 inspections. On the other hand, we believe that public confidence in the education system would be enhanced if a mechanism existed for unannounced visits to schools by external agencies such as HMI or LEAs. HMI could be asked by the Secretary of State to undertake 'snap' visits to a representative sample of schools for the purpose of informing national policy. Following the passing of the School Standards and Framework Act, LEAs now have an enhanced role in ensuring high education standards. Unlike HMI, LEA inspectors have no absolute right of entry to schools. However, we believe that effective LEAs will, as a matter of course, use 'drop-in' visits to schools as part of their work in monitoring standards. 'Snap' visits by HMI or LEAs might have several purposes, for example, considering schools' response to bullying, or responding to particular problems, identified by parents, governors or the LEA, which develop between OFSTED inspections.

The Government believes that a short period of notice before a section 10 inspection is helpful for the school. In particular, it provides an opportunity for review and reflection, which should help the school to obtain best value from the inspection. Powers exist in the School Inspections Act which enable HM Inspectors to visit schools without prior warning. We believe that those powers are valuable but that 'snap' inspections should take place only in exceptional circumstances where there are serious concerns about a school.

Local education authorities require a range of mechanisms for identifying, supporting and monitoring schools which are causing concern. LEA staff should be visiting those schools but should not be conducting full inspections of them, which is a task for OFSTED. When deciding whether to visit a school, LEAs should have regard to paragraphs 53-56 of the Code of Practice: LEA-School Relations.



35. A key challenge is to change the way in which some schools view inspection, so that they seen it as a useful tool, not an external threat. We recognise that, as the inspection cycle continues, schools will become more used to the fact of inspection and may thus see it as less of a traumatic experience. Therefore, we hope that the relationship between inspectors and schools, and the inspection system itself, will continue to improve by itself. However, we consider below some recommendations which should accelerate that process of improvement.

The Government believes that schools have much to gain from the external evaluation and advice which inspectors provide. All schools have been inspected at least once and should be better prepared for inspections in the light of that experience. The increased quantity and quality of performance information which is now available should also help schools to approach inspection with realistic expectations.

 

36. Governing bodies should be given the option of nominating an observer who would shadow the work of the inspection team. We would normally expect the observer to be drawn from the governing body itself, although he or she should not be a member of the staff, either teaching or non-teaching. Of course, in many cases it would not be practicable for a governor to devote a whole week to observing the inspection. But in any case, the nominee should at least be able to sit in on one or more of the meetings at which the inspection team discusses its findings, and reaches the overall judgements that make up the core of the inspection report.

The Government believes that inspections should be conducted in as open a manner as is possible and with as much dialogue as possible between inspection teams and schools' staff and governors. But some of the business of inspection teams, for example discussions about individual teachers, should be conducted in confidence. While it may be appropriate for governing bodies to nominate someone to have a liaison role with the inspection team, we do not believe that that person should "shadow" the team in a formal sense.

 

37. We believe that effective self-evaluation by schools has a important role to play in improving standards and quality in education. We welcome the attention being paid to it by the DfEE and by OFSTED. However, we disagree with those who argue that it could to a considerable degree replace external inspection of schools. But to ensure its importance as a tool for school improvement, we recommend that the Inspection Framework be amended to take account of the self-evaluation procedures used by schools. Inspection should include assessment of the contribution that self-evaluation is making to standards of achievement. This should be the case in both short and full inspections.

The Government welcomes the Committee's recognition that self-evaluation and external inspection have valuable, but discrete, places in the school improvement process. As the interval between inspections will be a maximum of six years, it is vital that schools monitor their performance between inspections. We are encouraging self-evaluation by schools, for example by publishing the OFSTED-SEU guidance School evaluation matters in 1998 and by making more and better performance data available to schools, in particular comparisons with other similar schools. The changes to be made shortly in OFSTED's Framework for inspection will ensure that greater prominence is given in inspections to the self-evaluation systems set up by schools and the use which schools make of the evidence produced by those systems. The Secretary of State welcomes OFSTED's initiative to develop a training package to help senior managers to become more effective at conducting schools' self-evaluations.

