UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 570-ii
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
THE ROLE AND PERFORMANCE OF OFSTED 2
WEDNESDAY 10 NOVEMBER 2010
LYNN JACKSON, PROFESSOR TONY KELLY and BARONESS PERRY OF SOUTHWARK
LESLEY GANNON, EMMA KNIGHTS and JAN WEBBER
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 77 - 165
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Education Committee
on Wednesday 10 November 2010
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Lynn Jackson, Headteacher, Chesterton Community Sports College, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Professor Tony Kelly, Professor of Education, University of Southampton, and Baroness Perry of Southwark, Chief Inspector of Schools 1981–86, gave evidence.
Q77 Chair: Good morning, and thank you all very much for coming and giving evidence to us this morning on the role and performance of Ofsted. We usually keep our proceedings fairly informal and use first names. Are you all comfortable with that? Noble Baroness?
Baroness Perry: Yes.
Chair: Marvellous. Thank you, Pauline.
We are hearing mixed messages on the subject of Ofsted. Later on, we are hearing from the National Governors’ Association. Governors, in general, seem to be very happy with the inspection, although obviously they have some issues with it. The National Association of Head Teachers-on every front, from complaints to the quality of inspectors and, particularly, additional teachers-seem to feel that the service and quality of provision is not up to scratch.
Pauline, what is your view? Where is Ofsted right now?
Baroness Perry: I think that it needs some radical change and very radical reform. It is not really performing what I think inspection ought to be about, which is improving what happens in schools. It has veered so far towards the regulatory end of the spectrum and it is almost confrontational and punitive in how it behaves in some cases. My other worry about it is that I do not think that all the people who work for Ofsted are the kind of senior and experienced educationalists who would command respect for the schools.
I could say a lot more, because I really do think that, in recent years, it has done more harm than good. That is not to say that it has not done some good; of course it has. But it has also been very destructive in naming and shaming schools. Schools can be improved if they are in trouble, without going through that horrendous process of being named and shamed.
Q78 Chair: So it is punitive, doing more harm than good. Lynn, you run a school that has done very well under this regime. You have had the glowing glory. How do you feel about it?
Lynn Jackson: It hasn’t all been glowing glory. I agree with what Pauline has just said. As far as the school is concerned, when somebody comes in we want them to come in to help us to improve. As professionals, that is what we are always about. We are about searching to get better and to do things better for the kids, obviously.
The fear that Ofsted brings is very much in every head’s mind as soon as we get that phone call. Part of it is the vulnerable nature of the teams that come in, and that is a particular issue. Heads always say that it still does very much depend on who you get-even though I must say that the framework has got better and is certainly moving to box descriptors to which we have access, so we have the same information as the Ofsted team. That has been a big improvement, but there is still a variable nature of who you get.
Q79 Chair: So variability in quality, as well as issues around whether Ofsted actually helps schools to improve. Tony.
Professor Kelly: I shall be slightly more circumspect in my comments than my two colleagues. The research base is quite weak. As an academic, obviously that is something that I look at, and I would like to be able to say that we can measure the impact of inspection and its effect on improvement, but I cannot make that claim. I do not think that anybody can.
One of the concerns as an academic observer is the extent to which Ofsted concentrates on improvement or on surveillance. I sometimes feel that it gets caught between those two. On the other hand, I think that it has acted as a spur for improvement where it has been good.
Q80 Chair: So you wouldn’t accept the idea that it has done more harm than good over recent years.
Professor Kelly: I wouldn’t be able to quantify it. In order to answer that, I would have to know-
Q81 Chair: It is a fair point, Tony. We like academics to talk on the basis of what they have actually studied.
Professor Kelly: It would be a mistake to condemn all school inspection on the basis that it hasn’t done badly on occasion. Ofsted has been overly confrontational. That was its reputation. I would say that its reputation has improved. It is viewed from outside the UK with mixed feelings. A lot of countries look at the UK and say that it does a good job. It has acted as a spur for improvement on occasion, but I am not convinced that it has done more good than harm. The evidence base is actually quite thin, so I couldn’t actually quantify it to an extent.
Q82 Chair: Let me make an outrageous proposal to you, Tony, because you are a professor of education and we’re mere laymen and laywomen who write reports making recommendations to Government. As an academic, you cannot prove that it does more good than harm, and we have a former Chief Inspector fearing that it does more harm than good. The Association of Head Teachers is pretty scathing about the performance all round. What would you do to Ofsted if you were Secretary of State? Would you keep it? Would you change it?
Professor Kelly: I would narrow its remit. I would concentrate on schools. I would concentrate on marrying the use of data, which is available in this country to a greater extent than in any other country in the developed world. I would try to marry the data in the national pupil database to school inspection data, and I would concentrate on improvement and not on surveillance.
Q83 Ian Mearns: You said, Professor Kelly, that other countries have taken a view on whether Ofsted has done a good job. You are saying that there isn’t enough data or information on which you can form a view. What do you think has brought other countries to the opinion that they have?
Professor Kelly: The UK’s near-obsession with accountability structures is something that is not unique to the UK; it is shared in places as far afield as New Zealand, Australia and Poland. They all look at the UK, and particularly at the national pupil database, with some envy. They wish that they had that kind of data, but that is not to say that they would do the same thing as we do with it. Largely, that is what they like about our system.
