Examination of Witness (Questions 20-39)|
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
20. If I can interrupt there, I think what Ms
Munn is pushing you to is a little bit of the flavour of the question
from Val Davey about passion. There are people who passionately
believe that the publication of tests at seven do a great deal
of damage to these sorts of schools and many schools and, as you
know, in one part of the country, the publication of the test
results at seven have ceased. Do you think that is something you
might look at least favourably or not?
(Mr Bell) The publication of examination test results
is a matter for Government to determine.
21. In your terms of reference, you are going
to be giving advice to the Government.
(Mr Bell) Absolutely, but what I would say, again
going back to Ms Munn's point, is that part of the role of OFSTED
is to secure that public accountability. So, with regard to people
not thinking it is a good school, one of the best ways in which
that perception can be countered is on the back of the evidence
that OFSTED finds at a local level and I am sure we all know examples
of schools that have been able to publicise good OFSTED reports
as a way of indicating, "This is what we do in our school."
It might not be the same as the school down the road, they might
have a different approach to inclusion, they might have a different
approach to this or that, but this is what we stand for, and I
would have thought that the publication of OFSTED reports is a
very powerful way of providing that information and it seems to
me that Inspectors coming in from outside and providing recognition
to teachers and to pupils in most schools is far better than that
message not being available at all.
22. You used a very interesting word there which
was "inclusion" because that is precisely what this
school is about, it is about inclusion. Are you, as Chief Inspector,
going to raise the importance of how well schools are doing on
inclusion alongside the issue of how they are achieving in terms
(Mr Bell) I had my first conference yesterday with
head teachers in Tameside and I was asked about the issue of inclusion
and I side-stepped it simply because I think it is an area where
I want to look forward at the evidence that OFSTED has already
gathered. It is a very, very important policy issue and therefore
OFSTED has an extremely important role in reporting. I just held
my fire yesterday and perhaps you will forgive me if I hold my
fire on this one because it is a very serious issue and I think
it is one that I want to study within OFSTED.
23. I shall have that question next time.
(Mr Bell) I shall prepare for it.
24. Earlier, you drew the distinction between
the role of OFSTED as simply reporting the evidence and the accountability
and the role as an institution that could help school improvement,
but you said primarily your role was to inspect and report back
the evidence. Then you made plain the role of OFSTED in schools
in Special Measures and taking schools out of Special Measures.
Do you think the balance between the pure inspection role and
the school improvement role needs to shift?
(Mr Bell) My initial thinking is that it does not
because the key responsibility that I have and the key responsibility
OFSTED has is to inspect and to report on what it finds. I think,
as I suggested earlier, there are lots of ways in carrying out
that role OFSTED can contribute to school improvement and I think
we should not actually underestimate it. I think that to some
extent it has been a little unfortunate that people have drawn
the sharp distinction between inspection on the one hand and improvement
on the other and in fact OFSTED in a number of ways that I can
cite has contributed to improvement. I think the balance is about
right. However, OFSTED, as you know, has a formidable amount of
information, not just on schools but on other institutions, and
we have to look at how we can make best use of that information
because that might be helpful to others in understanding how we
can bring about school improvement. So, first of all, I would
not want to suggest that OFSTED does not have a role now and has
never had a role in school improvement, it has, but I would want
to just be clear that the key role of OFSTED and the clear role
of the HMCI is to inspect and report on what is found.
25. You also said that the report of the former
Chief Inspector made the point that there was no causal effect
between generally a rise in standards and the extension of OFSTED's
role, but another way of looking at it is that one of the phenomena
in our system at the moment is the widening differentials between
schools and that good schools are getting significantly better
and that the gap in achievement is widening. Is there an argument
that says that the OFSTED system has contributed to that because
you are focusing on school achievement and, at the end of the
day, the parents who are looking at schools are going to want
to see the Key Stage 2 test results and not at the fine print
of the OFSTED reports.
(Mr Bell) I think it goes back to my earlier answer
to Ms Munn that I think it is important to state that OFSTED reports
cover more than just the examination achievement within a school,
26. Do prospective parents read the fine print
of OFSTED reports or do they focus on the headline results?
