The Work of Ofsted - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Independent Schools Council (ISC)

  The Independent Schools Council (ISC) represents the seven leading independent schools associations in the United Kingdom, collectively educating more than 500,000 children in 1,278 schools. ISC exists to promote choice, diversity and excellence in education; the development of talent at all levels of ability; and the widening of opportunity for children from all backgrounds to achieve their potential.


  This note explores and demolishes the case for transferring regulation of Independent Schools from the Secretary of State to Ofsted. The proposal is wrong in principle, and is founded on a serious misrepresentation in the consultation document of the current role of Ofsted. The consultation on the proposal has been badly conducted and is probably in breach of Cabinet Office guidelines. Even before the results of the consultation are known, Ofsted is recruiting staff on the assumption that the proposals are a fait accompli.[10] The Education and Skills Select Committee strongly and rightly questioned the capacity of Ofsted to cope with its existing workload.[11] Adding regulatory functions to an already overloaded inspection body is not a sensible move, especially since the existing system (regulation by the Secretary of State) works well.


  There is no rationale for this proposal:

    —  Ofsted is principally an inspecting body, not a regulator.

    —  The Secretary of Sate will continue to be the regulator for maintained schools: it makes no sense for one part of the UK schools sector to be hived off to Ofsted. On the contrary, the Secretary of State should be able to report directly to Parliament on the performance of the entire schools sector.

    —  The independent sector remains crucially important for the UK economy in providing a high proportion of qualified applicants to university in maths, sciences and languages. A major element of Government policy, widely supported by the independent sector, is to improve the quality of maintained schools by sharing innovations from the independent sector (and vice versa). Ofsted's approach in practice is often overly bureaucratic and veers towards a "one size fits all" methodology. This is the reverse of what is needed if the independent and maintained sectors are to cross-fertilise each other.


  It is wrong in principle for the inspection and regulatory regimes to be unified: inspectors should inspect; regulators should regulate. Where the inspecting body finds flaws, the regulator should take action. The serious problem of principle of combining the regulatory and inspection regimes is that the same body will be judge and jury (or prosecuting counsel and judge). Undoubtedly, the inspecting body will at times form a wrongly negative conclusion, and the regulator is the impartial third party judging between the school and the inspectorate. There is every reason to keep this arrangement, which is staying in place for maintained schools. As a matter of logic, and leaving aside the issues of principle, there is no sense in unifying regulation and inspection regimes for the 7% of children in the independent sector while not unifying them for the 93% of children in the maintained sector. The claim that the proposals will in fact unify inspection and regulation is in any case completely bogus, as the following paragraph demonstrates.


  This claim is entirely wrong. It is based on the false assumption that Ofsted carries out the totality (or at least the majority) of inspection of independent schools. This is the reverse of the truth:

    —  All independent schools in England in membership of the Independent Schools Council are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) under statutory provisions.

    —  The total number of these schools in England is 1,219.

    —  The total number of pupils in these schools amounts to more than 80% of the pupils being educated in independent schools in England.

    —  ISI is recognised as a high quality inspectorate and its inspection role is likely to be increased.

    —  ISI will continue to inspect schools educating the great majority of independent school pupils in England. Regulation and inspection will therefore not be unified because inspection will continue to be conducted by separate bodies.


  The most recent report from the Education and Skills Committee on the work of Ofsted was published only nine days before the consultation on the transfer of regulatory functions was issued. The report said, at Paragraph 14:

    "This is a time of great change for Ofsted and whilst we are sensitive to the challenges that this brings we are still concerned at the complex set of objectives and sectors that Ofsted now spans and its capability to fulfil its core mission".

  The report also noted concern at the "increasing complexity of this large bureaucracy and the ability of its new non-executive board to rapidly grasp this complexity".

  The report was issued without any reference to the consultation proposals, because, extraordinarily, no hint was given to the Committee that these proposals were in prospect. The consultation proposals will inevitably add further weight and complexity to Ofsted's workload. Even if the proposals were sensible, which they are not, it would be the wrong time to add to Ofsted's workload.


  The proposal to transfer regulation of the independent sector is wrong in principle, flawed in concept, and likely to fail in practice. These points are expanded, with evidence, in the consultation responses from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), copies of which are attached. The ISC response is downloadable from

December 2007

10   PDF copies of two job advertisements are attached: both refer to the transfer in specific terms (not printed). Back

11   The Work of Ofsted: House of Commons Education and Skills Committee; Sixth Report of Session 2006-07 (HC 165). Back

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