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


APPENDIX 11

Memorandum from The National Union of Teachers (OFS 09)

SUMMARY

  This submission from the National Union of Teachers focuses on the OFSTED proposals for school inspections from 2003 as set out in the document "Improving inspections, improving schools". The submission addresses also issues of concern to OFSTED raised by the DfES White Paper "Schools Achieving Success", the Education Bill and other recent Government pronouncements.

  There are a number of questions which arise from the submission which members of the Select Committee may wish to consider in their interview with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector. These questions are as follows:

    —  Did the Secretary of State define the boundaries of the OFSTED consultation document and, if so, what aspect of inspection would the Chief Inspector have liked to see reviewed?

    —  Will OFSTED agree to put in place annual review arrangements which maintain a running check on the effectiveness of the proposed changes for school inspections?

    —  Would the Chief Inspector expand on the basis on which OFSTED will select schools for inspection and what criteria will be used to decide whether or not a school is selected for a `full' or a `short' inspection?

    —  What assurances will the Chief Inspector give that inspectors will be prohibited from "grading" and identifying individual teachers on an informal basis?

    —  In the light of the Government's review of teacher workload and PricewaterhouseCoopers' proposal that OFSTED should inspect the application of measures to reduce workload does he think such a proposal will lead to a significant reduction in workload? If he does, can he describe how he will implement such a proposal?

    —  Would the Chief Inspector agree to work with the DfES to produce guidance to head teachers which discourages unnecessary pressure and bureaucracy being placed on teachers?

    —  Would the Chief Inspector acknowledge the need for sensitivity in the use of value-added and benchmark data in relation to school evaluation?

    —  Are all members of every inspection team required to undergo a period of training annually? How long is that training and in what form does it take?

    —  What assurances can the Chief Inspector give that inspectors of early years provision - in maintained schools as well as in private and voluntary settings - are up to the job?

    —  Would the Chief Inspector commit himself to a more fundamental review of the arrangements for inspection of special schools sometime in the near future?

    —  Will OFSTED ensure parity between schools and colleges in implementing pupil questionnaires on an optional basis only?

    —  What plans, if any, are there to review the current OFSTED Complaints Procedure?

    —  Can the Chief Inspector report on the ability of schools to protect pupils from offensive materials on the Internet and from undesirable external contacts? Is he satisfied that the Government has done enough to raise teacher awareness, confidence and skills in the safe and effective use of the Internet to support pupil's learning?

    —  Would the Chief Inspector not agree that if every teacher was provided with his or her own portable or personal computer, as a `tool of the trade' then more significant progress would be made?

    —  Bearing in mind the additional challenges faced by some secondary schools does the Chief Inspector think that they should receive additional support rather than threats of closure?

    —  What assurance can OFSTED give that post-16 inspections will give equal value to all courses not just those that lead to formal qualifications or specific qualifications that acquire higher levels of funding?

FULL SUBMISSION

  1.  This submission from the National Union of Teachers focuses on the recent OFSTED proposals for school inspections from 2003 as set out in the document "Improving inspections, improving schools". It also addresses issues of concern to OFSTED raised by the DfES White Paper "Schools Achieving Success", the Education Bill and other recent Government pronouncements.

THE FUTURE ARRANGEMENTS FOR SCHOOL INSPECTION

  2.  The recently published Demos report, "Classroom Assistance", commissioned by the NUT, is the latest in a long line of studies which emphasise that, while teachers understand the need for accountability, they reject the failure of the current arrangements to enable inspectors to provide developmental advice, as well as criticism.

  3.  The current arrangements are based entirely on securing accountability accompanied by punitive consequences for those schools which have been deemed to require special measures.

  4.  This approach has led to the alienation of teachers from the process of quality assurance and evaluation. The arrangements have failed to channel teachers' expertise, experience and secure their commitment to the evaluative process. The NUT is concerned that OFSTED's proposals do not redress sufficiently the balance between internal and external evaluations.

  5.  The NUT hopes, however, that the shift in emphasis towards self-evaluation and other positive proposals within the consultation document will, in fact, contribute more constructively to school improvement and teacher morale. In this context, the NUT notes the statement "we see no need at this stage to alter the fundamental structure of the arrangements put in place in 1993" within paragraph five of the recent OFSTED consultation "Improving inspection, improving schools". The history of school inspection arrangements in the past decade is that they have been subject to evolutionary change rather than radical review.