(Mr Bell) I am not sure of the exact figures but I
understand that we have one of the most visited websites across
the Government net and I think there is a real sense in which
people do now look at OFSTED reports. I think there is a common
currency about OFSTED as well; I suspect we probably have one
of the best known brand names in the public sector. You can go
into any playground in the country and, whatever people think
about OFSTED, they know of OFSTED and they know about OFSTED.
So I think there is an understanding and awareness that there
is information about schools around and I think that parents are
using that information to make choices. I would reject the view
however that OFSTED has contributed to those widening differentials.
I think what OFSTED has done is report what has been happening
in schools and I think it has been right to highlight that gap
in achievement, but I do not think that OFSTED can be seen as
the cause of that widening gap.
27. I just have one further question in terms
of OFSTED's relationship with teachers because by focusing on
the inspection and the evidence base at a point in time, there
is a criticism that says this makes teachers feel threatened and
does not enable teachers to feel a sense of ownership in the evaluation
process and therefore evaluation is something that is done to
them and is something that they have no involvement with. Is that
an inevitable part of the system or do you think that could be
changed to encourage more self-valuation of those teachers?
(Mr Bell) On self-evaluation, it seems to me that
any organisation, whether it is in education or elsewhere, whether
it is in the public sector or the private sector, worth its salt
keeps asking itself the question, "How are we doing?"
and it brings to bear different evidence to see how it is doing.
I am just slightly concerned that we can almost raise self-evaluation
up as some sort of industry when in fact good organisations have
always done it, they have always asked how they are doing and
how they can get better. And lots of schools do it. I think one
would have to say that the vast majority of schools will look
at how they are doing it and ask how they can get better. They
will do it in different degrees and in different ways, so I do
not think there is this sharp distinction between self-evaluation
on the one hand and external inspection on the other hand. With
respect to the perceptions of teachers, with regard to where we
are now in the inspection system, particularly in the light of
the new framework to come from September 2003, I do not think
a strong argument can be made that the inspection approach is
burdensome. If we are talking about many schools to be inspected
once every six years and other schools once every four years and
only those schools that really have the most difficulties being
inspected more frequently than that, I do not think that is overburdensome.
I am not complacent, however. I think it is important that teachers
respect the findings of OFSTED inspectors. We had examples earlier
of where teachers have welcomed that external critique of what
they are doing, but I always think the role of the Chief Inspector
is very important. One of my predecessors from a number of years
ago, talking about HMIs but I think it could be applied to inspectors
more generally, said, "Inspectors should be nobody's trusty
bedfellow." I think there is lot in that, actually, that
the respect in which you can be held is very much dependent on
your willingness to speak out, to speak out on the things that
are going well in the education system and give proper recognition
but also to highlight the difficulties. I think that over time
the Chief Inspector speaking out on that basis will help teachers
not just to see inspection as something that is happening to them
in their own school but also as something that is contributing
to educational development nationally.
28. Mr Bell, if you speak out on issues based
on the evidence, this Committee will be delighted. We do hope
you will not speak out on the basis of how you feel that morning.
(Mr Bell) It is a very serious point, Mr Chairman,
and, to be honest, what sets the Chief Inspector apart, surely,
is the evidence that OFSTED collects and gathers.
29. That is exactly what we want. It is better
to speak out on the evidence as he sees it and not to be kowtowing
to the department or anyone else, or even to this Committee. We
want to know the truth based on the evidence.
(Mr Bell) Absolutely.
30. Can I pick up on one of the points you made
in answer to Mr Chaytor's question. You talked earlier about team
work, you talked earlier about people not getting into a situation
where you were having "heroic leadership" (to use your
phrase). Certainly one of the perceptions of the teachers in our
constituencies to whom all of us speak is that the OFSTED process
is stressfulas alluded to by the Chairman earlierand,
indeed, disruptive. I wonder whether you would agree with that.
The comment that you made earlier perhaps would not agree with
that. I would like to know why, because that is certainly not
the perception. How does that fit comfortably with the ethos you
were talking about earlier?
