Memorandum from the British Educational
Research Association (BERA) (SQE 02)
HMCI's annual report notes that overall there
have been "steady improvements in the quality of education
and the standards achieved by pupils" (page 18). BERA welcomes
this as good news. As may be expected the report elaborates on
the achievements of schools and identifies points of further concern.
But there are three issues about the process of inspection which
are not mentioned and which we suggest should be of concern to
the Select Committee. These are the issues:
the emotional costs to teachers of
the financial costs of inspection;
the lack of clear evidence that the
"steady improvements" are the result of inspection and
hence the lack of justification for the high emotional and financial
1. In 1996 Jeffrey and Woods, researchers
at the Open University, reported in the Cambridge Journal of
Education (26,1,325-343) on an OFSTED inspection in these
Professional uncertainty was induced, with teachers
experiencing confusion, anomie, anxiety and doubt about their
2. Since then other studies have carried
similar messages and in December 1999 a report called The Impact
of OFSTED inspections, from the National Foundation for Educational
Research and sponsored by the National Union of Teachers, said:
One of the main criticisms of the OFSTED system
of school inspection is that it can be extremely stressful for
teachers and adds to their already heavy workload (paragraph 4.1).
This report focused mainly on schools on the
special measures register and compared them with a sample of schools
not on the register. The NUT briefing on this research, of January
The Government may seek to take comfort from
the findings that many schools under special measures improved.
However, the findings make it clear that it was the additional
resources and support to these schools, which brought about these
improvements. In fact, the stigma and consquences of being labelled
"special measures" created additional hurdles for schools.
However, the real message is that, overall, the research found
the human costs of those improvements were unacceptably high and
teachers and headteachers in those schools concluded, "there
must be a better way".
Media references over the last year show that
OFSTED inspections still induce fear. Some examples are given
in Annex I.
3. We would expect this issue to be discussed
in the annual report. It is doubtful whether the "short inspections"
designed for the "most effective schools" and the "reduced
period of notice" mentioned in the report will appreciably
reduce teacher stress.
4. As a research association we believe
that substantial research into the emotional cost to the teachers
of OFSTED inspections is long overdue.
5. According to Annex I of the HMC1 report
there were 3,771 inspections of primary schools, 698 of secondary
schools and 331 of special schools and pupil referral units, carried
out by registered inspectors and 5,800 inspections by the HMI.
What did this programme cost? Nowhere in the report are we told.
But the OFSTED Corporate Plan 2000 suggests that in 1999-2000
the contracted inspections cost about £53 million and inspections
by HMI a further £21 million. Some of this £74 million
was spent on inspection of LEAs etc.
6. As a research association we believe
that accurate figures on the costs of inspection are needed in
order to inform judgements made by policy makers on the future
7. If schools have raised standards as a
result of inspection, this expenditure may be justified. But schools
are simultaneously engaged in a range of activities intended to
raise standards, for example the national curriculum, the literacy
and numeracy strategies, assessment results published as league
tables, and school development plans, to name but a few of the
initiatives introduced by Government.
8. Charts in the HMCI Report on pages 23-24
show that at a Key Stage 1 (seven-year-olds) and Key Stage 2 (11-year-olds)
there has been a steady improvement in literacy and numeracy for
the five-year period from 1996 to 2000. A chart on page 36 shows
that performance at Key Stage 3 in English, mathematics and science
has fluctuated over these years, but another chart on the same
page shows that there has been steady growth in the percentage
of 15-year-old pupils attaining five or more A*-C passes at GCSE
or GNVQ equivalent.
9. The unwary reader, knowing that OFSTED
inspections in secondary schools began in 1993 and in primary
schools in 1994, might attribute these gains to the inspection,
although the report makes no such overt suggestion.
10. Early data are not available for the
younger children but DfEE statisticians have published a table
(on the DfEE website) for GCSE and its GCE/CSE equivalents going
back to 1975. A graph from this is at Annex II. It shows, for
girls and for boys, the percentages of the age group gaining five
or more A*-C grades, and the percentages gaining no grades. The
former rises and the latter falls from 1974 to about 1981, then
both remain steady until about 1987 when GCSE replaced GCE O-level.
From 1987 the high achievers (both girls and boys) rise quite
steeply until 1994, when they both falter, and then continue to
rise slightly less steeply. The low achievers from 1987 drop and
then fluctuate until 1996, since when they have continued to be
fewer in number. In every case throughout the period, on these
statistics, girls outclass boys.
11. It would be difficult to attribute improvement
in these statistics mainly to OFSTED inspections, since the steady
improvement precedes OFSTED by several years. Moreover, in Scotland,
where OFSTED does not operate and a different inspection systems
prevails, a similar pattern is found, as the second graph shows.
12. As a research association we suggest
it is time for a thorough research study to be conducted which
endeavours to identify the contribution of inspection (and other
factors) to the raising of national standards. Again we believe
this is needed in order to inform judgements made by policy makers
on the future of inspection.
Professor Michael Bassey
British Educational Research Association