Examination of Witnesses(Questions 20-39)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
20. But you do have a co-ordinating role in
that area, do you not? Therefore, if you have an inefficient element
within that, or a slow elementyou said there had been delays
for you caused by the Criminal Records Bureauthen that
must be a matter of concern. Would you like to be more involved
in the issues that were clearly raised over the summer with the
Criminal Records Bureau, for schools?
(Mr Bell) Can I make one important point? There have
been good operational relationships between staff in Ofsted and
the Criminal Records Bureau. I have to make that point very clear.
Colleagues have worked together well, and there has been sympathy
within the CRB to our difficulties. I am sure you will appreciate
that teachers CRB checked have been fast-trackedto see
whether that would have a detrimental effect on childcare providers
and so on. It is important to state that once these operational
difficulties that the CRB is facing are over, we have got the
basis for a good relationship to work efficiently.
(Mr Smith) The Criminal Records Bureau is fit for
our purpose, particularly in terms of enhanced checking. It is
the pace of fitness for purpose that gives us concern. If that
offers any risk, the risk is that people would be put off by the
length of time, but we have not found any evidence for that.
21. Moving on to 16-19 inspections, when the
inspections first started in schools, one of the complaints was
that you were not comparing apples and pears, to coin a phrase.
You would go to a school in a very affluent area and compare it
to a school in a very deprived area, and say, "look how well
one is doing and look how badly the other is doing." The
Association of Colleges is saying exactly the same thing is happening
in colleges. Some colleges that serve very deprived areas, where
traditional industries have shut down and just getting kids to
stay on at school and college is an achievement in itself; but
your inspections do not recognise that, and you will then compare
that college to another one in an affluent, middle-class area.
(Mr Bell) To make an important opening comment about
that, you will have seen from the Association of Colleges' submission
to this Committee that the first point it makes is that it welcomes
the focus on teaching and learning that the Ofsted and Adult Learning
Inspectorate inspectors have brought. That is the starting point
and it is a really important point to make by way of partial response
to what you said, Mr Holmes. If we focus on the quality of the
teaching and learning, that is a good place to begin. We do use
a common inspection framework, so that all colleges are judged
against a common inspection framework. Also, it is not true to
say that our evidence suggests that colleges serving more deprived
areas always get the negative judgments under the inspection process;
nor is it true to say that the colleges servicing in a more affluent
area always get a positive judgment. That is the virtue of a common
inspection framework; that you make judgments vigorously against
(Mr Taylor) If I could pick up on the specific point
about how we would inspect against the value-added or individual
institutions; plainly it is fundamental to all our inspections
that we judge our colleges, as we judge schools, in their context.
We look at the nature of the socio-economic composition of the
intake and assess as far as we can the progress being made by
all the students, of whatever level of attainment, against the
baseline with which they start their courses. In the first year
of inspection in colleges on which we will be reporting fully
in the annual report in February next year, and in the joint college
report with the ALI, we will be analysing in quite some detail
the way in which the differential findings for different parts
of the whole college sector have come out. At this point, it seems
clear that we are finding that using, as fully as we can, the
existing measures of value-added and progress, there are considerable
differences in performance. Those are reflected by the proportions
of colleges doing well or badly in their first inspections. We
have focused on one of the key areas, namely relatively poor progress
in the lower attaining pupils' courses, particularly levels one
and two. We think that is a national concern, that the quality
of provision and response for those students, is not as good as
for the higher achieving A Level students. That is a general picture
and a matter on which we shall be commenting. That is not to say
that we are being harder on colleges that predominantly have those
students; but that the quality, as observed by inspectors, is
weaker in some of the lower level courses and work-related courses
that are being seen, than it is in A levels.
(Mr Bell) The finding that David has just referred
to is supported by our area-wide inspections, where we looked
at provision for 16-19 year olds across a larger area than one
single institution. The choice, the options and advice is often
poorer for students at levels one and two, than for students at
22. You made the general point that with colleges
that serve areas of high deprivation, some do well but the majority
do not. You say that they do not all do badly. The same thing
is always said about schools, but it still remains true with schools,
that the vast majority of schools that ever went into special
measures, served areas of social deprivation. The Association
of Colleges is saying that it is concerned that the relatively
low inspection grades achieved by the majority of colleges are
disadvantaged. In the vast majority of cases it is true that colleges
that serve deprived areas are getting much lower inspection grades
than others. With schools and league tables trying to work in
value-added factors, how far can you do that with college inspections?