(Mr Bell) I think it is fair to say, as I suggested
earlier, that inspection is in most cases likely to be stressful
because it is an important moment in the life of the organisation.
Colleagues in schools, teacher training institutions, colleges,
wherever, want to be doing their best. They want to ensure that
the strengths of their institutions are identified. That brings
a degree of stress with it and I am quite happy to admit that
I felt that stress when OFSTED came to visit me.
31. Do you think that is constructive?
(Mr Bell) Just to go on, I think it is very important,
however, that that does not become completely unmanageable. I
think it was very interesting that one of the first acts that
my predecessor undertook was to write to all the schools and say
when an inspection is coming, we do not want specially prepared
schemes of work, we do not want specially written lesson plans,
we went to be able to see the school as it is. I think OFSTED
has a role to play, and I think I could give youperhaps
this is a subject for further discussion laterexamples
of how we have tried to reduce some of the bureaucratic overload
associated with inspection. If it is only once every four or six
years, I think that can be overplayed anyway. But also I think
we would want to say that the inspection regime is there to support
the school and is not there simply as a bureaucratic imposition
from outside. I think the stress is there; I think it is about
managing it. I also thinks schools and head teachers themselves
have responsibilities, because I guess that when you speak to
teachers and head teachers in your constituency you might get
very different experiences of how the school is prepared for inspection.
It is about keeping it in proportion, it seems to me. It is difficult
to be scientific on this point.
32. You seem to be defending the status quo
of the inspection process. I know you have only been in the job
for a very short space of time. I wonder whether you have had
any thoughts as to how you might like to change the inspection
process that you have already thought through.
(Mr Bell) I have been consulted throughout the preparation
of the draft framework on which we are consulting at the moment.
As I said earlier, I think there is real virtue in evolution rather
than revolution in this area. Given that we have had two full
cycles of inspection, we have had 10 years' experience, I am not
sure there is a persuasive case to be made about throwing all
of that up in the air. If teachers and head teachers and others
are saying, "We want some stability," then surely there
have to be very, very good reasons for changing the system that
we have. I am not persuaded that there are very, very good reasons.
I think we have made some important changes or are consulting
on some important changes at the moment, but I think that there
is no argument for moving dramatically away from what we have
at the moment.
33. Do you think changes are necessary, for
example, when situations arise where OFSTED inspectors have gone
into a college where in fact there are no students taking a particular
course as evidenced to this Committee by John Taylor, Principal
of Sheffield College?
(Mr Bell) I do not know the specifics, so I cannot
comment. I am obviously happy to look at the case that you have
cited. Clearly there are things that we can always improve, but
I am not persuaded that we need to change the system fundamentally.
We could always sit and cite examples. I can cite examples of
things that happened during the inspection processes to which
I was subjected and say, "OFSTED did not quite get that right,"
but I think you keep that in proportion and you feed that back
and you ask OFSTED to consider what it is doing. That does not
seem to me to be an argument then for throwing the whole inspection
34. One of the other criticisms that many teachers
put forward about the OFSTED inspection process is the fact that
for many of the inspectors actually it has been a very long time
since they were actually in the classroom. I wonder whether you
have any views on that subject and whether it is something you
would like to change.
(Mr Bell) I think that is a very interesting issue.
We consulted on that when OFSTED put out its recent consultation
document last year, Improving Inspection, Improving Schools.
There was a suggestion there, which I support, that we should
get more serving teachers and serving head teachers to join inspection
teams. I think that is a good suggestion. It is quite interesting
that in the feedback to the consultation, not surprisingly, teachers
and head teachers have responded and said, yes, it is a very good
idea. The inspection contractors, who are making use of inspectors,
were slightly more cautious, really for two reasons. One was that
sometimes teachers and head teachers have to pull out at the last
minute. Fine. I mean, that is the nature of having your first
loyalty to the school and it seems to me that that is not a substantial
criticism. The second criticism made I think is a more interesting
one, and that is that if you are only inspecting very occasionallyand
most serving teachers and head teachers who are only doing it
on an occasional basis are only going to do, say, one or two a
year, if thatthe contractors felt that you do not always
get necessarily the inspection quality. Now, please do not misunderstand
me, that is not to suggest that head teachers or teachers are
of an inferior quality to other inspectors that do it more regularly,
but I think common sense would tell you that
35. Is this the same argument as that which
says, "Don't go to a surgeon who only does two of those operations
(Mr Bell) I think the inspectors were raising a very
real question. It is interesting because, I would have thought,
if you are on the receiving end of an inspection, the fact that
somebody is a serving teacher or head teacher is of no comfort
to you if they are not very good and are not competent to inspect.