The Government recognise that the inspection Framework has been widely accepted as a valuable development tool for schools, and is increasingly being used for self-evaluation between inspections. We welcome the training launched for managers last summer in the use of the Framework for self-evaluation. The revised guidance handbooks define a useful range of criteria to assess the quality and impact of provision for pupils, and in doing so, help schools to identify and address weaknesses at the earliest opportunity.

38. We welcome OFSTED's decision to increase the proportion of Section 10 inspections which are monitored to ensure they comply with the Inspection Framework.

OFSTED has work in hand which is intended to improve the consistency of inspectors' judgements and will consider whether further research is needed.

 

39. We welcome the fact that OFSTED has undertaken research on the validity and reliability of inspectors' judgements. However, we note the criticisms of this research project. It is important that there is confidence about this fundamental aspect of inspection. Full and frank research into this area must establish the level of reliability and validity of the basic elements of inspection. We wish to see research into this issue extended. It is important, to help ensure public acceptance of inspection, that such work is open to scrutiny by the academic community. Given that the OFSTED research was carried out in 1996, and the inspection system has evolved since then, it might also be timely to consider carrying out a similar exercise using a wider sample of inspectors than OFSTED's initial research.

As above (see recommendation 38)

 

40. We support the principle of assessing schools' performance against schools in similar circumstances. But inspectors' judgements about schools' comparative performance will be undermined if the data they use as a starting point is inaccurate. We therefore recommend that OFSTED consider ways of improving the accuracy of data contained in Pre-Inspection Context and Statistical Indicators.

It is important that schools have the best possible data to inform decisions about school improvement and that those data be available to school inspectors as a context for their judgements. The data used by OFSTED in PICSI and PANDA reports are largely those which the DfEE collects to produce the "Autumn Package" of school performance information. Attainment data are checked with schools and other data are derived from the Annual Schools' Census (Form 7) returns. OFSTED will amend and re-issue PANDA reports in cases where schools identify errors and provide corrected data.

For the Autumn Package, benchmarking data are produced on the basis of grouping schools by the proportion of their pupils known to be eligible for free school meals. Although other variable factors, such as the proportion of pupils with statements of special educational needs, are also statistically associated with performance, their effect is relatively small after the effect of the free school meals indicator has been taken into account. The Government is making changes for this year, which will refine the data on pupils eligible for free school meals so that only full-time pupils aged below 16 are included, which should provide a more robust basis for comparisons.

The Government will increasingly be tracking individual pupils' performance, enabling "value added" measures to be developed and published. These will provide valuable further information about pupils' progress and the difference which schools can make to pupils' attainments.


The refinements to the data on pupil's eligibility for free school meals have been implemented and more reliable data are now available as a result.

41. Overall, we do not think that it is feasible to develop a system whereby judgments made by inspectors can be challenged. We believe this could undermine the inspection system and lead to lengthy disputes between schools and OFSTED which could well detract attention from developing educational provision at the school. This does not mean we are complacent about the reliability of all OFSTED's judgements. But we think a better way of ensuring that inspectors' judgments are robust would be to concentrate on entrenching good practice, including further improvements to inspector training and to OFSTED's quality assurance mechanisms. Our recommendations about involving more serving teachers and headteachers in inspection teams, developing greater ownership of inspection findings among school staff and giving the governing body the option of nominating an observer, will also help in this respect.

Registered Inspectors are required to show inspection reports to schools in draft form so that they can comment on matters of factual accuracy. Inspectors' judgements are not negotiable. The need to achieve the highest possible consistency in inspectors' judgements is recognised and is among areas for further work by OFSTED agreed in 1998 by HM Chief Inspector and the Secretary of State. The Government agrees that a formal system whereby schools and/or individuals could challenge the findings of school inspection reports would be unhelpful. In particular, it could distract schools from the priority task of putting in place their post-inspection action plan and implementing necessary improvements, which would not be in the best interests of their pupils. OFSTED has complaints procedures for those who are unable to resolve their concerns with the Registered Inspector or inspection contractor.