  6.  Yet towards the end of 2000 and in the first part of this year there were statements made by various policy influencers, and even the HMCI himself, which led many in education to believe that a more substantial review would be undertaken. In February journalists were reporting a "radical shake-up of the system" and an "inspection overhaul". Did the Secretary of State define the boundaries of the OFSTED consultation document and, if so, what aspect of inspection would the Chief Inspector have liked to see reviewed? Will OFSTED agree to put in place annual review arrangements which maintain a running check on the effectiveness of the proposed changes following its usual consultation mechanisms?

A MORE FLEXIBLE INSPECTION SYSTEM

  7.  OFSTED has proposed a "more flexible inspection system". The NUT believes that the application of a flexible inspection system to primary schools would be more responsive to the relatively integrated nature of the primary curriculum, compared to that of secondary schools. A common approach is essential, however. Such an approach would require the further development work identified for the flexible inspection system for secondary schools. In addition, the suggestion that there might be "a small proportion of longer inspections" for primary schools undermines the common approach proposed by OFSTED itself. Would the Chief Inspector expand on the basis on which OFSTED will select schools for inspection and what criteria will be used to decide whether or not a school is selected for a "full" or a "short" inspection?

GRADING INDIVIDUAL TEACHERS

  8.  The proposal to stop providing profiles of grades of teaching to individual teachers and head teachers is welcome. The current arrangements confuse evaluation of teaching with the evaluation of an individual teacher. The intention by OFSTED to "promote a constructive dialogue between inspectors and teachers on the quality of teaching observed, rather than a potentially unproductive debate about grading" (paragraph 29) is a step in the right direction. The requirement to give profiles on individual teachers to head teachers for management purposes, albeit in confidence, has always provided de facto, individual inspectors a key responsibility for the performance appraisal of teachers.

  9.  There remains, however, a danger of inspectors informally providing head teachers, or members of governing bodies, information on teacher grades without individual teachers' knowledge. What assurances will the Chief Inspector give that future advice to inspectors will prohibit such activity?

USE OF COMPARATIVE DATA BY OFSTED

  10.  Paragraph 10 of the OFSTED consultation document refers to an increasing reliance by inspection teams on value-added data.

  11.  The NUT would wish to register caution about any over-reliance on value-added data. It recognises that value-added mechanisms for the statistical data available to inspectors about schools can lead to greater accuracy in reflecting school achievement. The NUT also welcomes statements from the Chief Inspector "Let us not value only that which we can measure. Education is about a great deal more than that. If we ever lose sight of that then I want an early bath"[1]. On the other hand, absence of value-added progress does not necessarily mean failure but could indicate changes in pupil intake, including high mobility, or maintenance of current achievement despite significant external pressures. This sensitivity should be part of the health check which inspection teams should use in testing the reliability of value-added data. Would the Chief Inspector acknowledge the need for sensitivity in the use of such data?

  12.  The NUT is concerned also about inspectors making comparisons between schools which are deemed to be similar through information provided by PANDA Reports when other information may indicate that the circumstances of such schools are anything but similar. The NUT believes that OFSTED should review the way in which benchmark data is used by inspection teams. Would the Chief Inspector acknowledge the inadequacies of such data in making such comparisons?

QUALITY OF INSPECTION TEAMS

  13.  The consultation document recognises that, "some school inspections do not yet meet all these requirements [set out by OFSTED in paragraph 8] as well as they might". This is important because, although most schools do not have disputes with inspection teams which they would wish to pursue, there is still a view amongst many head teachers and teachers that they can be lucky or unlucky with the teams contracted to inspect their schools.

  14.  The NUT notes that the number of companies responsible for providing inspections has reduced but believes that the contracting out arrangements, subject as they are to the vagaries of the market, are prone to shortages and inconsistencies in quality. The NUT would urge OFSTED to review fundamentally the current arrangements with a view to bringing the existing teams in-house.

  15.  The consultation document talks about investment in "quality control" and an "annual training plan". Are all members of every inspection team required to undergo a period of training annually? How long is that training and in what form does it take?

  16.  The recent expansion of OFSTED's remit has meant that the `nursery education' inspectors are not needed because of the requirement on OFSTED to take on all the staff previously employed as inspectors within the social services departments of local councils. The NUT is concerned that the training for early years and childcare inspectors is currently inadequate.

  17.  The most productive form of inspection is one where the inspector understands the learning and teaching processes at work and is able to draw on actual evidence. Those being inspected must respect the judgements being made. Where such understanding is not present the inspector's judgements may lack credibility, or the wool may be pulled over the eyes of the inspector. The composition of inspection teams must, therefore, be suitable - i.e. the qualifications, training and experience of the inspectors themselves should be appropriate to the provision being inspected. What assurances can the Chief Inspector give that inspectors of early years provision - in maintained schools as well as in private and voluntary settings - are up to the job?

