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



APPENDIX 2

Memorandum from the National Union of Teachers (NHMCI 02)

 

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The National Union of Teachers (NUT) welcomes the decision of the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee to conduct an enquiry into the process of appointing the new HMCI and on the future role of OFSTED.

  2.  The NUT's submission has drawn from a number of sources of evidence. The NUT receives regularly letters from its members, both about the impact of OFSTED inspections on their schools and about the effects of the public positions taken by HMCI. OFSTED's Annual Report and thematic reports on aspects of teaching in schools are also the subject of comments from members. The NUT has not had time to evaluate the draft framework for inspection released by OFSTED on 27 March 2002.

  3.  The NUT's divisions and associations hold regular single topic-based meetings. The inspection system is one of the most frequently discussed topics and views from those discussions are forwarded to NUT Headquarters. In addition, the NUT receives regular information and reports from its divisional and regional representatives following their involvement in inspection casework. The NUT, which consults its local structures, also receives evidence from its regional offices who are involved in supporting and advising teachers in schools which are deemed to be in need of special measures or are deemed to have serious weaknesses.

  4.  The NUT's commissioned study from Professor John MacBeath of Strathclyde University, "Schools Speak for Themselves," has had an enormous impact, not only on the NUT's own policies but on the practice and policies of schools, LEAs and government.

  5.  In short, since the establishment of the new inspection arrangements in 1992, the NUT has given the highest priority to evaluating the effect of the inspection arrangements on schools and to promoting a positive alternative to the current inspection arrangements.

THE PROCESS OF APPOINTING THE NEW HMCI

  6.  The status of OFSTED as a non-minsterial Government department is unique in the field of education, which has important implications for its operation and management, particularly with regard to the mechanisms by which it is held accountable.

  7.  The appointment procedure for HMCI is of crucial importance. HMCI, while a Privy Council appointment, is in effect accountable to Ministers through the Permanent Secretary of the DfES. The NUT would support an extension of the current regulations to ensure that the appointing board adequately reflects the major stakeholders of the education service.

  8.  The NUT believes that the appointment of the Chief Inspector should take place through Nolan procedures as the status of both HMCI and the inspectorate as an organisation is confusing currently. Officially, OFSTED is a non-ministerial Government department: Part 1 Chapter1 of the School Inspections Act 1996 requires that the HMCI to be appointed by the Queen on the Prime Minister's recommendation, in the same way as a minister. It should be noted however that the previous HMCI's reappointment appears not to have followed this course, according to his reappointment letter. The then Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett, himself offered Chris Woodhead a further term of office, not the Prime Minister. Similarly, Estelle Morris has recently recommended the appointment of David Bell.

  9.  This confusion needs to be cleared up. It is important that this situation is clarified because HMCI, HMI and OFSTED are responsible for the evaluation of all the components of the education service connected with schools. The necessity for clarity on who OFSTED is accountable to in its judgements and operation is, therefore, paramount.

  10.  Currently, HMCI is accountable through Parliament in two ways: Parliament can agree to annul the Statutory Order for his appointment; and the Select Committee can require HMCI to give evidence. The NUT believes, however, that without compromising the statutory independence of HMCI, that HMCI should be required to abide by a professional code of conduct similar to that drawn up for current OFSTED inspectors. HMCI should be subject to measures which ensure consistent accountability. The Select Committee's proposal for a board which assesses the work of OFSTED appointed on Nolan principles should continue to be pursued.

THE FUTURE ROLE OF OFSTED

  11.  The NUT believes there is an urgent need for a new approach to the current OFSTED quality assurance regime. The NUT's published proposal published in 1997 entitled "Evaluation, Inspection and Support—A System that Works," argued for an inspection system which would both achieve a balance between inspection external to the school and internal evaluation and restore also ownership of the process of evaluation to teachers.

  12.  Since that time, despite radical changes to the education system as a whole, the 1999 parliamentary enquiry into "The Work of OFSTED" and a number of modifications to the inspection procedures, the drawbacks of the old model remain. The NUT regrets the view expressed in paragraph 5 of the recent OFSTED consultation document "Improving Inspection, Improving Schools" that, "we see no need at this stage to alter the fundamental structure of the arrangements put in place in 1993."