Q84 Bill Esterson: There was a time when inspection was geared towards improvement-before Ofsted. In your views, what would be the right balance between the assessment and judgment role and providing support? Perhaps all of you can paint a picture of what that would look like.
Baroness Perry: I certainly think that inspection is important. Let me start again, I think that it is very difficult to describe what regulation of schools means. I am not sure what one is regulating. Inspection should be there to ensure that every child is getting their entitlement under the law-to put the purposes of inspection at its most basic. That is a very complex thing indeed.
You can measure whether the inputs are right for the school, the classroom and the individual child, but it is very difficult to measure what the outcome for the child really is. It is a kind of almost blunderbuss approach to say, "These are the inputs that we are going to inspect". That is one of my core criticisms of Ofsted; it comes in with a paradigm of, "This is what we ought to be seeing in terms of inputs".
In the 18 years of my life spent visiting schools and inspecting them, there was no paradigm. I’ve seen brilliant learning going on with the teacher breaking all the paradigm rules-turning her back on the class or talking too quietly-but somehow succeeding in inspiring children. It seems to me that what one ought to be measuring-and this is a long way away from regulation-is the learning; if there is excitement, learning and the kids are switched on, thinking that it is fun and if they’re enjoying it and getting the message, that is the regulation you’re looking for and the basis for improvement.
We used to say in training HMI, and I trained HMI in long ago days, that you always start by looking for the growth points. I can honestly say that in 18 years of visiting schools, I never saw something that I would describe as a bad school. It is a horrible description-a "failing school" or a "bad school". There were schools that were not achieving the results that one would wish, and they needed to improve, but within that school there would be some good things going on; there would be teachers working very hard and so on.
I’ve seen schools badly led, and very often that is the key to the difference between a school that is failing in its objectives and so on. I do not think that, when working on improving that school, it is necessary to go first through the horrendous experience of putting it into special measures and having it publicly named and shamed. You can work with a school to look for the points of growth, and maybe to change the head, but that is a job for the governors, not for the Secretary of State or Ofsted. The inspectors should make it clear where the problems and growth points are. It is then over to the governors.
If the head needs to go, the governors can fire the head and bring in a new one. If teachers need development or in-service training, you give them that, and so on. In the balance between regulation and improvement, it must be improvement because that is what we all, as taxpayers and as parents, really want.
Q85 Bill Esterson: At the beginning of your remarks, you painted a picture of what a classroom might look like in terms of the learners’ experience. What is the link between that and measuring exam results or other quantifiable data?
Baroness Perry: If you think about the various people who need to know the results of inspections, the first, of course, are the parents. As a parent, I would want to know whether the school I was contemplating sending my children to had good exam results. I would probably want to know some of the softer data. I would very much like to know-this is Tony’s expertise-what the teacher turnover was, because that can be a symptom of problems. I would want to know the exclusion rate, because would you want to send your child to a school that was having to kick out a lot of kids?
The data is there-as Tony said, we have the most data-rich education system that I have ever encountered. That is all there for parents. After that, I would want to know whether the school would fit my little Chris or Hillary, or whoever. Tell me something about the school and describe it for me-that is what good inspection should do.
As a Secretary of State-we are in the business of this-what do I want to know? I want to know whether all is going smoothly in the education system, whether my policy thrusts are working and whether I’m getting a bang for my legislative buck. Inspection has often not been able to provide the intensive information to Ministers that they need. If we are looking for evidence-based policy, we need an inspectorate that will provide the evidence.
Professor Kelly: As a good academic, I am going to complicate matters and say that it is an over-simplification to talk about school improvement as if schools are affected uniformly. Schools are differentially affected across different cohorts within the population. Some schools are very good with very bright kids and some are very good with kids who are not so bright. Some schools are very good with girls, but no so good with boys.
Good inspection, particularly inspection aimed at improvement, should use data to drill down and find out what schools are not so good at. It should look at differential effectiveness within schools. The idea that we can inspect a school as if it were an entity, within which everybody is treated effectively, in a good way, in a failing way or in an outstanding way, is an over-simplification. It doesn’t do justice to teaching as a profession and it doesn’t do justice to the intelligence of the inspectorate, because they all know that this is a lie. That needs to change. That is a slightly long-winded answer to your question.
Lynn Jackson: Exam data is an important measure of a school. We are dealing with children. The reason why I first came into teaching was that I wanted to change the life chances of the children I looked after. The qualifications that they leave with last for their lifetimes, open doors and give them the chance to go on to do whatever they want to do.
My area is not the wealthiest in the world by far. It is a chance for them to change their lives. Making sure that they leave with the best possible qualifications for them is an essential, core part of what we are about. So, I would say exam data is very important, but it probably has to be used in a slightly more sophisticated manner.
When you measure broadly against national averages, you have to have an understanding of the concept of average and what that actually means. It is not as easy for somebody with very high social deprivation to get the results, as they have got so many things stacked against them.
Just to be judged broadly against national averages, without the sophisticated element in there that seems to be going, is an issue. In my school, we have considerably raised attainment on exam data and we are now above the national average. There was a time when people said, "You’ll never get that school above the national average," but we have. But if you apply the framework of Ofsted criteria to the absolute letter, it is virtually impossible-because all the different data categories are used-for us to get an outstanding judgment overall. That is despite the fact that everybody who knows the school and the area looks at our results and says, "Wow, that’s fantastic; what you’ve done is absolutely amazing."
Q86 Bill Esterson: What about Baroness Perry’s comments about what it is like in the classroom and the experience of the learners?