(Mr Taylor) If I may finish the point, we have fairly
well-established ALIS type evaluations of progress from GCSE to
A level, subject to the reliability of either of those measures,
because no value-added indicator is better than the input and
output ratios. There are no such measures nationally, and the
Association of Colleges and we have had many productive discussions
about the need to get better, by developing a value-added regime,
which will reflect progress in vocational courses and in lower
level courses. That is one of the challenges to the system. We
can only use those indices that are there now. We do so, but we
are working with the sector and with the LSC to try and develop
much more sensitive ways of measuring progress to reflect the
real achievements of some students who start with very low levels
23. One specific adjustment that the College
would argue is needed, and which has to be recognised, is the
nature of their students, particularly adult students. Many of
them are pursuing a college course while they look for employment.
Often, they will leave the course because they got employmentsometimes
as a result of things they did on the courseand so they
never complete the course; yet the criteria that you apply focus
very much on things like completing the course and achieving the
qualification. An awful lot of students leave the course because
they have a job, which to them might be more important. How do
you build things like that into a general framework, where you
are measuring how many students are passing the course?
(Mr Taylor) We are working with ALI to build it in
as sensibly as possible, bearing in mind that at the moment there
is a deficiency in some of the data we need about where the students
who leave the course prematurely are actually going. If we were
clearer on the destinations of all those people who leave coursesand
colleges themselves are not always as clear as they might bethen
we could say more about whether for somebody to leave the course
prematurely for an alternative course of action it is a positive
thing or not. At the moment, we are still concerned that levels
of retention are too low across the board, and you cannot explain
that factor entirely by people leaving for what one might term
to be good reasons. We think it is right to continue to focus
our attention with ALI on the issue of retention as a very serious
24. We now have a system of inspection of colleges,
inspection of local education authorities, and area inspections.
What is the evidence that all this inspection has led to any improvement
in quality of 16-19 provision, or any structural and organisational
change in specific parts of the country?
(Mr Bell) Can I take the second part of your question
first, and in a sense make the comment to Mr Holmes as well. These
sorts of concerns about the comparison of the data that has been
used are important for judging any single institution; but of
course they are equally important when you try to make comparisons
across the sector as a whole, because many young people are educated
in post-16 provision of schools or sixth-form colleges. That is
a pressing issue because you will recall the proposals within
the Government's Green Paper Success for All suggest that
the local learning and skills council will be given precisely
the kind of reorganisation or plan-setting powers that you have
described. Therefore, it will be important in our inspections
to be able to make those accurate comparisons between different
sorts of institutions, and also look at the range of provision
across an area. It is true to say, Chairman, that we have a new
inspection power to do area-wide inspections of 14-19 provision,
so that is a really pressing issue for us, to get that right.
25. What is the evidence that change has been
brought about by the current inspection at the moment? You are
saying it may well be brought about in the future.
(Mr Bell) Obviously, this is not our area of responsibility.
My understanding is that I do not think there have been massive
amounts of change coming about in post-16 provision. That is partly
to do, I think, with the absence of power. What has been proposed
within the Success for All Green Paper is that the local
learning and skills councils should be given this new responsibility
for bringing about plans which may in turn lead to the organisation.
(Mr Taylor) This is new; we have only been doing these
inspections for just over a year, but there are some positive
outcomes already emerging. We have largely been in the process
of training our searchlight on the areas most worthy of investigation.
We have highlighted the lack of strategic planning for post-16
and poor provision of guidance on work-based training groups and
will continue to highlight them. They will feature prominently
in next year's reporting. On the ground, just the fact that we
have drawn attention to such issues is beginning to make a difference.
That difference will need concerted action by the local learning
and skills councils and the providers themselves, but we have
already unearthed some serious issues that need to be addressed
if proper provision for all 14 and 16-19 year olds is to be put
in place. Inspection is already starting to work in those areas.
26. One of the traditional criticisms of Ofsted
is that it came in, it reported, and then it moved on, without
building on the recommendations that it made. I was interested
to hear you saying, Mr Bell, in your opening remarks, that in
secondary school inspections, in fact all school inspections,
you are now taking a more interventionist approach in setting
up special measures, working parties, to try to prevent schools
with serious weaknesses descending into special measures. Are
you taking a more interventionist approach in the 16-19 year old
area, and, if so, what is it; and how will you influence the LSC,
given it is the LSC that has structural responsibilities?