  13.  The NUT has taken the view consistently that it is not the OFSTED inspection framework itself which is at fault, but the method of its application. 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 development advice, as well as criticism. Copies of the report are attached to this submission.

  14.  School self-evaluation cannot be a substitute for independent external inspections. The model advocated by the NUT seeks to secure a balance between external and internal evaluation of each school.

  15.  External inspection can help identify areas of a school's work which need improvement. Such evaluation, however, is at its most effective when school communities understand its purpose and relevance. Overwhelming evidence from research and practice demonstrates that evaluation by schools themselves must also be at the centre of school inspection and support. In the words of the Scottish HMCI "Unless schools know themselves, they cannot benefit from inspection."

  16.  The greatest flaw in the current statutory inspection arrangements is structural. It is a system based entirely on securing accountability accompanied by punitive measures for those schools which have been found to fail. The approach focuses on a snapshot of teaching and organisation of the school. The current model, involving an externally imposed judgement which excludes both context and dialogue between the inspectors and inspected, has two consequences.

  17.  The first is that inspections become a high-stakes event. There is overwhelming pressure arising from the high-stakes consequences of failure including schools potentially entering special measures.

  18.  The second consequence is that evaluation is externalised. Evaluation becomes something which is done to you, as a teacher and school community, by others. Any benefits of evaluation are obscured by the fact that teachers do not own the process themselves. Inspection, therefore, actually militates against effective evaluation being integral to school life; a fact confirmed recently by Demos' report.

  19.  The current arrangements have therefore failed to channel teachers' expertise, experience and their commitment to the evaluation process. In its present role, OFSTED has contributed to a culture of compliance under which schools and teachers prepare for evaluation out of fear rather than commitment and enthusiasm.

  20.  Setting aside the minority of schools which OFSTED has identified as having genuine problems, there is little evidence that inspections have themselves, triggered overall improvement in schools. A recent poll carried out by the TES indicated that three-quarters of teachers found inspections to be of "no help at all professionally" and almost half considered that "it serves (no) education purpose at all." The TES research concludes that often "the imprecision and insensitivity of what too often seems like an alien visitation sets back progress rather that advancing it" (TES, April 5 2002). When the outcomes of the inspection are positive, schools tend to continue much as before. The real drivers for improvement continue, as before the inspection, to be those linked to effective leadership, good management and high quality professional development.

  21.  The current arrangements contain a number of aspects which are positive and which have evolved over time. The "Framework for Inspection" provides a valuable checklist for school improvement, not least for schools to use themselves. The broader focus of the proposals provides an opportunity to contextualise each school and to recognise diversity. HMCI and OFSTED reports have provided a national evaluation of the education service, both for the purposes of diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of schools and for the purposes of financial accountability.

  22.  The main criticisms of the current arrangements are twofold, as indicated earlier. At the core of that criticism is its failure to encourage teachers and school communities to own the processes of evaluation and to believe that their actions and judgements they make themselves are at the centre of school improvement.

  23.  The second criticism flows from the first. The current arrangements have failed to give equal balance to internal and external school evaluation. This failure has led teachers to view evaluation as a regular event external to the life of the school. Teachers consider a Section 10 OFSTED inspection as something to be viewed with deep apprehension. It is essentially destabilising to the normal rhythms of life and certainly not to be embraced as integral to the continuing and effective existence of the school as a community.

  24.  This lack of balance and integration between external and internal evaluation has devalued the place of evaluation in schools. As the NUT's commissioned study "Schools Speak for Themselves" concludes:

    "There does not yet exist in England and Wales a system which brings internal and external school evaluation together in a coherent and systematic way, drawing on the strength of both and contextualising quality assurance as an integrated system of support for learning and teaching."

  25.  As the study notes, there are interesting developments in other countries where evaluation systems integrate both external and internal approaches; developments which the Select Committee enquiry should certainly take note of in its enquiry into the future role of OFSTED.

  26.  At the core of the current inspection process are "high stakes" judgements about the quality of provision offered by schools, which are based on snap-shots of evidence. That those judgements are based to a large extent on a small number of lesson observations is viewed by teachers as unfair, as they take no account of the external factors which influence the quality of lessons.