Lynn Jackson: That’s why you need a triangulation of evidence in any inspection. Obviously, you have to see what’s going on in the classroom, and you have to look at the data. You also have to talk to the kids, which will give you the best long-term view of what’s happening, because you can’t hide that one.
In places, I have seen people come in and change their practice for an inspection-it can be done. I have also seen classes respond totally differently when there is somebody else in the room. Anybody present in a room affects what is going on in that environment-for good, and sometimes for bad. That’s why you need a triangulation of evidence, which is the only way to come to any sort of judgment with any credibility. I would say that you look at the data and at what is going on in the classroom as a snapshot, but you also look at the evidence that the kids tell you.
Q87 Bill Esterson: The Government are suggesting that the most successful schools should have less inspection. Lynn, what are you thoughts on that? If it happens, how would you or we know whether you were still one of the best schools?
Lynn Jackson: The exam data are still there. Obviously, I would imagine that, if there was a sudden drop in performance, somebody would come and bring up what the reasons were-are they cohort issues, which can vary, or is there something more fundamental? I don’t think there is anybody here who would say you should never be inspected, or that you could get to a position where you should never be inspected. I would not expect any Government body, given the amount of public money that we spend, to turn round and say that.
Q88 Bill Esterson: Tony, what’s your view on reducing inspection for the best schools?
Professor Kelly: It is the old question about whether good schools need to be inspected or not. The answer is that I am not sure good schools need to be inspected, but I think all schools need good schools to be inspected. The good schools themselves might not need it, but the other schools need it. The system needs to know where its leading edge is, as what the good schools are doing can be replicated across the system. I am not sure that good schools should be inspected just for their own sake, but I do think they should be inspected.
Q89 Chair: Is it for the inspectors’ sake? If they spend nearly all their time going to schools that aren’t as strong as, hopefully, most schools are, are they just spending whole days not seeing enough excellence and therefore having their expectations lowered? What’s your view?
Professor Kelly: If the purpose of the inspection is school improvement across the system, good schools need to be inspected for that reason, so that the inspectorate and the practitioners themselves know what the leading edge is doing.
Q90 Bill Esterson: Do you think that is part of benchmarking and showing good practice?
Professor Kelly: Yes, exactly.
Baroness Perry: The difficulty is that good schools don’t necessarily stay at that very high peak. A change of head or in the population can make an enormous difference. I firmly believe that you still need regular information for parents about how local schools are doing.
If I can fly a kite, I very much hope that the academies and the new free schools and so on would have a local, very senior professional person-perhaps a recently retired head or professor of education or somebody who knows what they are talking about and commands respect-who would be able to pop in regularly over the year and write something like the "Good Schools Guide" reports.
The "Good Schools Guide" is meant for parents. It gives a thumbnail sketch, just a few paragraphs, about each school. Those are written by the kind of people I am describing-recently retired senior people from the profession. For parents to go on having that kind of information is enormously important.
Also, it should be an annual write-up of thumbnail sketches of what’s been going in the school that year and whether it has had major changes, whether it is still achieving what it set out to achieve and what parents hope it will achieve. But it should be able to say, "Whoops! Something is going badly wrong here", at which point Ofsted is called in to do a more formal inspection.
In order to fulfil her or his duties, the Secretary of State needs to go on having that information about what’s going on in the academies and so on-not the confrontational box ticking in the highly successful school-looking at the inputs to make sure they are all okay. Provided that what is happening to the children is right and good, the sort of light-touch, part-time people who have retired in the community might have a clutch of 40 or 50 schools that they keep in regular contact with.
Chair: Thank you. Charlotte Leslie.
Q91 Charlotte Leslie: In terms of good schools being inspected by Ofsted, there is a kind of circularity, because the school would have been good in a previous Ofsted inspection. My thoughts are drawn to the awful and most recent case when Ofsted was in the news with regard to Little Ted’s nursery.
In thinking how this could be prevented, I want to make a suggestion and you can tell me how right or wrong it is. My thoughts were that the problems in Little Ted’s, which were not picked up by a tick-box approach, could have perhaps been picked up if the inspectorate had had confidential and informal chats over coffee with the staff, who might have said, "I don’t know, but there might be something up with Vanessa George-it’s a bit odd", which could have then triggered something.
Is that softer approach, which can sometimes lead to more astute assessments, prevented by the aggressive, punitive approach that Ofsted takes? Is that something that Ofsted could or should do more of? Is it possible?
Baroness Perry: Absolutely. You have hit the nail on the head. In order to get that kind of informal chat with people prepared to talk to you about their concerns, two things have to happen. First, the people who go in to do the inspection have to command respect. They have to be people who are senior in the profession. There are Ofsted inspectors who have never taught a day in their lives, so what kind of respect will other teachers or professional-
Q92 Chair: Sorry, Pauline-there are inspectors who have never taught a day in their lives?
Baroness Perry: Yes. The ones working for the three companies are not all people who have experience. At HMI they all have.
But secondly, the people doing the inspection must go in with genuinely open minds and inspect with the school, not do things to it from outside. The teachers, as we have heard, are fearful and anxious. They do not want to move a step out of line in case they damage their own careers as well as the school, so of course they won’t raise problems-everything’s fine, they’ve polished the floor and everything else. But if you have a non-aggressive approach, if you come in with the grain of the school, if you are a fellow professional and you talk to them as such, it does not mean that your judgments are in any way shunned.