(Mr Taylor) We are, but we are having to make very
clear what is our role and what is the LSC's role. That partnership,
involving the ALI, the DfES and the DWP as well, is crucial in
taking this forward constructively. We have built in to the inspection
regime a systematic follow-up of a monitoring character by HMI;
re-inspection of any curriculum area that is found deficient,
with the promise of a full re-inspection of any that is continuing
to be unsatisfactory and a cause for concern; regular reporting
back to the local learning and skills councils, to ensure that
the actions plans which follow inspections are followed up systematically.
Indeed, the intervention programme is already showing clear successes
in terms of colleges which, on their first inspection, were failing.
Some of those colleges have made extremely good progress and some
have not made such good progress yet. We are continuing to work
closely with them to make sure that that progress is as it should
27. Do you not get worried about this whole
area? This is an area that is pretty new to you. At the same time,
the learning and skills councils, which people say are not really
up and running properlyit seems to me that most of our
constituents would say, "we know what the skills needed in
this country are and we know what needs to be done for 14-19";
but at the same time, the Junior Minister is now telling us that
there is going to be a new reappraisal of skills needs that will
not report until June. Is this not the most confused area that
you are working in, David?
(Mr Bell) We bring clarity to it, Mr Chairman.
28. You have all these partners. I am surprised
that you do not pick up that this is a very confused area of education
(Mr Bell) To some extent, we would support that point.
If you look at our area-wide inspections, we are saying that there
is an incoherence in a number of areas, and an absence, as David
suggested, of strategic planning and so on.
(Mr Bell) If you look at what is proposed in the Green
Paper Success for All, that identification of incoherence
or a problem now has to be translated into a specific plan of
action laid out by the local learning and skills councils. Our
task, surely, is to report on what we find; and then others who
are responsible for implementation take that forward? We are contributing
to what I would accept is in some areas an incoherence of provisions;
and it is for others to take forward the next steps.
Chairman: We will be taking it up with
the Learning and Skills Council shortly. Can I now move on to
the Connexions inspections.
30. This again is a relatively new area for
Ofsted, so can I start with some general comments about how you
feel Ofsted has adapted to taking over the inspection of something
that is quite different.
(Mr Bell) You are right. I guess our traditional inspection
activity in this area had been looking at careers provision in
schools and looking at council-led youth services; so this was
a new area. As you know, the Connexions Service is an interesting
partnership of a range of providers both public, private and voluntary.
We were asked to carry out these inspections, and, as we say in
the introduction to our report, these were inspecting partnerships
that were pilots and had only been in place for a relatively short
time. However, this report has highlighted some of the important
issues that remain for Connexion's partnerships up and down the
country to address. Let me give you two that I think are particularly
important. One is making young people more generally aware of
the work of Connexions. Our report points out that for those young
people that HMI interviewed as part of the inspection, who are
having direct experience of working for a personal advisor, were
in many cases quite complimentary about the work that is being
done. But a more general knowledge and understanding of what Connexions
did and how it could help you, as a young person, were not always
there. To some extent that is inevitable, is it not, given the
fact that these are such new services? However, it raises quite
an important issue for Connexions' partnerships. The second point
that I think is terribly importantand in some senses this
is reasonably predicableis to do with the engagement of
all the different partners making proper provision for young people.
For example, what is the relationship between the Connexions'
personal advisor and the working going on in an individual school?
What is the relationship between the Connexions Service and the
work being done by the educational psychologist, and so on? These
are important issues that really need to be addressed. Again,
let me pick up on a theme that seems to be emerging this morning.
Our job is to identify those areas, and in this case we have identified
these issues quite early in the process. I hope that will be useful
both to the Connexions Service national unit and to individual
31. One of the tensions in setting up Connexions,
which concerned me, is the laudable aim, and a very sensible aim
and trying to focus in on a small group of young people who are
struggling and need a lot of support, and the ones that need some
kind of database to carry round for all their personal advisors,
whether for education or youth development team, or whatever.
Do you need to focus in on giving them extra help and support,
but at the same time providing a universal service so that in
theory every young person has a personal advisory who will help
them through planning the next stages of their life. Do you think
Connexions are beginning to show how they are going to manage
this inherent tension?
(Mr Bell) David Taylor might wish to comment, but
I think the report is quite clear; that a number of these management
and operational issues about relationships between personal advisers
and other services would remain unresolved. That is a general
observation. To be fair, there is a tension for the Connexions
Service because it is a universal service, though it does work
on the premise too that there will be higher levels of intervention
for young people with specific difficulties. One of the important
questions that remains for the Connexions Services is how you
can avoid the Connexions personal adviser just becoming yet another
individual, like all the others that deal with them if they are
in difficulty? For example, if you are a young person in the criminal
justice system and you have your YOT officer, you might be having
problems with substance abuse and there will be somebody supporting
you there; you may have special educational needs or family difficulties,
and a social worker is supporting you. One of the intentions of
the Connexions Service was to allow the personal advisor to be
a kind of gatekeeper. It is early days, but that is an important
issue that needs to be resolved.
