Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 4

Memorandum submitted by the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (NAEIAC) (OFS 04)

  (1)  The National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants wishes to submit the following comments on aspects of the work of OFSTED to the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, for consideration prior to its forthcoming meeting with Mr Bell. NAEIAC, as the recognised professional body and trade union for educational inspectors, advisers and consultants, is firmly committed to the belief that standards and quality of education can be improved through the intervention of professional inspection, advice, support, training and management, and enjoys regular contact with HMCI and OFSTED on issues of current concern.

SUMMARY OF SUBMISSION
  (2)  Our submission may be summarised as follows:

    —  Given the current progress being made by LEAs in the field of local school improvement, as noted in OFSTED's recent report summarising the results of the first cycle of LEA inspections, consideration should now be given to appropriate methods for wider sharing of practical information on best practice in this specialist field, as derived from these inspections, in order to assist LEAs in their work.

    —  The current system for regulating the OFSTED market in school inspections should be improved in order to secure greater stability and consistency within this important area of activity, from the standpoint of schools, inspection contractors and of the inspectors themselves. An opportunity for reviewing the regulatory system is now presented by OFSTED's re-tendering process for school inspection work.

SHARING OF PRACTICAL INFORMATION ON BEST PRACTICE FROM LEA INSPECTIONS
  (3)  The newly-published OFSTED report "Local Education Authorities and School Improvement 1996-2001", based upon the first cycle of joint OFSTED/Audit Commission formal inspections of LEAs conducted over these five years, is welcomed as independent confirmation of the identifiable progress now being made in the important field of LEA support for local school improvement. The report's findings include the statement that "LEAs have done a very sound job in delivering many of the Government's school improvement initiatives, such as the literacy and numeracy strategies, and in supporting the Excellence in Cities initiative. They are a valuable source of challenge, support and intervention for underperforming schools. They play an important part in partnership work, in accordance with local priorities." In overall terms, this report concludes from inspection evidence that LEAs have improved over the period concerned, and recent inspections have increasingly found them to be satisfactory or good. Most of the unsatisfactory LEAs that were re-inspected had made progress in a relatively short time. LEAs are described as usually having the capacity to improve further, although the specific impact of the Best Value initiative is viewed as disappointing to date.

  (4)  NAEIAC contributes to the identification and dissemination of best practice in LEA advisory and related school improvement services, in a practical form, by organising regionally-based workshops for practitioners in the field, on such issues as appropriate performance management systems for these specialist services, among other activities. Our Association is grateful to OFSTED for its collaboration in these initiatives. We would now propose that appropriate avenues be explored for wider sharing of the useful detailed information on specific aspects of best practice within LEAs which emerge from such OFSTED inspections. The report does refer, in Annex A, to named individual LEAs with successful track records grouped under separate inspection judgment headings, but obviously cannot offer any details within the space available. It might therefore be helpful to consider appropriate formats for supplementary papers or events which could allow valuable information on specific aspects of best practice, within the school improvement field, to be disseminated on a broader basis across LEAs.

IMPROVED REGULATION OF THE SCHOOL INSPECTION MARKET
  (5)  Since the introduction of the Education (Schools) Act 1992, the OFSTED system of school inspections in England has been based upon competitive tendering for work in this field between private contractors deploying varying teams of independent inspectors, in contrast to models operating elsewhere in the UK. While this market-driven approach inevitably attracted serious ideological debate, particularly during its formative period, a number of practical concerns over its day-to-day operation have attracted more attention in recent times. Despite a level of established market regulation through OFSTED's central quality control machinery, consistency and stability could be further enhanced within the school inspection arena through the continued evolution of this regulatory system. Inspectors frequently worry about the intensity of competition holding down their fee levels, despite their long total hours of work (including pre- and post-inspection activity) and their generally high standards of inspection work as confirmed by the relatively few complaints registered with OFSTED. Schools retain concerns at times over apparent inconsistencies and operational difficulties generated by the same phenomenon of different contractors, with varying resources, regularly vying for inspection work.

  (6)  OFSTED's Early Years directorate is already structured on a settled regional basis and this feature could perhaps be usefully reflected within improved regulatory machinery. A more stable market could offer (i) more reassurance to schools that relevant quality control systems will operate effectively on a consistent basis (ii) new opportunities to liaise with LEA school improvement officers, and thereby assist in reconnecting the inspectorial and developmental functions of OFSTED, LEAs and related agencies (iii) more secure career opportunities for trained and committed inspectors (iv) reduced downward pressures on inspectors' fee levels (v) greater familiarity with individual local schools in their wider "context". The re-tendering process within the OFSTED market system could be utilised to strengthen the regulatory system with such objectives in view.

FURTHER INFORMATION
  (7)  NAEIAC hopes that the above points will be of interest to the Education & Skills Committee, and would be happy to respond to any requests for further information which may assist the Committee's deliberations on the work and impact of OFSTED.

September 2002


 
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