Select Committee on Education and Skills Second Special Report



The Education and Skills Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—


The Education and Skills Committee reported to the House on The Work of OFSTED in its First Report of Session 2001-02, published on 14 February 2002 as HC 437. The Government's response to that Report was received on 5 March 2002 and OFSTED's response was received on 11 March 2002. The responses are reproduced as Appendices I and II to this Special Report. A list of the Conclusions and Recommendations from the Committee's First Report is reproduced at Appendix III.





Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from the

Minister of State for Schools Standards

I am responding to the Committee's First Report of Session 2001­02, The Work of OFSTED, which was published on 14 February. I understand that HM Chief Inspector of Schools, Mike Tomlinson, is responding on behalf of OFSTED.

We have at present no plans to commission an external evaluation of OFSTED's methodology. Regular external inspection of all maintained schools continues to be an important part of our strategy for raising standards. Inspection leads to improvement by triggering action at local level and by providing a picture of all our schools which informs policy development and implementation at national level. HM Chief Inspector keeps the inspection system under review, as the law requires, resulting in action to improve quality and consistency, reduce the burdens on those being inspected, and provide better value for money. Significant progress has been made through a series of changes since 1997. The most important milestone was in 2000, when flexible arrangements were introduced in which there are short inspections for the most effective schools and the interval between inspections varies between two and six years. OFSTED consulted widely during autumn 2001 on proposals for further development and announced decisions on 24 January, most of which will be implemented in 2003.

We recognise that inspections by an external team leading to a published report can be a source of additional pressure on teachers. We have worked with HM Chief Inspector to find ways of minimising such pressures whilst ensuring that inspection continues to provide a rigorous external check on schools' performance. For example, in 2000 we reduced the pre­inspection notice period from two terms to 6­10 weeks, limiting the lengthy build­up of pressure which teachers told us was damaging. Guidance on the Department's website and from OFSTED makes it clear that teachers should not be diverted from the essentials of teaching and learning into pre­inspection preparatory work. We nevertheless continue to hear of teachers devoting excessive time to tasks which are prompted by an inspection but are often unnecessary and unproductive. We hope that headteachers and governing bodies will take appropriate action to avoid this unhelpful practice.

We support HM Chief Inspector's decision, announced on 24 January, to develop a strategy for increasing the number of inspection teams involving serving teachers and headteachers. That will have benefits for the school inspection system and for the professional development of those teachers and headteachers, and therefore also for the schools in which they work currently and in the future.

We welcome OFSTED's proposal to take account of pupils' views as part of the inspection process. We support the principle of consulting pupils about their education and have made positive steps to encourage their involvement, for example through issuing guidance on schools councils and through the pupil participation requirement of the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice 2001. As part of the overall Departmental strategy to increase the focus on our customers, we will shortly produce an action plan on children and young people's participation, a subject which has been given added momentum by the Children and Young People's Unit report Learning to Listen published in November 2001. Our plans will include further steps which we might take to support schools in increasing the involvement of their pupils.

We are committed to reducing bureaucratic burdens on the school workforce and are encouraged by HM Chief Inspector's decision to include analyses of bureaucracy in future annual reports.

We share OFSTED's concern about the number of schools "slipping" from serious weaknesses into special measures. That is why the Education Bill includes proposals for extending the

Secretary of State's current powers for intervening in schools placed in special measures to those judged to have serious weaknesses. The productive partnership which has developed over recent years between OFSTED, local education authorities and the Department in challenging and supporting schools in special measures has led to a substantial reduction in their numbers, and we are confident that we can achieve similar success for schools with serious weaknesses. We have already begun discussions with OFSTED on setting up new arrangements for closer monitoring of schools with serious weaknesses, which we shall be disseminating to local education authorities shortly.


The Government does not encourage smoking and expects parents and childminders to be sensitive to the health risks that passive smoking presents to children. The National Standard covering health issues requires all providers to promote the good health of children and, as with every standard, OFSTED will discuss with all childcare providers how their practice will enable them to meet the standard. We consider that this is a better approach than introducing an outright ban on childminders smoking in the presence of children in their care. When we conducted a special survey of parents on this issue, they agreed with us that this should be a matter for agreement between the childminder and parent, rather than a matter for government regulation.

As we come to review the National Standards, we look forward to receiving any information that OFSTED is able to produce on how childminders are complying with the relevant National Standards. Similarly, on the question of whether childminders should be allowed to smack children in their care, we would be very happy to consider any information OFSTED was able to produce on compliance with the relevant requirement, along with other evidence on the effect of the requirement, as we come to review the National Standards next year.

Finally, we note the Committee's comments about the inspection of colleges and local education authorities. The inspection of education for young people in colleges was added to OFSTED's remit in April 2001 and the Committee may wish to look further at those arrangements when they have bedded­in. Following publication of the Local Government White Paper Strong Local Leadership ­ Quality Public Services in December 2001, action is in hand in co­operation with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to develop and implement a new system of comprehensive performance assessment for all local authorities, combined with co­ordinated and streamlined inspection arrangements.


4 March 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 2002
Prepared 13 March 2002