Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) (OFS 05)


  1.  The submission by NASUWT relates to all aspects of the work of OFSTED. In particular, the Association's evidence to the Select Committee recommends that:—

    —  a fundamental review of the school inspection framework is needed to ensure OFSTED's relevance within a changing educational context and to engender a level of professional confidence in the inspection process;

    —  a detailed cost-benefit assessment of OFSTED's work should be undertaken with a view to supporting the future development of an efficient inspection process which is coherent and takes account of other existing mechanisms for school improvement;

    —  the inspection system should contribute to reducing the problems of excessive workload and unnecessary bureaucracy in schools which operate to the detriment of effective teaching and learning.

  2.  The Association's submission addresses a number of themes relevant to OFSTED's work:

    —  OFSTED's current work

    —  the future work of OFSTED

    —  OFSTED's accountability

    —  inspection burdens

    —  establishing work/life balance for teachers

    —  self-evaluation

    —  equality and diversity

    —  performance management

    —  transparency

    —  post-16 education

    —  LEA inspection

  3.  NASUWT would be pleased to provide further information or commentary to the Select Committee upon request.


  4.  NASUWT has previously indicated its view that a fundamental review of the school inspection framework is needed. Such a review was previously offered by the previous Chief Inspector of Schools, Mike Tomlinson. However, a review of the purpose, principles and future of inspection has not transpired; instead, OFSTED has remained committed to making relatively minor adjustments to the Inspection Framework, rather than engaging in a much needed and open dialogue about the purpose and contribution of inspection.

  5.  There remains a need to address a most fundamental question: namely, the future purpose of, or rationale for, school inspection. This must be addressed in a manner which takes account of the prevailing context where a number of mechanisms exist within schools, as well as locally and nationally to support school improvement.

  6.  NASUWT finds that OFSTED has made a contribution to the development of a national comparative database of school performance based on the process of a nationally driven system of school inspections. Indeed, the broad outcome of an inspection may be anticipated in advance of a visit to a school. The existence of such comparative information makes it possible for the conduct of detailed school by school comparisons to be undertaken, without the need for further expensive and time-consuming visits to be made to individual schools.

  7.  A review of the arrangements for school inspection must take account of the need for public accountability, but within a context in which a thorough assessment is made of the financial and professional costs arising from inspection. Research undertaken by NASUWT has demonstrated that the inspection arrangements have delivered poor value for money. It is also clear that the impact upon teachers' lives, morale and retention has been significant and adverse.

  8.  Critical accounts of the OFSTED approach indicate that it is over-extended in its ambitions for supporting the work of schools. The inspection framework confuses the separate tasks of quality assurance, quality control, audit, assessment and support for institutional and individual learning/development. This has led to inconsistency of practice which has undermined confidence in the school inspection regime.

  9.  Moreover, the inspection process has failed to:

    —  respond adequately to the specific and changing circumstances within individual schools;

    —  take account of the qualitative or process issues that underpin effective teaching and learning;

    —  take into account the specific contexts and circumstances in which individual schools operate; and

    —  gain the support and confidence of the majority of teachers.

  10.  Furthermore, the conduct of inspection is:

    —  overly dependent on the use of unreliable and subjective perceptions sourced from the practice of classroom observation;

    —  unduly stressful for school staff and pupils;

    —  widely perceived as punitive, demoralising and demotivating;

    —  unpopular with education professionals;

    —  variable between different inspection teams; and

    —  undermined by the failure to ensure that inspectors have adequate expertise and recent experience in the subjects and phases they are observing.

  11.  Despite some recent improvements, the majority of teachers continue to approach the OFSTED inspection process with less than a positive attitude. There is little doubt that responsibility for this lies with OFSTED and the Government and their contribution to the promotion of a crude and simplistic discourse on educational standards in this country, which has not hesitated to castigate the efforts of schools and teachers alike.

  12.  NASUWT undertakes regular surveys of teacher workload. Consistently, these surveys have identified that for headteachers and classroom teachers one of the greatest sources of additional workload is the OFSTED inspection process. There is no doubt that the stress and diversion of effort into the preparation for inspection, the "performance" expected during the inspection period itself, and the conduct of the post-inspection review has had a major impact upon both the professional and personal lives of teachers.

  13.  As well as the cycle of school inspections, OFSTED carries out inspections into other areas which can, and frequently does, result in additional visits from inspectors. The problem of inspection overload must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

  14.  Furthermore, the Government Circular 2/98, "Reducing the Bureaucratic Burden upon Teachers" highlighted the need for schools and OFSTED to reduce the workload of teachers relating to inspections. In spite of the Circular there is little evidence of a reduction in workload.