  18.  For teachers in special schools and pupil referral units, it is a matter of continuing frustration and concern that a disproportionately high number of inspection teams do not understand the specific needs of the pupils they teach. These concerns are strongest amongst teachers of pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties. For those teaching in special schools and pupil referral units, it is clear that the main problem is that many inspectors simply do not understand the need for teachers to respond flexibly to sharp and unpredicted changes in medical conditions or behaviour. Many teachers, particularly those in EBD schools and pupil referral units, believe that the inspection framework should be changed and a requirement put in place that the majority, if not all, inspectors inspecting their schools should have had a practical and recent background in teaching in their area.

  19.  The NUT would call for a separate review of inspections of special schools and pupil referral units. The current proposals, therefore, to "maintain a mix of short and full inspections for special schools" (paragraph 30) simply misses the point. Would the Chief Inspector acknowledge that this is an issue and commit himself to a more fundamental review of the arrangements for inspection of special schools sometime in the near future? In the meantime, OFSTED must ensure that via guidance and training, inspection teams involved in inspection of special schools apply the inspection framework flexibly, according to the particular characteristics of the individual school or unit. What, if any, specific recruitment practices and training opportunities will be put in place to ensure that OFSTED makes "the most positive and effective contribution" to the improvement of special schools?

REDUCING THE BURDEN OF INSPECTION

  20.  The NUT welcomes any proposal that will genuinely reduce the levels of bureaucratic burdens associated with inspections. OFSTED's commitment to reducing the burden of inspection for primary schools is particularly welcome. There is little evidence, however, that teachers facing a short inspection currently undertake less preparation than those undergoing a full inspection. The consultation document fails to acknowledge the pressure on schools generated by government. Although OFSTED provided advice on the literacy and numeracy strategies at Key Stages 1 and 2, many head teachers still remained under the impression that: (a) the strategies were compulsory; and (b) local education authority target setting and proposals for lesson planning were also compulsory. OFSTED needs to provide clear and specific guidance on such issues, including on the implementation of the Key Stage 3 strategy which emphasises the voluntary nature of that strategy. The purpose of planning and assessment should be to benefit children's learning. Lengthy and beautifully presented lesson plans should not be seen as necessary evidence for external monitoring purposes. Would the Chief Inspector agree to work with the DfES to produce guidance to head teachers to this effect?

  21.  Prior to the publication of a consultation document, there were suggestions by OFSTED that, as a contribution to reducing bureaucratic burdens on schools, OFSTED would include in the framework a requirement on inspectors to inspect the contributions of head teachers to achieving a reasonable work-life balance for staff. That this proposal appears to have disappeared is regretful. Recent OFSTED advice to inspectors states

    "Inspectors must be alert to the fact that head teachers are concerned about the weight of bureaucracy on schools at the moment. Inspectors should report on the nature and extent of the bureaucratic demands on schools and indicate the most common sources of these demands. These must be explored with the head teacher and reported in the relevant section of the report. Inspectors need to take account of any other barriers to efficient development."[2].

  Will this issue remain a matter of guidance or will there be a more explicit reference to reasonable levels of workload within the OFSTED framework itself? In the light of the Government's review of teacher workload and PricewaterhouseCoopers' proposal that OFSTED should inspect the application of measures to reduce workload does he think such a proposal will lead to a significant reduction in workload? If he does, can he describe how he will implement such a proposal?

SEEKING PUPIL'S VIEWS DURING INSPECTIONS

  22.  The fact that pupils have a high stake in the quality of their schools' educational provision is incontestable. Indeed, as the recent research by the Hay Group shows, pupils' views about their teachers are frequently more positive and constructive than teachers themselves imagine. OFSTED's proposal to pilot questionnaires for 11-16 year olds is, however, open to abuse. As the Hay Group report itself says, "the climate of inspections and assessments has led many teachers to have a very guarded view of their performance in the classroom." The NUT's own survey, conducted by Warwick University on teacher attitudes towards pupil behaviour indicates that more than 80 per cent of teachers in schools of all types, in rural, urban and inner city areas, believe that pupil behaviour has deteriorated during their time in teaching. From the NUT's own evidence, there are relatively small groups of pupils who nevertheless have the capacity to operate maliciously in schools.

  23.  Pupils' views in the context of focused school self-evaluation exercises, conducted with the consent of teachers and other staff, provide valuable information. As the NUT's own work on school self-evaluation has revealed, collection of such data through school self-evaluation necessarily should be confidential. In the context of "high stakes inspection", the incentive for either malicious intervention from some pupils or for pupils to misrepresent themselves in the context of pupils' own views of what inspections might consist of, is greatly increased.