 

42. Although OFSTED's expenditure in school inspections is a very small fraction of the overall education budget for England, it is, nevertheless, a large sum of money in absolute terms. It has not been possible for us to make a reliable judgement on OFSTED's contribution to the education sector from a value for money viewpoint. We therefore recommend that the National Audit Office conduct a value for money audit of OFSTED's work.

The DfEE has drawn this recommendation to the attention of the NAO. It will be for the NAO to take this recommendation into account when preparing their forward work plan in discussion with OFSTED.

 

43. We recommend that, as a matter of priority, consideration is given to implementing a differentiated system of inspection for initial teacher training providers. Institutions which are judged to offer high quality courses, on the basis of past inspections and other criteria, should be subject to short, or 'light-touch' inspections. OFSTED's work in establishing such an approach for school inspections should provide a helpful starting point in this respect.

The Government welcomes the Committee's recognition of the valuable place of inspection in ensuring that initial teacher training (ITT) is of high quality. The Teacher Training Agency (TTA) allocates funds to ITT providers on the basis of OFSTED inspection results. The inspections are therefore an important factor in the drive to raise quality and standards in ITT. The Government will consider carefully the Committee's recommendations relating to the inspection of ITT providers, taking account of advice from the TTA.

Discussions with the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) and OFSTED on the inspection Framework for 2002/03- 2005/06 have now begun. In agreeing the Framework, we will take careful account of the Committee's recommendations relating to the inspection of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) providers, and any changes to the ITT requirements arising out of the TTA's current review of the Department's Circular 4/98. We are also examining the options for reducing inspection burdens on ITT providers, while maintaining the necessary rigour, from Autumn 2000.

44. We believe that, in the interests of reducing the inspection burden on teacher training institutions, both primary and secondary provision should henceforth be inspected on a four-year cycle.

As above (see recommendation 43)

 

45. We accept the views put to us that the 'high-stakes' nature of ITT inspection contributes to much anxiety in teacher training institutions. Nevertheless, we are not persuaded that this, in itself, necessitates changes to the inspection process. Inspection has an important role to play in monitoring the standards of teacher training and this should not be disrupted by concerns about the pressure of inspection. We do not accept the argument that accreditation of teacher training should be at course level, as this would make it impossible to introduce 'light-touch' inspections of effective ITT providers which we recommend above.

As above (see recommendation 43)

 

46. We would not wish to lose the strengths of the current systems operated by OFSTED and the Quality Assurance Agency. However, in order to ensure that there is no unnecessary duplication in the inspection of initial teacher training, we recommend that the Department for Education and Employment consider ways in which inspection and quality assurance system for teacher training institutions can be rationalised.

As above (see recommendation 43)

 

47. We fully support the principle of inspection of LEAs by OFSTED. Indeed, this part of OFSTED's work proved to be perhaps the least contentious aspect of our inquiry. Currently OFSTED is in the process of the first round of inspections of LEAs, which the Secretary of State has asked to be completed by September 2000. Once this initial round of inspections is complete, we recommend that OFSTED consider ways in which a system of differentiated inspection could be introduced for LEAs on the lines currently being proposed for schools. We think it only right that high levels of performance should be treated in the same way across the range of educational bodies. We also think there would be merit, over time, in broadening the scope of the inspection framework. One way of doing this might be to bring together within one framework the various aspects of LEA inspection currently carried out by OFSTED. For instance, it might be possible for OFSTED's inspections of LEA-provided adult and community education under the 1996 Act to be brought together with OFSTED/Audit Commission inspections of LEAs under the 1997 Act.

The future pattern of local education authority inspections will be determined in the light of a review when the first inspection cycle has been completed, which is scheduled for September 2001. The Government welcomes the suggestion of short inspections for the most effective LEAs and will consider it as part of that review.

Since the Committee's report was published, the Government has proposed in the Learning to Succeed White Paper (June 1999) that LEAs' current functions in respect of adult and community education should be transferred to new Learning and Skills Councils. Inspection of that provision would then be undertaken by the proposed new inspectorate, rather than by OFSTED.