I agree that talking to the children is an important part of the inspection, but so is looking at their work. What employers most object to is that people come out of our school system and they cannot write a decent sentence. A proper inspection looks, more than anything else, at the standard of the children’s or the young people’s learning.
Q93 Ian Mearns: You seem to be implying that we need to reinvent the old-style HMI approach for some schools. I remember a time when an HMI-the title in itself and the person-had real cachet among other education professionals; I am afraid to say that I am quite sure that an Ofsted inspector does not have that in the realm of education professionals. Those times have gone, but you seem to be implying that we need to invent an old-style HMI regime to carry out a range of pastoral visits, as it were, to schools that seem to be doing well.
Baroness Perry: I’m not suggesting that we go forward to the past; that is the last thing that I would suggest. In any case, it would not fit modern circumstances. In the days when we had HM Inspectorate within the Department for Education, there were local authority inspectors who had that regular, week-by-week, day-by-day contact with schools.
Q94 Ian Mearns: But it was a big day for many local authorities when an HMI came on to the patch.
Baroness Perry: Well, when they came as a pack, so to speak-when we did what we called full inspections, but there were also local inspectors, who kept the relationship with schools and reported what was going on back to the centre. I am not suggesting that, but there are lessons we can learn from the courteous and professional approach that HMI and many local authority inspectors brought to their work.
I really feel that the way in which we have moved towards this absolute regulatory approach and, worse still, the box-ticking-it is all about inputs. The data give you outputs, but they only give you outputs of test results. There is a lot more to what you want for your child as a parent, and to what you want for the country as Secretary of State, than just good test results. I have seen schools that were getting good test and exam results, but they were not doing anything else for the kids at all-they were grinding them through the tests.
Q95 Bill Esterson: Tony talked about the expanded remit of Ofsted as one of the areas of concern. Pauline, would you talk about some of the changes in Ofsted and whether it has moved on from when it was set up? What are your thoughts about that?
Baroness Perry: Yes, I think that Ofsted has come to rely very heavily on its input mechanisms-its tick-boxes-and whether all the inputs are right. But its remit has gone far too far. We need a schools inspectorate with people who understand schools.
I did some work earlier in the year with one local authority that was desperately trying to merge its social services-to create an integrated children’s department-with its schools. It came home very closely to me that part of what they wanted me to do was to get these people talking to each other in a way that would enhance the role of children. It came home really forcibly to me that they talk about children in a totally different way.
The way in which educationalists talk about their children and their concerns about getting them to perform in school are very different from the way in which social services do that. Social services deal with some of the most difficult children in terrible circumstances, so they have quite different ways. Of course they need to talk to each other, but I am not sure that merging is always the answer, with regard to communication.
Some of the dreadful cases that we have had, from Victoria Climbié onwards, have demonstrated that there needed to be more communication, but that of Baby P demonstrated that even after you have merged, you do not get any better service. I think that the spread of Ofsted has been a sad thing for Ofsted.
Q96 Damian Hinds: I want to probe a little more into the balance between self-evaluation, data, observation and, possibly, the inspection of school work. Before that, we have been talking a little about the overall purpose of Ofsted, and we know that Ofsted’s own survey suggests that nine out of 10 parents "value" its work and the information it provides to help schools improve. I wonder if, in fact, nine out of 10 parents value Ofsted and the information it gives to help them choose, as opposed to help schools improve.
Something came up last week and I would like to put the same question to each of you. It strikes me that Ofsted is trying to do different things. We had a constant discussion about the balance-perhaps even a tension-between inspection on the one hand, a regulatory role, and, on the other hand, a coaching, help-you-to-improve role. From my background, it appears that those are two different types of animal, two different types of human being. I just wonder why we have them together, and what your thoughts are on how you optimise those two functions.
Professor Kelly: The real tension is between trying to inspect quality and trying to inspect compliance. I imagine that the Secretary of State for Education has an obligation to ensure that public money is well spent and that schools comply, but in my view that should not be the purpose of the inspection system. It should be a look at the quality of teaching and learning, and should put into the public domain-to a certain extent, as it feels necessary-information that will enable parents to make good choices.
But the whole thing has been mixed up with a compliance culture, which has militated against the unfortunate case that Charlotte Leslie mentioned. The more inspectors concentrate on compliance, the less they will listen, and the less they listen, the less they get an opportunity to discover the unfortunate things that sometimes are not all that apparent if the inspector’s head is down in a book, ticking boxes.
Q97 Damian Hinds: With respect, that is an argument about the type of compliance checking that you are doing. That is not an argument about compliance checking versus coaching.
Professor Kelly: I’m not sure that there is room for both. I am not sure that there is the money for both. I am not sure that there is the funding for both. I am not sure that there are enough days in the year for both, and I am suggesting to you that they should concentrate not on compliance, but on quality and on school improvement.
Q98 Damian Hinds: I’m struggling a little bit with this. When you say "quality", are you talking about checking quality, which is still, in a sense, a compliance thing-it is a less of a box-ticking compliance, I totally accept, but it is still a standard against which we are measuring people-or do you mean how I help people, in a sort of consultancy role, to improve teaching and improve learning?
Professor Kelly: The latter, following from the former. You look at the quality, bringing to bear one’s professional standing. I agree with Baroness Perry that inspectors should be experienced teachers. They should be people with some experience and some standing-some street credibility, if you will. They should have the time and the wherewithal to bring that to bear, and to then coach, if necessary.