  15.  NASUWT has received many complaints from teachers about the lack of professionalism, expertise and qualifications of some inspectors. Many of these complaints focus upon the mismatch of expertise and experience within the sector and/or the subject being inspected. Examples cited include inadequate knowledge and experience within inspection teams of primary teaching, special educational needs, and teaching English as an additional language.

  16.  In addition, NASUWT has received a constant stream of reports regarding:

    —  the lack of transparency in the work of the inspection teams;

    —  the lack of consistency in the oral feedback given to classroom teachers about their performance;

    —  the lack of consistency in inspection judgements;

    —  the lack of consistency in the time spent in classroom observation;

    —  the failure of some inspectors to observe the guidelines regarding the confidentiality of feedback; and

    —  the failure of some inspection teams to follow the Code of Practice.

  17.  Teachers have also reported a disparity between the judgements of OFSTED, HMI and LEAs, which has led to confusion, frustration and disillusion with the system. This lack of consistency must be addressed by establishing a unified system of inspection and support.

  18.  Moreover, with as many as 14,000, mostly part-time, inspectors working for over 240 separate contractors, it is inevitable that procedures and judgements vary significantly.

  19.  One of the most frustrating and unfair aspects of the OFSTED inspection process for teachers is the inability of schools or individual teachers to have redress against damaging and inaccurate judgements. Although there is a complaints procedure, the integrity of it must be questioned. The redress offered to schools where an appeal is upheld is the threat of another inspection. It is hardly surprising that teachers have such little confidence in the system.

  20.  The cost associated with the OFSTED inspection regime is a major area of concern. The money invested annually in OFSTED far outstrips the investment made to comparable areas of public sector audit, such as the work undertaken by the Audit Commission.


  21.  NASUWT asserts that there are undoubted advantages in a system of rigorous quality management of education services. The case for some sort of independent audit to make schools accountable and to facilitate educational and organisational improvement is not at issue. NASUWT is not opposed to an inspection process. However, the process should be supportive as well as inspectorial. It remains to be demonstrated that the most appropriate system is in place.

  22.  There has been a massive increase in inspection activity within the pre- and post-16 system which has engendered confusion, complexity, duplication and overload.

  23.  There are substantial direct and hidden costs associated with the current inspection regimes which are not matched by the benefits of inspection. A full cost benefit analysis of the OFSTED inspection system must be undertaken as a matter of priority and as a basis for securing the requisite levels of professional confidence.

  24.  There is a considerable body of independent research that is broadly critical of the design, operation and effectiveness of OFSTED. In spite of recent reforms to the inspection framework, significant concerns remain about the scope of OFSTED's role and the conduct of inspection teams on the ground.

  25.  The Association proposes a number of changes to the inspection system, as follows:

    —  Rationalise the various inspections frameworks in a way which delivers real benefits for schools and colleges and which minimises the burdens on institutions;

    —  Replace the current private contracting system with a smaller, permanent group of professional, qualified and trained inspectors who have recent and relevant experience of teaching;

    —  Introduce agreed criteria for identifying those schools with problems and where an inspection is appropriate, working within a newly agreed framework;

    —  Provide specialist advisers to work closely with LEA inspectors to support school improvement;

    —  Ensure that non-statutory elements are removed from the inspection schedule;

    —  Ensure that a comprehensive and appropriate range of equalities indicators is used to inform the inspection process;

    —  Abandon the use of surveys of student opinion;

    —  Introduce an independent body to which OFSTED would be accountable; and

    —  Introduce a fully independent appeals body with powers of redress.

  26.  There are further critical issues to be addressed in respect of:

    —  the relationship between school inspection, self-evaluation and performance management;

    —  the role of OFSTED in assuring social inclusion and anti-discrimination;

    —  the quality of the school inspections process and its implementation; and

    —  the standard and consistency of inspection reports.


  27.  NASUWT remains unconvinced by claims made about the merits of the school inspection arrangements in England as the basis for raising educational standards. Many teachers and parents would recognise that educational standards are not improved simply by measuring what takes place within schools. NASUWT asserts that it is due to the hard work and professionalism of teachers that improvements in teaching and learning have been secured.

  28.  Nevertheless, it is essential that OFSTED is held accountable for its work, and that it operates on the basis of a sound evidence base gained from its work in the field. In particular, it is essential that OFSTED report annually on the extent to which its work adds value to the existing arrangements for accountability, performance management and raising standards in schools.

  29.  The real costs of inspection must be balanced against the benefits derived to each school. This relationship is far from clear. Research undertaken by NASUWT has demonstrated that inspection arrangements have delivered poor value for money, whilst the impact upon teachers' lives, morale and retention has been significant and adverse. NASUWT calls for a review of the financial, professional and educational costs of the burgeoning inspection system to be undertaken, the findings of which should be subject to public scrutiny.