  27.  The NUT has welcomed HMCI's decision to end provision of profiles of grades of teaching to individual teachers and headteachers by inspectors. 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" is a step in the right direction.

  28.  Despite these recent changes however lessons observed by OFSTED inspectors continue to be necessarily atypical. Their quality is influenced by whether teachers can rise to the occasion to give demonstration lessons. Inspectors, by the very nature of their responsibilities, are not in a position to evaluate the quality of teaching taking place in normal circumstances. This is a classic case of observation modifying what is being observed.

  29.  In addition, the NUT has welcomed a number of aspects of the proposals outlined in the OFSTED consultation document "Improving Inspections, Improving Schools." Inspection should certainly be more responsive to the different circumstances and priorities of schools, more supportive of school improvement and better co-ordinated. These proposals represent a step in the right direction towards making inspection relevant to, and supportive of, school communities.

  30.  There are, however, elements of the proposals which cause concern, in particular, the reference to the inspection arrangements being "more responsive to the policies of government." Government policies can often be either wrong in content or in application and the NUT would look to OFSTED to continue to maintain its independence in evaluating the effects of Government policies.

  31.  Evidence gathered by the NUT and others, backed up by consistent pressure on OFSTED, has led to a number of significant improvements in the OFSTED framework and inspection procedures. These changes include:

    —  the introduction of a code of conduct for inspectors;

    —  a requirement on inspectors to present their CVs to schools;

    —  clearer entitlements for teachers to feedback following lesson observations;

    —  "Quality Assurance Standards" for inspectors and contractors; and

    —  the introduction of a complaints procedure with the involvement of an adjudicator.

  32.  These measures have gone some way to introducing a measure of accountability to the actions of inspection teams. These are, however, modifications only. For most teachers, the drawbacks of the old model remain.

  33.  In the NUT's view, the current inspection model cannot bear the weight of expectations laid at its door, particularly since, as teachers know, inspections are conducted by inspectors who can be as fallible in their strengths and weaknesses as teachers themselves.

  34.  In the past, schools with problems have largely been schools which have been left to struggle without support. LEAs have been either unable to provide such support because delegation levels have removed their ability to do so or their monitoring and support arrangements have been ineffective.

  35.  In 1999 the NUT commissioned research conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) into the effects of special measures on teachers and schools. The NFER research provided evidence of the significant human costs associated with so-called "failing" schools. NFER found that the public focus on failure presents schools under special measures with additional and often intractable problems as parents and pupils lose confidence in their schools. In addition, such schools frequently lose good staff when they most need to retain them and recruitment becomes almost impossible.

  36.  Whilst the rate of improvement for schools under special measures continues to increase, according to the most recent Annual Report of HMCI, it is the additional resources and support received by these schools which brings about such improvements. Any future development in the role of OFSTED should include appropriate support and guidance to schools following the identification of weaknesses. It is no longer enough for OFSTED to simply identify problems without also suggesting possible solutions.

  37.  The NUT's other main criticism of current evaluation arrangements is that there are simply too many evaluation mechanisms within the system. Schools are subject to Section 10 inspections, LEA performance monitoring and local authority inspections. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 outlines school improvement responsibilities for LEAs which include the identification of schools causing concern. These overlapping arrangements strengthen the case for the Government to review the future role of OFSTED in the inspection and evaluation of schools.

  38.  The NUT's proposals in the next section of this submission would shift the identification of the need for action from drastic and expensive cures to a much more effective and integrated preventative inspection process in the future.

AN ALTERNATIVE

  39.  Professor John MacBeath's study, "Schools Speak for Themselves" conducted for the NUT in 1996, recast and reinvigorated school self-evaluation and not just for development planning purposes. The study restored to teachers the confidence that their own judgements and insights on the strengths and weaknesses of their schools are as equally valid as those of external evaluators, such as OFSTED.

  40.  The NUT's purpose in commissioning the report was to apply the lessons of the Scottish Office Education Department and Scottish HMI model of evaluation to England and Wales in order to find out whether the balance between internal and external evaluation of schools could be restored. The study concluded that school self-evaluation was vital, not only for the systematic gathering of information about life and learning in schools for the purposes of school improvement, but also as a vital component in any national evaluation system of schools.