Q99 Damian Hinds: Either Lynn or Pauline, do you have any strong views on the conflation of roles, versus their separation?
Lynn Jackson: I think it is how the inspection is used afterwards that probably gives that tension. I don’t think school improvement has to be about coaching per se, because that is a very time-intensive process and takes several visits. I don’t think anybody is saying that we need to go to that for all schools, but if the actual process leaves a school with a better idea of where it needs to go to improve, that is about school improvement.
However, if the process leaves the school thinking, "Oh my goodness, you’ve just given me so many more problems because this damaging report is going to go out. How am I going to face my parents? Am I going to lose all my best kids?", then all of a sudden you are in a far worse situation than when they came in. And the nature of school improvement on the ground is that it is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and if the timing is such that you have an Ofsted that actually sets you back, you could undo a hell of a lot of good work that has already gone on.
Q100 Damian Hinds: Is it too big and lumpy an event? In most walks of life, how your performance is graded-your sales figures or your quality-will change gradually over time, whereas in schools you go from good to outstanding, or the other way around, and therein lies your destiny for the next x number of years.
Lynn Jackson: It is very much a snapshot of what is happening on that day. If you suddenly have a major incident in the community and there are lots of problems getting to school, you will see a very different picture from a typical day, and it is just tough.
The experience of being on the receiving end of an inspection at the moment is that they are frantically running around collecting evidence. They may see something really outstanding and amazing, different and innovative, but they haven’t got time to do it because, if they spend time off track, they’re not going to get all their boxes filled in time and they’re not going to get their evidence or write their report. So they move off it very quickly.
Baroness Perry: My question is: compliance with what? The regulatory function is to make sure that children are getting their entitlement under the law, but the law is only a very rough guide to what you expect when you hand your child over to a school. You are making an implicit contract with the school that says, "Teach my kid," but most of all you are saying, "Teach my kid in a way that suits her or him and is ideal for them."
That is why I think-I absolutely agree with Tony-that the focus is on the quality of education that the child is receiving. That’s what compliance is about, and that is what all the education legislation that has been passed in the past 30 to 40 years has been directed towards. It has been directed towards ensuring that every child reaches the standard in vocational, academic or whatever. That is the same as inspecting quality. I don’t think there is quite the tension that you suggest.
I agree that coaching is not a word I would use in the context of inspection. I am passionate about improvement and think that inspection should be about improving schools. It does that in a variety of ways. It does it by holding up a mirror to the school and saying, "This is how you look. We have spent time with you and have talked to your teachers and to your children, and we have looked at their work and so on. This is what it seems like to us." There is a dialogue between the school and the inspectors about where they are, which is again conducted in professional, not confrontational terms. It is, exactly as you say, a way that enables a school to identify where the possibility for improvement and growth exists. It is then no longer the inspector’s job, but the job of the governors, the head and the teachers to carry that forward together.
If there is one recommendation I would like to make, it is to do with this two-tier system. We can’t reinvent the local authority inspectorate.
Q101 Chair: Weren’t SIPs brought in specifically for that? Senior professionals are going in and supporting schools and, although there are some successes, most people don’t seem to think that they sound like exactly what you are asking. They already exist and people don’t seem to like them that much.
Baroness Perry: It is the quality of the SIPs.
Lynn Jackson: I have an excellent SIP who is a recently retired head teacher who comes in and understands the school and the community. You can have a very good dialogue about where you are moving the school. You build that trust and relationship, so I would tell my SIP far more than I would tell an inspector.
Baroness Perry: But if you have a recently retired head or professor, or somebody with that kind of senior experience, who is under the auspices of a reformed Ofsted but who is not responding back to a local authority-a lot of schools now won’t have a local authority; there’s going to be nothing between the academies, the pre-schools and so on and the Secretary of State-I think you desperately need something local on the ground. You need something that is not a local authority SIP, but somebody who is a very senior person who can do exactly what is being asked for by head teachers-somebody they can talk to and discuss their problems with, but who will also give a regular report back to parents and to the centre.
Q102 Damian Hinds: In terms of the balance between self-evaluation, data and observation, it strikes me that those will probably end up being your categories of input. However you perm them, those will be the categories. You have one that could be the subjective view of somebody who is inspecting-you hope that it’s not too subjective, but to the extent that there is not a paradigm, as Pauline said, you can’t be totally objective.
Self-evaluation, obviously, can be subjective on the part of the school. The data, in theory, are the unarguable bit in the middle. I am interested in the fact that when you talked about exam standards and exam results, you said that just comparing your exam results with a national standard misses some sophistication. Isn’t that what value added is meant to be?
Lynn Jackson: It’s meant to be that, but so often when people come in to look at you, they don’t look at value added.
Q103 Damian Hinds: Is that because it is too complex and nobody understands it, including the people who work for Ofsted?
Lynn Jackson: Absolutely.
Q104 Damian Hinds: Sorry, I didn’t want to put words in your mouth.
Lynn Jackson: Value added tries to put so many things into one number.
Q105 Damian Hinds: Why do we have contextual value added, rather than raw value added? Does anybody know the answer to that question? I know there’s an academic answer.
Professor Kelly: I am not aware of the academic answer.
Q106 Damian Hinds: That doesn’t mean that it’s a dirty thing.
Professor Kelly: It takes account of the context in which schools operate and adjusts for intake.