  24.  Parents and their children have more rights and choices than they have had previously. Rights should be accompanied by responsibilities and currently the perception of teachers is that many parents do not understand their responsibilities or carry them out.

  25.  It is in this context that OFSTED needs to consider very carefully any proposal to use evidence from pupil questionnaires to inform inspections. As indicated above, the internal use of pupil questionnaires as part of school self-evaluation is not at issue. The issue is whether pupils involved in filling in questionnaires will move from being involved in providing valuable information to the school corporately or whether such information can be used to undermine individual teachers.

  26.  There are also other issues arising from this proposal. Some pupils may not be able to express themselves as well as others. There may also be the complicating factor of whether some pupils can fill in questionnaires without teacher intervention and support. If teachers are expected to supervise the completion of questionnaires in these circumstances, issues of confidentiality could be raised.

  27.  In sixth form colleges, student questionnaires have been used to inform the inspections on an optional basis. Post-16 education is based on a different premise to that of statutory education; students attend voluntarily. If the pilot goes ahead, at the very least the use of questionnaires should be optional, with a decision taken by teachers on their use. Will OFSTED ensure parity between schools and colleges in implementing pupil questionnaires on an optional basis only?

"FAILING" SCHOOLS

  28.  In her speech to the LGA last week (22 November) the Secretary of State acknowledged the difficulties faced by schools in `challenging circumstances'. She spoke about how these schools were feeling "squeezed" and teachers were under "great pressure" as a result of external social pressures. She emphasised the number of barriers to learning that exist for pupils from poorer and `lower class' families. Yet on the same day the newspapers were full of headlines about the seventy six schools facing closure for not meeting the government's target of 15 per cent 5A*— C GCSEs. The head teacher from William Crane School in Nottingham summed up the frustration of head teachers and teachers in these schools "If you put pressure on schools like this, then staff who are working very, very hard to turn the place round may decide that there are easier ways of making a living". Bearing in mind the additional challenges faced by some secondary schools does the Chief Inspector think that they should receive additional support rather than threats of closure?

POST -16 INSPECTIONS

  29.  From September 2001, post-16 provision has received greater attention as a result of the extended remit given to OFSTED and the establishment of Learning and Skills Councils. The NUT is concerned about the impact of the changes in the ways in which post-16 provision is monitored on the learning opportunities for all pupils. What assurance can OFSTED give that post-16 inspections will give equal value to all courses not just those that lead to formal qualifications or specific qualifications that acquire higher levels of funding?

COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE

  30.  The efficiency and efficacy of the current Complaints Procedures needs to be tightened up. There is little redress currently for teachers where they consider that inspection judgements of their teaching to be unfair. OFSTED advises that: "OFSTED cannot second-guess judgements made during the week of the inspection" (Making Complaints to OFSTED 1998), is too restricted. It should be made abundantly clear by OFSTED that all aspects of inspections are subject to independent scrutiny and accountability through a fair and open complaints procedure. The current arrangements suit OFSTED in that the exercise is drawn out over such a long period of time that schools are often discouraged from continuing with the compliant, however, justified it is. The consultation document does not make any reference to OFSTED's complaints procedures or the role of the adjudicator. What plans, if any, are there to review the current Complaints Procedure?

ICT IN SCHOOLS

  31.  In terms of lottery funded ICT training OFSTED recently advised inspectors that "a number of problems with the implementation of some of the NOF training. Inspectors should be sensitive to the fact that schools may not have benefited sufficiently, even though they have participated."

  32.  In the same guidance OFSTED advises inspectors to "make sure that schools take reasonable steps to ensure that their pupils are protected from offensive materials on the Internet and from undesirable external contacts, for example through e-mail or non-educational chat rooms".[3] Can the Chief Inspector report on the ability of schools to protect pupils from such dangers? Is he satisfied that the Government has done enough to raise teacher awareness, confidence and skills in the safe and effective use of the Internet to support pupil's learning?

  33.  In the Chief Inspector's latest Annual Report he reported that the provision of ICT varied enormously and that in too many schools the quality of ICT teaching and learning was found by inspectors to be unsatisfactory. He has acknowledged that the effectiveness of teachers' use of ICT is dependent on levels of resourcing, the availability of technical support and the quality of any training received. Would the Chief Inspector not agree that if every teacher was provided with his or her own portable or personal computer, as a "tool of the trade" then more significant progress would be made?

National Union of Teachers

November 2001


1   TES 16 February 2001. Back

2   Pages 11 and 12, Update 36: OFSTED advice to inspectors 2001. Back

3   Pages 16-18, Update 36: OFSTED advice to inspectors 2001. Back


 
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