  41.  As the study concluded:

    —  "self-evaluation should be central in any national approach to school improvement;

    —  accountability and self-improvement should be seen as two strands on one inter-related strategy;

    —  provision of time and resources has to feature as the key issue in school improvement;

    —  school inspection should continue to be a feature of the drive towards school improvement, but as part of a collaborative strategy with schools and local authorities."

  42.  Schools which responded to the survey also commented on the way in which they had used the procedures and methods within "Schools Speak for Themselves" to inform their work. Surveys on the attitudes of pupils, staff, parents and the community were a common use of the document. One headteacher summarised the views of many involved in the practical use of the study.

    "Schools Speak for Themselves' confirms my view that a school-led, LEA supported, quality assurance model is the way for schools to get to grips with monitoring/review/evaluation."

  43.  In short, self-evaluation must be at the heart of school review, inspection, school development planning and the provision of external support. Successful external evaluation is contingent on successful self-evaluation.

  44.  In July 1997, the NUT published its own proposals for the future role of inspection "Evaluation, Inspection and Support—A System that Works," which were revised in November 2000 to reflect recent developments. In summary, the NUT's proposals emphasise:

    —  the importance of each teacher being involved in their school's evaluation;

    —  that school self-evaluation is at the heart of quality assurance;

    —  the importance of external evaluation focusing on each school's own quality assurance approach;

    —  that LEAs, not privatised teams, should be responsible for schools' evaluation with involvement of other LEAs in moderating evaluation;

    —  that LEAs' support to and evaluation of schools are integral approaches;

    —  that HMI's main role is that of inspection of LEAs' quality assurance procedures and services;

    —  that HMI inspections should only focus on schools where LEA quality assurance procedures have failed and where information is needed for national thematic reports.

  45.  The NUT believes that its proposals provide a positive alternative to the current non-developmental model of OFSTED inspection.

  46.  Even OFSTED now recognises the importance of self-evaluation. The OFSTED guidance to inspectors and schools states that "the school that knows and understands itself is well on the way to solving any problem it has" (OFSTED Handbook 2000). In addition, the recent OFSTED consultation "Improving Schools" proposed to secure a more productive relationship between external inspection and self-evaluation and has led to the formation of a working party, including serving headteachers and LEA personnel, to consider how self-evaluation can be integrated into Section 10 inspections. The NUT welcomes, in particular OFSTED's proposal "to increase . . . support for effective school management, including self-evaluation, in collaboration with the DfES and others." Such an approach could be a step towards school self-evaluation as a model for which the NUT has consistently pressed.

  47.  The NUT believes, however, that school self-evaluation instruments and approaches cannot be imposed. Neither can school self-evaluation command fully the confidence of teachers when it is required to take place within inspections arrangements which have punitive rather than developmental consequences. Nevertheless, as indicated above, the NUT welcomes OFSTED's proposal as a step in the right direction.

  48.  There are a number of specific recommendations which the NUT believes the Select Committee could consider in terms of the future role of OFSTED.

COMPLAINTS PROCEDURES

  49.  The NUT has dealt with a steady stream of cases at regional and national level about the nature of inspection judgements since the inception of OFSTED. Examples include complaints arising from:

    —  inspectors writing reports which whilst not naming an individual teacher make their identity apparent;

    —  inspectors breaking the confidentiality procedures built in to the reporting on the quality of teaching;

    —  inspectors not being adequately prepared for inspections;

    —  inspectors "flitting" in and out of lessons which they are meant to be observing consistently; and

    —  verbal feedback and oral reports being completely different to the comments in the final written report.

  50.  In an operation with the significance and peculiarities of the current arrangements, inevitably there will continue to be contested judgements. It is important, however, that OFSTED should make it abundantly clear that all aspects of inspections are subject to independent scrutiny and accountability through a fair and open complaints procedure. In this context, the NUT welcomes the recent proposal that the OFSTED adjudicator should be appointed by Government through normal Nolan procedures.

  51.  The NUT notes the recognition in the 2001 OFSTED document "Improving Inspection, Improving Schools" that, "some school inspections do not yet meet all the requirements set out by OFSTED as well as they might." This is an important recognition because, although most schools do not have disputes with inspection teams which they would wish to pursue, there is still a view amongst many headteachers and teachers that they can be lucky of unlucky with the teams contracted to inspect their schools.