Damian Hinds: No, that’s what raw value added is.
Chair: I don’t particularly want to get into that, because we have limited time. We could spend our entire session on value added, and three colleagues want to come in.
Q107 Damian Hinds: My profuse apologies. Do we have the right balance between those three things? What would be the effect of the abolition of the self-evaluation form? Presumably there is still a role for self-evaluation, so how does that happen?
Lynn Jackson: Under the current framework, I don’t see why the self-evaluation form is going. If we are talking about the main part, which is a school’s self-evaluation, we should get rid of the endless ream of statistics on statistics. Yes, we should get rid of that section, because it is so burdensome to go and collect all of those from the various systems and put them in a form. That takes for ever, and keeping on top of it is a nightmare. If the first part, the self-evaluation against the framework, goes, I will still need to do it. I will still need to self-evaluate where we are.
Q108 Damian Hinds: In the same format and at the same length?
Lynn Jackson: It’s much better under the new framework. Okay, there was a problem with having to scrap everything that we had done and rewrite it from scratch, which was a pain, but the format that we’ve got at the moment is better, because of the descriptors.
Before that we had to start off with one question, which had so many sub-bullet points that you ended up writing an absolute ream. We are now looking at a small piece of writing against one clear judgment. There is an issue with the length of the self-evaluation, which, again, brings us to the remit of Ofsted, what it is looking for and what we are measuring. The idea is that we shrink the remit so that we are looking at the core things in education and the quality of teaching outcomes. The four areas that have been proposed apply that to the self-evaluation, so I don’t think that there’ll be an issue with the length.
Professor Kelly: The fact that the self-evaluation forms are going out is neither here nor there, because good schools self-evaluate. One of the purposes of inspection should be to see the extent to which schools are self-evaluating. I don’t think of the forms either way.
Chair: Thank you.
Q109 Nic Dakin: Lynn, you have talked about SIPs, and we’re looking at Ofsted and talking about other things. Has Ofsted been the main driver, or the key driver, of the improvement that you’ve brought about in your school?
Lynn Jackson: It has not been the main driver. The senior team has been the main driver. Looking back on the journey, and we’ve had rather an up-and-down approach with Ofsted-if you have a look at the school, you will see that. We had an Ofsted inspection a couple of years after I took over as head that we felt was unfair, and that the local authority felt was unfair and harsh, and we were given an NtI. That process was devastating initially.
You went home thinking, "Have I still got a job in the morning? What effect is this going to have?" We had excellent support from our local authority, which helped us to alleviate all the problems that could have happened, and which meant that we got on with it. Of course, we learned lessons from that; nobody goes through life and experiences blips without learning lessons from them. I couldn’t-hand on heart-say that it has played no role in where we are now.
However, one of the things that we were told in the informal feedback-it didn’t go in the report-was, "Yes, you know what you’re doing. Yes, you will improve. I am very confident that somebody will come back in 12 months and that there will be no issues." The argument that I was having with the inspector at the time was, "Why do this to us when it could potentially cause us more problems?" It has played some role, but it is not a decisive one.
Q110 Nic Dakin: Picking up on that interesting description of the tensions, when we had the former Chief Inspectors here last week, I drew attention to a piece of research that seemed to suggest that, after going through Ofsted, schools’ exam performance dipped. Exam performance is only one measure of performance, but that would seem to suggest that the heart of the process is-to use Baroness Perry’s words-confrontational and punitive, and that has a negative impact on institutions and outcomes for those young people. The Chief Inspectors were very keen to bat that away. What is your view on that?
Baroness Perry: As you say, the evidence from the research is that that does happen. I am not trying to damn everything that Ofsted has ever done. I think there are examples of where it has had a positive effect, just as there are examples of where it has had a negative effect. On balance, my feeling is that it has had a negative effect and that it hasn’t done the kind of school improvement job that we all would like to see done.
I agree entirely with Lynn that some things would not have happened if Ofsted hadn’t been there-but it didn’t have to be Ofsted, and it didn’t have to put the school through that devastating experience of being publicly named and shamed that Lynn has described. It could have happened by an outside intervention, by the holding up of a mirror and then the dialogue with the school. That is what inspection should be and then you wouldn’t get that kind of peak. The peak is only in exam results, and there is more to what a school does for our children than just getting them through exams. As a parent, I would say that very strongly.
I want my children to do well in exams-nowadays it is my grandchildren-but at the same time I want all their talents to be brought out. I want them to have a rich experience and to emerge as adults who have a sense of responsibility to the community. It would also be quite nice if they could emerge as adults who could read and write in a rather sophisticated way. Speaking now as a former head of house at Cambridge University, it would be nice to have people with four A-levels who could actually write a decent sentence.
Professor Kelly: It depends on whether the Ofsted spike or the dip afterwards is the thing to look at, if you know what I mean. I think Ofsted causes spikes in the evidence that is given to inspection, but I am not sure that it causes an improvement in performance terms.
Q111 Nic Dakin: Picking up on something else that Lynn said in her evidence a minute ago about the importance of local support and the local authority when schools are in difficulty, and the point that you were making earlier, Baroness Perry, that that is likely to be less as we go forward, have you got an observation on whether that creates problems for schools improving in the future?
Lynn Jackson: For the situation that we were in, the support of the local authority was absolutely essential. As a relatively new head, I had to have somebody I could turn to and say, "This has happened. How do we deal with that?" It wasn’t the school improvement that I needed help dealing with. I knew what we were doing.