(Mr Taylor) It emphasises one thing we have said in
our report, which is that the role of the personal adviser is
quite a complex one. Some of the people that came in from careers
guidance backgrounds had quite a lot of work to do to take on
some of those functions. That is something we have highlighted
as still needing to be done. On the careers, education and guidance
front, that is where that inherent tension between the universal
service and them more specific support for those most in need,
is the most apparent. We have registered continuing concerns that
a possible unintended casualty in some places is the loss of the
kind of universal support in years ten and eleven particularly,
to access to advice and guidance on careers and work-related matters
that all young people should receive at that stage.
32. What challenges does inspection of the Connexions
Service place on the experience and expertise of your staff?
(Mr Taylor) It has been very exciting actually. We
have recruited a number of people with quite a range of backgrounds,
including youth services, careers education, secondary and post«compulsory.
We have deliberately set it up as a cross-divisional project where
we involve HMI with a range of backgrounds. The framework is a
new framework and in some ways a pioneering one, with a very strong
focus on the young person at the heart of the experience, as being
one that has gained immeasurably from that internal dialogue as
well as making sure that we brought in our external partners.
I think it was important that we worked hard to get the right
kind of teams, but having done so I have a very high level of
confidence that we are bringing that sort of multi-skill approach
to inspect Connexions, which will guarantee a quality product.
Chairman: This Committee will be looking
at Connexions in more depth in future. I get the distinct impression
when we visited schools and mentioned the Connexions Service that
. . . Perhaps it would not be accurate to say that. We are going
to look at inspection regulation and tendering
33. You have always had a small directly employed
inspectorate, and now you have a massive one and a contracting
inspectorate. Which is better?
(Mr Bell) I am not sure it is a question of which
is better and which is worse. The decision, as you know, is enshrined
in legislation, that a market would be created for the inspection
of schools. I think that that market has increasingly matured
over time. We are in the process of consulting at the moment with
the market about new ways of contracting in the future. For example,
we are considering the possibility of reducing the number of contractors,
and of offering them longer periods of time over which they can
have guarantee of work and so on. That has been a maturing process
in the contracting system. Do not forget, as well, that at the
very beginning of Ofsted we tendered on a school-by-school basis
with a very, very large number of people. Over time those numbers
have reduced. That was enshrined in law. The arrangements that
were determined for the childcare system were that we would transfer
over the staff that we have got. As we have indicated earlier,
these arrangements are working well. We have had a slow start,
but it is beginning to move forward. These are different systems,
rather than one being better and one being worse.
34. Presumably, if you thought that the market
system would work better for early years or the direct employment
system would work better elsewhere, you would be encouraging Parliament
to change the law.
(Mr Bell) In my view, the market system in school
inspections has delivered very effectively for us over the past
ten years. Therefore, there is little, or no, prospect of me coming
back and saying we should return to a directly employed workforce
in terms of inspection of schools. As far as the inspection of
childcare is concerned, we have to consider all options for the
future of that kind of work. It has been a very demanding task
for us having to expect 100,000 plus providers to carry out the
regulation and so on. Our focus at the moment, as you would expect,
is to deliver the task that was set to us in the transitional
period; then, as I suggested earlier, we are moving to a new kind
of inspection system with the emphasis on quality and so on. Therefore,
we will consider all the options in the way in which we deliver
in the future.
35. Clearly, the fewer contractors there are,
the bigger they are, the more potential there is for conflict
for other work they may be doing with schools or with a local
education authority or indeed with a local authority, or even
with the government. How can you judge at what level the involvement
of a large-scale operator like PricewaterhouseCoopersin
some other work being done by the local authority, saywhich
would present a conflict of interests?
(Miss Passmore) We have always had to take account
of connection or a situation which would mean it would be unfair
for a school to be inspected by a particular person or particular
team. As we look at developing our contracting arrangements, we
have to take account of the situation as we find it now, which
is very different from the situation 10 years ago, when these
large consulting companies were not involved in education in the
way they are. It is something we are very alert to. We want to
make sure that we allow our inspectors to continue to report properly.