The Department is currently discussing with OFSTED, the arrangements for inspecting LEAs after the completion of the first round of inspections. Included in these discussions will be the issue of a more flexible inspection regime, in line with the Government's policy of intervention in inverse proportion to success. Under the Learning and Skills Act 2000, the transfer of LEAs' current functions in respect of adult and community education will take place, with inspection undertaken by the new Adult Learning Inspectorate. The draft Common Inspection Framework by which all providers of post-16 education and training will be inspected, will shortly be subject to widespread statutory consultation.

48. We are concerned that the appointment procedure for OFSTED's Complaints Adjudicator (OCA) does not reinforce the independence of that post. While we recognise that the current postholder stressed her independence when she provided evidence to us at the time of her appointment, we feel it would be of benefit for the OCA and OFSTED itself to have a greater degree of separation between the two. We therefore recommend that the appointment and re-appointment of the OFSTED Complaints Adjudicator should be made by a body other than OFSTED. This might be by the Department for Education and Employment or by a Board of Commissioners for OFSTED. In any event, there should be an opportunity for the nominee to appear before this Select Committee, and for the Committee to report to the House on the nominee, before the appointment was formally confirmed. e also recommend that OFSTED consider the feasibility of extending the OCA's role to cover other inspections carried out by OFSTED.

The Government recognises that the independence of OFSTED's complaints adjudicator (OCA) is an issue. It is important that those who may have recourse to the OCA have confidence that their complaints will be reviewed in an even-handed manner and their perception of the degree of independence enjoyed by the OCA is therefore significant. As the Minister for School Standards said in her evidence to the Committee, the Government is prepared to look again at the role of the OCA and to consider whether it would be appropriate for the OCA to be appointed by the Secretary of State, rather than by OFSTED. We will consider this recommendation in detail when we review the role of the OCA in the light of her first annual report and taking account of the Cabinet Office's review of English public sector ombudsmen.

The Department is currently considering the procedures for the appointment of OFSTED's Complaints Adjudicator (OCA) and, in particular, whether changes can be made which further enhance the independence of the position. It is expected that any changes will be in place prior to any further appointment or re-appointment of the present OCA, Elaine Rassaby, whose current contract expires on 30 June 2001.

49. The status of OFSTED as a non-ministerial government department is unique in the field of education. This is not in itself a cause for concern and we do not recommend any changes to its status. However, we believe that OFSTED's status has important implications for its operation and management, particularly with regard to the mechanisms by which it is held accountable.

HM Inspectors of Schools have a long tradition of independence in matters of professional judgement. The Government values that independence and the authority which it gives to the advice which OFSTED provides. Against that background, the Government believes that the arrangements by which OFSTED is accountable to Parliament are adequate and appropriate. The Committee's proposals for closer scrutiny of OFSTED's business will strengthen, and make more open, that accountability.

 

50. We do not accept the arguments put to us that OFSTED has no mechanisms by which it is held accountable. As we have seen above, there are a range of formal measures in place which could ensure accountability. However, we are less sure whether these measures are working in a clear, effective and sufficient manner. If they are not, we doubt that OFSTED will be able to enjoy the complete confidence of the education community and the public at large.

As above (see recommendation 49)

 

51. We conclude that the accountability mechanisms for OFSTED are not sufficiently robust. Nor do they demonstrate that OFSTED is fully accountable for its work. This is not a criticism of OFSTED itself: OFSTED operates within the statutory framework which Parliament gave it. However, we believe it is in the best interests of education, and OFSTED itself, that stronger, clearer mechanisms be introduced.

As above (see recommendation 49)

 

52. We agree that OFSTED's independence is a key feature which must underpin all its work. Nevertheless, this independence must not preclude effective and transparent accountability. Effective accountability will strengthen OFSTED's independence. This, we believe, will improve HMCI's standing in and beyond the education community.

As above (see recommendation 49)

  

53. We recommend that a regular debate be held in the House on HMCI's annual report. Such debates could be preceded by oral evidence from HM Chief Inspector to this Committee, and his evidence (and perhaps a report from the Committee) could usefully inform the debate.