We were on the way, and we have evidence to show that, but it was that sort of potential backlash that could have moved us three or four steps back and it was having that relationship-that is one thing you notice with the academies thing that has come out. I have not expressed any interest because I know how essential that lifeline to the local authority was when I needed it.
Q112 Chair: Pauline and Tony, do you want to come in on that?
Baroness Perry: I agree actually with what Lynn has said. The spike isn’t enough. It has to be something that is a genuine gradient of improvement. I worry about spikes actually, because there is only one way down after you have been up, whereas the slow gradient of improvement is much more important.
Q113 Chair: Tony, on the future and local authority support not being there when schools need it; is that going to be an issue?
Professor Kelly: If the local authority is not there, it will need a very good board of governors to sustain the kind of thing that Lynn was talking about, but it is not impossible.
Q114 Craig Whittaker: Can I just ask Lynn a question? You said that the support of local authorities is imperative for you. Is that because the local authority was the only support available, or do you think that that could be sourced from elsewhere if you needed it?
Lynn Jackson: I don’t know how you could source it from elsewhere. Picking up the point about governors, I have a very supportive governing body whose heart and soul are in the community. However, because of the nature of the community and because they come from the local area, which you would always need in your governing body, there wasn’t that degree of professional experience that I could call on my governors for.
As the systems stand at the moment, I don’t know how it would be done if you were a school out on your own, unless there was a very strong SIP system there. The time that we went through it, we were just changing over-we had got the SIP, but it was still very much in living memory that we had the old local authority. That’s why I turned to the old local authority, because that is when my relationship was the strongest at that time.
Q115 Nic Dakin: The other thing that came through in last week’s evidence was that sometimes schools had got better inspections than the local authority-the people who knew the schools best-understood, which created other problems. Indeed, Charlotte Leslie referred to Little Ted’s and some of the information around that suggested that, had there been greater conversations with people who understood in the local authority, there might have been concerns. Is that an area of concern, going forward, in a new world where local authorities are not as strong as they are at the moment?
Baroness Perry: I agree with both my colleagues here. If there is no local authority-and there will be an increasingly large number of schools where they don’t have a local authority-it is going to be vital for them to have some local person who doesn’t have the local authority entailment, who can work with them in this way, and who knows them and can tell parents about what is going on in the school. Crucially, they can tell the centre, whether it is Ofsted or the Secretary of State, or whatever. The Secretary of State is going to need to know whether the academies and the free schools are performing well and doing all the things that he hopes that they will. That can only be from regular evidence on the ground.
It is quite apparent that you cannot go on having regular Ofsted inspections of these schools. However, I think they are going to need somebody popping in regularly, watching what is going on, who is prepared to sound the alarm if it is necessary and also, as Lynn has said, they should be prepared to work with them, develop and help them. They don’t have the regulatory role, insofar as they only report to Ofsted if there is a real problem, but they have the improvement and developmental role, as well as something of a coaching role. However, I would worry about the coaching role coming from outside-that is the Government’s, exactly, as Tony said.
Q116 Nic Dakin: The last question that I wanted to raise was on the issue of consistency. It has come up, listening to Lynn, that maybe there was some difference in consistency of approach from different inspection teams. The NAHT has produced evidence that suggests that most heads don’t believe that Ofsted inspections are consistent. From earlier evidence today, we have heard that some members of Ofsted inspection teams have no experience on the front line of delivery.
We also recognise that Ofsted is a business model. There are three companies delivering-can you have consistency and a business model of that sort? Can those two things coexist or is that part of the problem, or are there other problems to do with achieving consistency? Do you agree that there is a problem with consistency and if there is what would you recommend to address that problem?
Baroness Perry: I shall only give a short answer because Tony is probably the expert here. You only get consistency if you reduce the inspection to a bare minimum and that is basically what has happened. You give them a set of boxes to tick and they tick their boxes. You try, by that means, to keep it as consistent as you possibly can. If you really want proper inspection, something that goes much more widely and uses professional judgment about what is happening, you have to find other ways of getting consistency.
Professor Kelly: I would take the school inspection system back into the DFE. That’s the short answer.
Baroness Perry: Hear, hear!
Q117 Nic Dakin: Would that bring about the other way of getting consistency that you are talking about?
Professor Kelly: It would make it a lot easier
Q118 Neil Carmichael: I want to ask a fairly straightforward question. We have talked about consistency; we have talked about spikes, upheaval and so forth in the inspection regime. We have teased out the difference between regulation and improvement. So what if we said there was a case for a two-stage inspection? Come in, have a look at the situation, make some preliminary judgments, do not make them public and then return.
The same set of inspectors would return and say, "We’re back here two or three months later and what we really want to find out is the direction of travel, the quality of the school and how you’ve got on since we were last here." That would be more of an appraisal and a discussion which leads to improvement rather than, "We’re telling you where you’re going wrong, now get it right."
Professor Kelly: Yes is the short answer. That is exactly what should be done. But there are logistical difficulties with that. The wider the remit of Ofsted, the less practical that is to do. But with a shorter, sharper, more focused Ofsted, that is exactly what should be done. You’ve hit the nail on the head in my book.
Lynn Jackson: That is a similar model to what schools that go into special measures face. They then have one HMI who works with them over a period of time and they get reinspected when they are ready to come out. That is probably the area where most improvement has happened due to the process.
Chair: Pauline, would you like to comment on that?