As David has already saidin words we have used throughout
our entire history of inspections"without fear or
favour"but we want to make sure that the people we
involve have the right lines of demarcation between different
(Mr Bell) If we do look at fewer contractors and possibly
longer period of time, we might bring about further benefits because
we have a greater incentive for organisations that are really
focused down on inspection activities. I think there is a potential
36. Mr Bell, many schools share a concern that
the tendering process produces inconsistencies when it comes to
inspection, something that seems to be borne out by the National
Association of Education Inspectors. Do you think this is an issue
and what are you trying to do to combat it?
(Mr Bell) It is a major responsibility of mine, again
enshrined in law, as far as maintaining the quality of the inspection
system. There is a lot that we do, and it is a big challenge because
we have got about 4,000 actively and regularly inspected, and
it is a fair number of people doing these things. To give you
an indication of the ways in which we do it, we give very clear
guidance about what is expected of inspectors, and there is a
lot of training from inspectors. We also have a division of Ofsted
that is responsible for inspection quality. Just to give you some
indication of that activity, last year there were approximately
4,000 inspections. Around 11% of those were directly monitored
on site by the HMI going out and seeing how these inspectors were
carrying out that task Another 13% were monitored via a review
of the report. All the evidence we have brought together would
be checked to see if the written report matched up. It is something
that we take incredibly seriously. Obviously, it is one of the
virtues of the Ofsted inspection system that we are able to say
that a judgment made in a school in Cumbria is done in the same
way as a judgment on a school in Cornwall. That is very important.
(Miss Passmore) We have to look carefully at what
is meant sometimes by consistency and uniformity. There are things
we would be very, very concerned about if we felt that there was
not the right sort of standard of approach being applied to the
way inspectors conduct inspections; but, equally, we are very
concerned that inspectors take account of the school as it is.
Therefore we do not want a formulaic situation where you have
to report on such tight lines that you cannot take account of
the school that has got a particularly innovative curriculum or
is doing something really exciting in terms of out-of-school activity.
We want to make sure that there is a consistency of standard of
the way we do things, but that there is sufficient flexibility
in the way inspectors respond. This sometimes leads to people
saying, "why is it different in this school from the one
down the road?" It is because we have tried to take account
of the right sort of circumstances.
37. I fully accept your point about consistency.
Do you not think, though, that that aim would be helped, for example,
with contracts on an annual basis. There does seem to be some
long distance travelled by many of the inspection teams, and sometimes
different inspection teams visit the same school. Would that not
be helped if we fell back on what was happening in regard to early
years and basically a regional office?
(Miss Passmore) Yes, although I have had the view
put to me very forcibly in the last week that there is something
important about inspectors having a rather greater national perspective.
It was always regarded as very important in the work of the HMI
that we did see the variety across the country, and we have to
guard against what could be a problem of saying, "it is always
like this in X area, and therefore you cannot expect any more".
I am anxious that we do not do something that depresses expectations
because of difficult circumstances.
38. What about annual awards?
(Miss Passmore) The annual awarding can be difficult
and we are looking at and trying to increase the period. We have
to take account of the changes that might come along, that Parliament
might have in store for us but of which we are not yet aware.
We cannot contract for too long a period therefore, but we certainly
want to make it a more attractive proposition, that it will be
longer than the current period.
39. Some members of this committee would be
concerned, and some of us believe strongly that small and medium
size enterprises are the ones we would rather champion. It would
be worrying for us if we saw that big organisations like Ofsted
were dealing with big players. There are rumours that you are
looking to drop the principle of smaller players that carry out
inspection work, and go for the bigger players. That would worry
us because we think that at the end of the day it is limbering
up to the bigger businesses. We have had some interesting conversations
with Capita and others on individual learning accounts. We would
be a bit worried if we saw Ofsted becoming more dependent on the
big players, and starting and pushing out the smaller players.
At the end of the day, you might get into a situation where you
are too dependent on a small group of big players that then would
not only force prices up but take the availabilitythe smaller
ones will go to the wall and they will not come back easily. What
do you say about that?
(Mr Bell) It has been a process of evolution really,
as I suggested, since the beginning of Ofsted, where you had very
small operations and of course there has been consolidation, consolidation,
consolidation over that period of 10 years. We are seeing that
happening naturally within the market. That is not something that
we have direct control over. If particular kinds of organisations
decide to link with other kinds of organisationsand there
is evidence that that is happeningthat is not really for
us to control. I accept the point of course we are suggesting
that that is the way we are going in a push within Ofsted. It
is really for the market, the inspection providers to determine