  30.  There now exists a mass of school performance information, targets, annual reporting arrangements and awards to schools and individual teachers which deliver a more than adequate level of public scrutiny and accountability, and which also assists the process of continuous improvement in teaching and learning within institutions. Nevertheless, and within this context, there has been an increase in the inspection burden on schools and teachers. NASUWT strongly asserts that the Government and OFSTED must act with courage to better exploit the high quality data that is available in relation to individual schools and by the improved use of value-added school performance data.

  31.  NASUWT asserts that the current inspection burdens have engendered confusion, complexity, duplication and overload. The Association would prefer a radical alternative model to be established which would substantially reduce these burdens. Such a model should:

    —  significantly reduce the amount of inspection time in individual schools;

    —  focus on assessing compliance with statutory requirements;

    —  review the efficiency and effectiveness of administrative and bureaucratic systems within individual schools;

    —  review the impact of national requirements and statutory guidance on teacher workload and on teaching and learning outcomes;

    —  make improved use of existing absolute and value-added school performance data sets as a substitute for school inspection visits;

    —  be supportive of the work of teachers and help foster a culture of learning within schools;

    —  be accountable in public and professional terms; and

    —  operate within a low bureaucracy framework.


  32.  NASUWT calls upon the Government to introduce a new set of requirements which will ensure the issue of establishing an appropriate work/life balance for teachers as a crucial aspect in tackling the important problem of teacher workload. This was a key recommendation of the STRB supplementary report on teacher workload which NASUWT endorses fully.

  33.  NASUWT asserts that OFSTED must be expected to recognise and address the concerns set out by the Government and the teaching profession on the importance of reducing workload and excessive working hours of teachers. This highlights the importance of an inspection process that focuses on the effectiveness of leadership and management in schools. Leadership and management play an important role in terms of staff motivation and retention which are critical to raising educational standards. NASUWT believes that the Inspection Framework should set explicit expectations for headteachers and governors in ensuring work/life balance through arrangements to transfer from teachers tasks which are not appropriate to their role, reduce and limit bureaucracy, limit working hours, and any additional strategies agreed nationally with the teacher unions as part of the workload reduction/remodelling agenda.

  34.  The Association believes that OFSTED should be required to consult with the trade unions once a national package has been agreed in respect of teacher workload and working hours.


  35.  NASUWT finds deeply unhelpful OFSTED's continued promotion of school self-evaluation as a means to reviewing school effectiveness. Moreover, OFSTED has adopted a position on this issue which is at best ethically dubious, given its attempts to market its own self-evaluation model and commercial products to schools.

  36.  NASUWT maintains that OFSTED, as the inspectorate body, should be concerned to evaluate the effectiveness of arrangements for self-evaluation which have been adopted by schools; and, in particular, to test the impact of the same on educational standards and teacher workload.

  37.  Schools are neck-deep in the administration of internal systems of planning, target setting, benchmarking, analysis and reviews of individual and institutional performance. The continued promotion of self-evaluation is becoming increasingly superfluous and, evidence suggests that this strategy has served to increase the bureaucratic burdens on schools.

  38.  Moreover, existing models of self-evaluation are overly bureaucratic, workload intensive and require a range of skills which is not immediately available to schools. Feedback to NASUWT demonstrates that the hidden costs associated with the conduct of self-evaluation are considerable and neither does the mechanism deliver rigorous public accountability.

  39.  NASUWT wishes to reiterate its deep concern that OFSTED has chosen not to review the effectiveness and impact of its own self-evaluation models. The Association believes that the continued promotion of self-evaluation will serve to add a further and unnecessary layer of bureaucratic administration within schools.


  40.  NASUWT has argued consistently that the current model of inspection fails to recognise the different challenges that schools face with regard to pupil intake (particularly the range of learning abilities), poverty and differing levels of parental and community support. It is unclear that the operation of the inspection process gives adequate recognition to the contextual differences between schools which is so critical to determining the outcomes that can be achieved by schools. It is welcome that OFSTED now acknowledges the importance of socio-economic factors as a determinant of school performance. It is essential that the Chief Inspector makes clear how such a recognition will in future impact on the conduct of school inspections and on the judgements reached by inspection teams.

  41.  OFSTED has a critical role to play as a public body listed under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. Importantly, OFSTED has invested in providing guidance and training for inspection teams on educational inclusion/racial equality matters. This follows serious criticisms by the Commission for Racial Equality and other bodies regarding OFSTED's apparent failure to address effectively issues of racial equality within school inspection reports. Given the new duties that apply to OFSTED under the amended Race Relations legislation, it is essential that OFSTED:

    —  consult openly on the development of its racial equality plan;

    —  identify and report on the arrangements it will put in place to assure racial equality in all aspects of its work;

    —  indicate how it will consult with teachers and the wider community in the ongoing development of its racial equality scheme; and

    —  report annually on its racial equality practice and the outcomes of its work in addressing racial inequality within its own structures and within those bodies subject to inspection.