It seems to me it is a difficult one, so we have to think again
about how we address this. We are committed and we were committed
during the consultation process to try to get more serving teachers
and head teachers, but I think we also have to be mindful of those
36. Did you say you were an advisor on the consultation
process before you applied for this job?
(Mr Bell) No. I was consulted after I was appointed
and I just cited the consultation process.
37. To follow on from Mark's point, one of the
criticisms is that schools do prepare and they do shift staff
around and they try to presentand this is not a criticismthe
best aspects of the school. People say, "Well, there was
a time when an HMI called into a school in the midst of its ordinary
busy day and got a snapshot." Is there not something to be
said about an inspector that has that as part of his armoury?
Not that it is shifting or rejecting the present process but as
a system where that snapshot is still taken.
(Mr Bell) Chairman, I often think there is a golden
age that people cite of inspections.
38. We hear about golden ages in this Committee.
(Mr Bell) I think people cite that golden age because
under the old system you might be inspected once every 200 years.
That is why people were very keen to have an inspector drop in
on them. The legislation we have at the moment as far as section
10 inspections are concerned would not allow us to do that, because
we have to consult with the appropriate authority, usually the
governing body, in advance of inspections. Putting that asideand
it is very importantI think it is not quite as attractive
as it might at first seem, because I think that if you had that
drop-in inspection approach there would be interminable arguments
about just how typical it was, what was seen. I really do. I think
you could always imagine schools saying, "The inspector dropped
in and of course we had three classes out doing this . . ."
or "Somebody was out on work experience," or, "It
is the wrong time of the year because years 12 and 13 were out,"
or whatever. I actually do not think it would give you a better
picture of the education system. I think what you have said is
very important, however, that in the early days of inspection
the lead-in was so huge that really you could have reinvented
yourself in that time. I think the lead-in time now, of between
six and 10 weeks, is about right, and I think if we stick with
the spirit of what Mike Tomlinson said in his letter to schools,
"Don't do all these lesson plans; don't do all these schemes
of work," I think we are trying to give out that signal to
find the school as it is. The other thing is, do not underestimate
actually the capacity of inspectors to get beyond some of the
things that might have been done to impress them. These people
are quite astute and can find out what is going on.
39. It is going to be your job to make sure
your inspectors are of a high quality and maintained and the ones
that do not make the grade are shifted out. We have talked about
schools very much this morning, but we have had evidence from
the FE sector where they believe they are over-inspected. They
have so many different teams of inspectors marching through their
FE sector that they really cannot get on with their job. Indeed,
we can supply you with the transcript of the evidence we took
where an FE principal said, "These are the numbers of inspections
I have had in a typical year." In a sense, both improving
the quality of the inspectors is going to be down to you but also
working well, so that you are not treading over the same territory
in a negative way.
(Mr Bell) I think that is fair enoughand I
am sure college inspection is something to which we can return
at a later stage if you wish. I think what I would say is that
despite some of the criticisms that have been madewith
some of which OFSTED obviously would take issuethere has
been a very clear recognition of the new focus of the OFSTED inspections
in the colleges, with a very clear focus on the experience of
the learner. I think it has been an interesting shift from the
FEFC type of inspection to that which OFSTED is doing. I think
that has been an important principle. We also have, of course,
a programme to inspect all colleges. As I talked about the evolution
of inspection arrangements in schools over time, that is conceivable
in the future once we have done a full cycle of all the college
inspections. There are issues which we have looked at, we have
talked to colleges about, but the important principle is that
we are very much, through inspection, looking at the experience
of the learner. Surely that is what inspection should be doing.