Select Committee on Education and Skills Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (NAEIAC) (OFS 03)

  1.  The National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants wishes to submit the following comments on the work of Ofsted to the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee, for consideration prior to its forthcoming meeting with Mr Tomlinson. 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.


  2.  Our submission may be summarised as follows:

    —  The detailed consultations recently undertaken by Ofsted in connection with its review of the school inspection system, while usefully based on proposals which should protect the rigour of the inspection process while acknowledging the growing impact of school self-evaluation, should be extended to consider better co-ordination with the developmental work of educational advisory services. A "joined-up" approach to the overall task of school improvement should embrace the three key elements of school self-evaluation, periodic formal inspections and external developmental activity, by establishing appropriate points of connection between these functions. An annual, validated, school self-evaluation exercise, based on national Ofsted criteria, could help to inform both the inspectorial and developmental processes, thus establishing a clearer link between them in the direct interest of local schools and their efforts to raise standards.

    —  Ofsted's early years directorate faces the need to consider the practical aspects of moving towards unification of the two existing inspection regimes for the Foundation Stage (section 10 and section 122 inspections). Our Association has sought to identify the specific strengths of each current system and has proposed a number of principles on which to proceed towards a unified inspection regime.


  3.  NAEIAC welcomed the publication, on 10 September 2001, of the Ofsted consultation paper "Improving Inspection, Improving Schools", and the various associated consultative activities undertaken by Ofsted, and contributed itself to this exercise. An article by HMCI Mike Tomlinson was commissioned, and duly published in our membership information bulletin, which concentrated on this consultation paper and its implications for inspectors. In addition, our Association responded in writing to the questions posed in the Ofsted paper and also met with senior representatives of Ofsted on 2 November 2001to discuss relevant issues in more detail.

  4.  Our response identified the trend towards short school inspections as the key theme within the Ofsted paper, and our Association noted that "we recognise the growing impact of school self-evaluation and believe this consultation paper broadly identifies the implications of this factor for future school inspections. In addition, we believe shorter inspections have largely proved to be successful, and that an issues-driven inspection system can be more effective. However, we regret that these proposals do not sufficiently embrace all of the three key elements of school improvement—school self-evaluation, external inspection, and external developmental services—in moving towards a more integrated future school improvement model. A validated school self-evaluation exercise, conducted annually on Ofsted criteria, could help to inform the external inspectorial and developmental processes." This summary reflects our underlying belief that the Ofsted paper is indeed pointing in the right direction, in acknowledging the increasing impact of school self-evaluation within the necessary reform of the formal inspectorial system, but that further steps could also be considered to improve the link between that system and the ongoing work of LEA and other school improvement services in the form of their developmental activity with local schools.

  5.  NAEIAC believes, on the evidence of our members' practical experience of shorter inspections to date, that there is little risk of the new proposed models for S10 inspections leading to less rigour within the future inspection process. Indeed, our Association would not lend its support to any approach which tended towards a less rigorous inspection system for the coming period. The overall standards agenda is likely to remain a central feature of national-level education policies, whatever changes are introduced to other key aspects of educational provision, and this factor dictates an identifiable need for the maintenance of appropriately rigorous school inspection machinery. Our Association is confident that Ofsted appreciates this requirement.

  6.  We contend, however, that a significant opportunity now exists for also moving towards a better co-ordinated, "joined-up", approach to the major issue of school improvement, and that this should be duly reflected in the planned reform of the inspection process. The formal inspectorial function should indeed be more closely aligned to the major cultural changes within schools now emerging, albeit unevenly, through self-evaluation, and the introduction of performance management systems. However, it should also be better co-ordinated with the developmental work of external advisers and school improvement services. A starting point could be consideration of the introduction of an annual, validated, self-evaluation exercise, based on national Ofsted criteria, which could provide useful information to assist both formal Ofsted inspections and the work of educational advisory teams.


  7.  In seeking to evaluate Foundation Stage provision across all sectors, NAEIAC believes that all settings should be held accountable to the same, appropriately rigorous, quality standards and that a two-tier inspection system should not be perpetuated. There are specific strengths in both of the current Ofsted inspection regimes for the Foundation Stage and the sector would benefit from a new joint Foundation Stage inspection framework that incorporates the best of both current processes.

  8.  In Section 10 inspections, the strengths may be seen as:

    (a)  corporate judgements are made by more than one inspector;

    (b)  an inspection lasts more than one day, so that a range of learning and teaching is observed;

    (c)  greater opportunities exist to investigate continuity and progression in children's learning and experiences;

    (d)  the parents' questionnaire and meeting are valuable;

    (e)  the inclusion of children's responses to their educational experiences is useful; and

    (f)  there is a focus on the quality of leadership and management, including the use of resources.

  Our Association is pleased that these strengths are unlikely to change in light of the current Ofsted review of Section 10 inspections.

  In Section 122 inspections, the strengths may be seen as:

    (a)  inspectors with relevant and direct experience of working in the early years sector;

    (b)  the gathering of evidence via a notebook, enabling inspectors to return to and add to their observations over longer sessions; and

    (c)  clear criteria for the evaluation of practice.

  9.  In order to unify the two existing inspection regimes for the Foundation Stage successfully, NAEIAC would recommend that:

    (i)  The DfES and Ofsted seek to rationalise the number of "quality" standards that are currently identified i.e. the different Ofsted Frameworks; requirements for self-evaluation; Quality Assurance criteria (EYDCP Targets) and the Star Rating Scheme ("Building on Success")

    (ii)  Ofsted continue to expect, of all providers in all sectors, the highest rather than lowest standards from both current inspection regimes;

    (iii)  A new Ofsted Framework is elaborated, drawing on the best of both current processes;

    (iv)  The new inspection regime considers the process of inspection as carefully as the content;

    (v)  Quality criteria include aspects of care as well as education, so that Ofsted's current work on the Care Standards is extended into the maintained sector

    (vi)  The new Ofsted Inspection Framework for the Foundation Stage takes a lead from the QCA/DfES Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage and focuses on learning before teaching;

    (vii)  The new Inspection Framework encourages inspectors to make judgements about whether strategies used by practitioners encourage positive attitudes and dispositions to learning;

    (viii)  The new inspection regime "permits" learning to be cross-curricular and does not require practitioners to compartmentalise teaching into time-tabled subject blocks;

    (ix)  The new Inspection Framework clarifies, for inspectors as well as practitioners, that a literacy hour or numeracy 45 minutes are inappropriate in reception classes;

    (x)  Ofsted recruits and trains inspectors who have substantial, recent and direct experience in teaching, advising or inspecting early education in Foundation Stage settings;

    (xi)  The new Inspection Framework is carefully piloted in the growing number of settings where voluntary and LEA providers are working together in joint ways to provide Foundation Stage education from age three to the end of the reception year on the same site;

    (xii)  That the reporting of standards in the Foundation Stage should come within one Ofsted document as part of the annual report of HMCI.

We have published the above proposals, drawn from a process paper compiled by our Association's Early Childhood Group, in our information bulletin, and have drawn them to the attention of HMCI in recent correspondence, for consideration by Ofsted. We maintain that regular and detailed dialogue on this subject will be required between all the relevant parties concerned with early years provision.


  10.  NAEIAC hopes that the above points will be of interest to the Select Committee, and would be happy to respond to any requests for further information which may assist the Committee's deliberations. Our Association is grateful to the members of the former House of Commons Education Sub-Committee for their interest in NAEIAC submissions relating to the work and impact of Ofsted.


November 2001

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