  42.  The new requirements imposed under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 should not overshadow other equalities considerations; namely, the promotion of gender equality, tackling homophobia and religious intolerance, and the need for schools to meet their statutory duties under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act. OFSTED must report on its work in these other areas of equality, and take full account of the wider equalities agenda in the preparation of inspection reports.

  43.  NASUWT believes that the arrangements for the conduct of Section 10 inspections must be adjusted to take proper account of the needs of special schools and pupil referral units. These provisions are disproportionately subject to negative inspection judgements, despite the perceived quality of the service they offer to young people. There remains a danger that the standards used in respect of mainstream provisions are applied inappropriately in the case of these specialist provisions.


  44.  The introduction of performance management in schools has a number of implications for the operation of the school inspection system. At its most rudimentary, it requires that OFSTED consider the operation of performance management in schools and comment on its effectiveness. However, and more significantly, performance management, where it is operating effectively, should reduce the requirement for school inspection visits. NASUWT believes that a detailed consultation is required on the criteria to be used in the evaluation of performance management in schools and the implications of performance management for the future scope and focus of school inspections.


  45.  NASUWT welcomes the commitment made by OFSTED that inspectors should brief school staff on the inspection process and their involvement in it. This is particularly important in helping to demystify the process of inspection, allaying the fears of staff and should serve to enhance the transparency and professional ownership. It is important that a meeting with school staff takes place prior to the conduct of the inspection and on completion of the draft inspection report.

  46.  NASUWT asserts that improved dialogue is needed at all stages within the inspection process. This extends, in particular, to the feedback afforded to teachers after their practice has been subject to observation by an inspector. All too often, teachers receive little by way of constructive feedback on how the quality of their teaching could be improved. The abolition of the grading process should constitute an important development; however, and in order to engender professional confidence, it must be the case that individual teacher profiles/grades should be used strictly for the purpose of informing overall judgements on the quality of teaching across the school/subject/phase, and should not be disclosed to any party within the school.


  47.  Further clarification is needed on the operation of the 14-19 inspection framework and its potential impact on schools and on the workload of teachers. The 14-19 Green Paper and the Education Act 2002 signal an important move towards a 14-19 education framework for young people. The changes proposed are highly significant; however, NASUWT is concerned that the implementation of many of these changes will result in increased inspection burdens on schools. It is essential that this does not extend the burdens on schools.

  48.  NASUWT has recognised that the inspection burden has increased rapidly. There is a serious problem of duplication for those schools unfortunate enough to be subject to multiple school, LEA, area based, and other focused inspections. This has generated unnecessary levels of stress for teachers and students alike. The problem of inspection overload must be addressed urgently as a central part of the Government's strategy for sectoral coherence.

  49.  The relationship between inspection judgements/reports and proposals for the reorganisation of 16-19 provision within an area must be made clear. This is a matter for OFSTED to address in conjunction with the Learning and Skills Council, the DfES and LEAs and in consultation with trade unions.

  50.  There is a need for clarity on the operation of the 14-19 inspection framework and its potential impact on schools and on the workload of teachers. It is essential that OFSTED/ALI develop and consult on a strategy to rationalise the various inspection frameworks in a way which delivers real workload gains for teachers.


  51.  NASUWT recognises the statutory basis for the inspection of LEAs and the contribution of an external inspections process in helping to raise standards of educational provision. LEAs should play a key role in guiding and supporting the work of schools and in helping to raise standards of teaching and learning. However, in recent years, many LEAs have been less equipped to fulfil this function as a result of increased financial delegation to schools, the impact of out-sourcing of functions, and as a result of a plethora of legislative measures which have been taken by Government to reduce the extent of LEA powers for intervention. Indeed, the provisions regarding earned autonomy as set out in the Education Act 2002 will further weaken the control of individual LEAs in the running of schools. Moreover, in many areas, LEAs capacity for strategic intervention to support schools in need has been compromised as a result of a number of recent policy changes.

  52.  Given this context, the Association believes that it is essential to extend the debate about the purpose and value of a comprehensive programme of LEA inspection which continues to test the performance of LEAs against an outdated set of performance criteria. Moreover, the activity and contribution of other bodies involved in running LEA services and those companies to be established/engaged in the provision of goods and services to schools should also be subject to a more rigorous quality assurance scrutiny, undertaken by OFSTED or other suitable body.

September 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 3 February 2003