As above (see recommendation 49)

 

54. It is our intention to hold regular annual meetings with HM Chief Inspector, not only on his annual report but on the work of OFSTED itself. Although as a Select Committee we cannot bind our successors, we would expect our successor Committees to continue this practice.

As above ( see recommendation 49)

 

55. We recognise the formal position that Crown appointments cannot be made subject to Parliamentary veto. However, we believe that Parliament should be given an advisory role in the appointment or re-appointment of HM Chief Inspector. We recommend that the Chief Inspector would continue to be appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, as at present, but before the appointment (or re-appointment) was confirmed, this Select Committee should be given the opportunity to take evidence in public from the nominee and report to Parliament on the proposed appointment. A debate could then be held in the House on the Committee's report. Although the Government would not formally be obliged to make time for such a debate, we recommend that the Government should give an undertaking to do so.

The Government has accepted the recommendation in the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that ministerial accountability and selection on merit should be the key elements of the appointment system for public bodies. The Government therefore has no plans to propose Parliamentary involvement in such appointments, including that of HM Chief Inspector of Schools.

 

56. We recognise that OFSTED is not a non-departmental public body. Nevertheless, we believe that similar principles of accountability should apply to OFSTED as apply to NDPBs. We therefore recommend that OFSTED be subject to quinquennial reviews.

The Government believes that as no Government departments, including other non-Ministerial departments, are currently subject to quinquennial reviews, it would be inappropriate for such a requirement to be imposed on OFSTED. The accountability arrangements for OFSTED should continue to be those which apply to Government departments, not NDPBs. There is scope for those arrangements to be periodically reviewed without a requirement for a full quinquennial review.

 

57. We believe that a case can be made for establishing a board of commissioners, or a supervisory or advisory board for OFSTED (paragraph 210). Such a board, if established, should not be too large. A small board would best serve the need to strengthen OFSTED's accountability, perhaps comprising six or eight members. The majority of the board members, including the chairman, would be drawn from outside the education world.

The Government recognises the need for HM Chief Inspector to be properly accountable for the management of OFSTED and the public funds which are entrusted to it. The new arrangements for a Public Service Agreement reinforce and make more open the mechanisms by which OFSTED is held accountable. While the Government believes that the recommendations in paragraphs 53 and 54 above would strengthen the arrangements by which is OFSTED is held accountable to Parliament, we do not believe that the benefits of appointing a Board of Commissioners would provide sufficient return in terms of value-added to justify the resources which would be required. Few other inspectorates operate with a Board and we believe that the addition of a further layer to OFSTED's structure might add complexity, at the expense of clarity, and constrain the ability of HM Chief Inspector to speak out about the strengths and weaknesses of education identified through inspection. The Committee recognises that the argument for a Board is not overwhelming and, after careful consideration, the Government has concluded that it is not persuasive and that the current arrangements meet the present and foreseen needs.

 

58. The functions of such a board would have to be very carefully delineated in order to ensure that the Chief Inspector and other OFSTED inspectors retained full independence in their judgements. We are firmly of the view that such a board should not become involved with individual inspection judgements, nor would it contribute to HMCI's work in advising policy-makers on the state of education in England.

As above (see recommendation 57)

 

59. The arguments for and against establishing a board of some kind are finely balanced. We recommend that strong consideration be given to the establishment of such a board.

As above (see recommendation 57)

 

60. The purpose of our inquiry has been to consider the work of OFSTED itself: the principle and practice of inspection. Based on the evidence we received, however, we realised that any such study would be difficult to divorce from the style adopted by Mr Chris Woodhead in his role as HM Chief Inspector.

Under the leadership of Chris Woodhead, OFSTED is making a significant contribution to the Government's drive to raise standards in schools, nursery education, local education authorities and teacher training. Part of HMCI's job is to "tell it as it is", speaking plainly and openly about the strengths and the weaknesses identified through inspection. Chris Woodhead has been prepared to speak up where standards have not been good enough and the Government believes that this has contributed to the raising of standards. He has also highlighted successes and identified good practice. The Government shares the Committee's view that it is regrettable that much of the perception of Chris Woodhead amongst the education community has been shaped by unbalanced and unhelpful media coverage. We agree that it is for OFSTED to identify and share good practice wherever possible, but here the media's willingness to ignore good news can prove difficult.

