THE WORK OF OFSTED
GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE TO THE FIRST REPORT
FROM THE EDUCATION AND SKILLS COMMITTEE,
Letter to the Chairman of the Committee
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
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
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
4 March 2002