  52.  Where there are substantive complaints from schools about inspection teams which have not been resolved, the OFSTED Complaints Adjudicator (OCA) should have additional powers. S/he should make the decision whether or not to delay the sending of the report to the headteacher and the governing body while the complaints are investigated and resolved. The requirement to send inspection reports to the head and the governing body within five weeks of the inspection should be disapplied in such cases.

  53.  Currently corroboration by HMI of recommendations that schools should be placed under special measures or serious weaknesses cannot be delayed while complaints are considered. This is clear from the current complaints procedure. The OCA should have the power to delay such corroboration if there is substantive and compelling evidence in favour of such delay that she should do so. Where schools have been designated as being in need of special measures, or are deemed to have serious weaknesses, and complaints are upheld which invalidate those descriptions, such designations should be withdrawn.

  54.  The NUT notes that OFSTED itself has the ability, where a report is seriously misleading, both to declare a report null and void and to declare a re-inspection. No such power rests with the OCA. It should have such a power. The complaints procedure should apply to HMI inspections and HMI visits to schools under special measures and to those schools with serious weaknesses.

THE INSPECTION TEAMS AND THE CONTRACTING PROCESS

  55.  A national inspection should bring together teams of inspectors who have sustained experience in a variety of schools, and in teaching roles as well as having the necessary training for inspecting. When inspecting a school, teams should reflect a range of direct experience. The training and preparation on individual inspectors should be such that they are able to comment on the basis of experience going across the system.

  56.  The contracting process endangers the above aim. The vagaries of the internal market have produced shortages and then surpluses of inspection teams. LEAs and privatised inspection teams are required to make bids which reflect market levels. In the current situation of surplus, the danger must be that teams attempt to cut costs thus adding pressures on registered inspectors to trim and, therefore, reduce the quality of their evaluations of schools. The NUT believes and has believed consistently that the market is not the right mechanism for ensuring high quality evaluation of schools.

  57.  The current system of contracted inspections should be abolished. In the future, HMI/OFSTED would appoint area teams of inspectors, which would cover single large local authorities, of clusters of LEAs. HMI would appoint or seek secondments of area teams of inspectors, who would be drawn from schools and LEAs, thereby strengthening the capacity and expertise of both individuals and institutions. The role of each area team would be to inspect and provide advice to schools as "critical friends." Area teams would liase with LEA chief advisors and headteachers to identify the additional support needed for individual schools.

  58.  The NUT welcomes OFSTED's recent proposal to involve more serving teachers and headteachers on inspection teams, as this would benefit those involved in terms of their own professional development and help encourage a two way dialogue between inspection teams and schools.

  59.  There are, however, two factors which need to be taken into account by OFSTED when recruiting teachers and headteachers as inspectors. When teachers took on the role of additional inspectors, they applied their own experience of management and teaching arrangements as benchmarks for the evaluation of other schools. This issue needs to be tackled specifically in the training of teachers and headteachers who are involved in inspection.

  60.  In addition, at a time of crisis in teacher supply, schools with significant shortages are unlikely to welcome positively attempts by OFSTED to second teaching staff to inspection teams. Schools should not, in any way, be expected to bear the cost, either financially or in terms of the reduction of the number of available teachers of this approach.

THE OFSTED SCHOOL INSPECTION FRAMEWORK

  61.  Currently, the inspection cycle and its new flexibilities appears arbitrary to schools. The "light touch approach" may be welcome to "good schools" but the message to schools who receive full inspections will be that pre-judgements have already been made on the quality of the education which they offer.

  62.  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. 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.

  63.  OFSTED has failed 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 headteachers still remained under the impression both that the strategies were compulsory and that 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 emphasis the voluntary nature of that strategy.

  64.  In addition, the NUT believes that, in the light of the recommendations of the PricewaterhouseCooper Teacher Workload survey, OFSTED should include in the framework a requirement on inspectors to inspect the contributions of headteachers to achieving a reasonable work-life balance for staff.

National Union of Teachers

April 2002

 


 
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