 

61. It has not been possible for us to judge objectively Mr Woodhead's assertion that OFSTED's achievements would have been less if he had adopted a more conciliatory, even-handed style. We note, however, that a number of our witnesses were extremely critical of his style as HM Chief Inspector. Looking forward, it is our firm view that as OFSTED moves through the second cycle of school inspections, and builds on its work in other areas, the case for a period of consolidation is very strong. This should be reflected in the style of leadership employed by HM Chief Inspector. Inspection judgements and commentary by the Chief Inspector and OFSTED must be clear, but they should not be intemperate.

As above (see recommendation 60)

 

62. At a previous appearance before the Sub-committee Mr Woodhead vigorously denied suggestions that his advice as HM Chief Inspector has not been based on inspection evidence. Despite this, a number of our witnesses drew attention to the "widespread perception" that some of Mr Woodhead's views are based on his opinions more than on inspection evidence. We have found it difficult to reach a balanced judgement based on the arguments put to us. We therefore simply state our firmly held view that it is of the highest importance that HM Chief Inspector's advice to Ministers, and his commentary on education in print, in public lectures and elsewhere, can be backed up by the inspection evidence gathered by OFSTED.

As above (see recommendation 60)

 

63. We understand, and regret, that it is the nature of the media's coverage of education to highlight controversy and extremes. Nevertheless, a responsible organisation such as OFSTED should seek to ensure that a balanced message is conveyed to its stakeholders and to the general public.

As above (see recommendation 60)

 

64. We feel that it is important for OFSTED to guard against unbalanced presentation of its inspection judgements. It is equally important for OFSTED to seek balanced media coverage in whatever way it can. We do not feel that it has been successful in that respect. Therefore, we look to OFSTED to take increased responsibility for ensuring media coverage of its work focuses on the full breadth of its inspection findings. From September 1994 to March 1997 one of Mr Woodhead's personal objectives, agreed by him with the Permanent Secretary at the DfEE, has been to maintain the credibility of the national inspection system. One indicator of this has been the nature of media coverage. This is an important objective, and we expect in the future that an indicator of HM Chief Inspector's success in maintaining OFSTED's credibility will be the extent to which media coverage presents a balanced view of inspection findings rather focusing on the extremes of the data collected.

As above (see recommendation 60)

 

65. Alongside his or her formal terms of reference we believe that the following principles are central to the work of the Chief Inspector:

First, the role of the Chief Inspector should include encouraging the formation of a consensus about the importance of OFSTED's work across a wide field

Second, we support the view that HM Chief Inspector should, where appropriate, speak out on education issues. This helps to stimulate and inform a wider public debate. The Chief Inspector should not be afraid to use his or her position to argue for those policies and practices that contribute to rising educational achievement. The major interest here must be the interests of children and their parents. However, we feel strongly that such public expression of views should be based firmly on clear and scientific evidence emerging from inspections undertaken by OFSTED's inspectors and other reputable sources. There is a considerable danger that if this principle is not adhered to, the Chief Inspector will be seen simply as a pundit or polemicist. This will do significant harm to the reputation of OFSTED itself. Whoever holds the post of HM Chief Inspector should always be aware that, although as a Crown appointee they have more independence than civil servants, their scope for public comment is not wholly unfettered

Third, in carrying out his or her role the Chief Inspector should be concerned to improve morale and promote confidence in the teaching profession. Hence the importance of fulfilling the role of Chief Inspector in a way that promotes wide acceptance of OFSTED's role and positive impact. We feel strongly that low morale among teachers inhibits the drive to raise standards. We therefore conclude that HM Chief Inspector can best contribute to educational standards by ensuring inspection of schools is positive and purposeful. As we move through the second cycle of inspections, OFSTED has a clear opportunity to consolidate its achievements by working in partnership with the education profession to maximise the benefits which can flow from inspection. It is important that the leadership provided by HM Chief Inspector reflects this.


As above (see recommendation 60)

 


 
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