Baroness Perry: I would just add to what Tony said about the logistical problems and the number of inspectors you would need to have that sort of model. I think you would have to go back to my model of the local person who keeps a regular eye on the thing and calls in Ofsted from time to time, rather than getting a whole Ofsted team to come in over a three-month gap.
Q119 Lisa Nandy: In the written evidence we received, a number of organisations raised concerns about the relationship between the Department for Education and Ofsted, particularly about the current direction of travel which seems to bring in an over-reliance on Ofsted judgments in relation to the development of Government policy. Can you give me your thoughts on that?
Professor Kelly: One of the difficulties is the reliance of policy makers on the Ofsted judgment, particularly if you’re going to do things like fast-track schools to academy status based on the Ofsted judgment. I don’t think Ofsted judgments are reliable enough to predicate Government policy on.
Baroness Perry: I would agree with that absolutely. There is a great danger in getting a magic, outstanding grade and developing policy from that. I’m delighted to hear that Tony would take Ofsted into the Department for Education because I really do think that Ministers need that regular content with Ofsted, both to hear in a much more rounded way what is happening in the school system and for Ofsted to be able to raise real problems. If something is going wrong with the way school exclusions are going, then let Ofsted go and have an in-depth look on the ground at what is going on and feed back to Ministers that this is what their policies ought to be about school exclusion or whatever topic it is.
It seems to me very strange, if I may say so, Chairman, that the only major Government spending Department which does not have a chief officer to help it with policy is the Department for Education. The Department of Health has a chief medical officer, a chief social worker and a chief nursing officer. The Home Office has chief officers in all its various range of expertise. The Department of Education has a chief economic officer but it does not have a chief education officer, which seems very strange to me.
As Tony says, we need to marry the good evidence base that we all want to see-which I do not think Ofsted is providing now but which it could provide if it were reformed, and if it went back to first principles-having that round the Secretary of State’s table, at Ministers’ ears, so that they have good evidential back-up for their policies, and indeed putting up a flag, saying, "Look, there is something here that you need to look at, Ministers. You need to consider what you are going to do about it because something is going funny."
Q120 Lisa Nandy: The impression that I am getting is that you think the evidence base as it exists at the moment is not robust enough to grant schools academy status on that basis. Is that what you are saying?
Professor Kelly: The national pupil database, which is essentially pupil attainment data, is not properly linked to the inspection data. For that reason, I think you are right; I do not think the evidence base is strong enough. These kinds of policy judgments pose very interesting conundrums, of course. What would happen if a school was deemed outstanding and was moved to academy status, and the inspection regime was found to be faulty? Would the school be de-academised?
Baroness Perry: I cannot help feeling that the case of the Stafford hospital is a good example of how regulation can fail totally. The hospital in Stafford, which had been causing the deaths of perhaps several hundred patients, had been properly regulated. It had met all its targets, and it had been passed by its various regulators with flying colours.
Nobody had actually looked at what was happening to the patients-whether a patient could find a water glass and did not have to drink out of the flower vase. That is the danger of looking only at inputs, not at what is happening. There is a direct parallel with schools, because any inspection ought to be looking at what is actually happening to the children and not all the inputs that are being ticked off.
Chair: Sitting on this Committee, most of us come to the conclusion after a while that the quality of teaching is all in education. One would not be surprised to learn that the quality of inspectors is absolutely critical to the quality of inspection, regardless of the frameworks they work in. If you don’t have high-quality inspectors and they are filling in boxes, you risk loss of quality.
Thank you very much for giving evidence this morning; it has been a great session.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Lesley Gannon, Assistant Secretary (Policy), National Association of Head Teachers, Emma Knights, Chief Executive, National Governors’ Association and Jan Webber, Inspections Officer, Association of School and College Leaders, gave evidence.
Q121 Chair: Good morning. Thank you very much for joining us at this second session. I know you have all heard the evidence given in the first session. Ofsted is not working. It is not the way it should be, and it needs radical reform. Jan-discuss.
Jan Webber: That’s a start, isn’t it? From the point of view of our members, they have had very different experiences of Ofsted-very mixed experiences-and their main concern is consistency. They have welcomed the change since the new framework to collaboration with inspectors. They have welcomed the fact that they can attend team meetings and that they are aware of how the inspection is going.
We do, however, have instances of members saying that the inspection of their school had a different outcome from the inspection of a school down the road with very similar circumstances. There is a perception that the judgment is more reliable if an HMI is leading the inspection.
Lesley Gannon: I very much agree with what has already been said. Our members’ big concern is about the variability in the quality of inspectors and in outcomes. We would also highlight our concern about the difference between the intended outcome of some of the framework and the intention that comes from Ofsted, and how that is carried out in the field. It is throwing up some unusual outcomes in some situations, and definitely some unfair ones in others. It is about that inconsistency, the variability of quality and the inflexibility of some aspects of the framework.
Emma Knights: I don’t dispute that there is variability; our members would say that too. Generally our members’ reports on Ofsted are much more positive than they were two or three years ago. I no longer recognise the picture that was being painted of Ofsted being confrontational and aggressive, and that is what the majority of reports say.
We still, however, have some governors who are absolutely livid about how their inspection was conducted and the end result. By and large, however, people are saying that inspectors took time to look at the self-evaluation and to try to get to grips with that in the time that they had, which, of course, is not very much.
Q122 Chair: So, basically, Emma, the governors seem to be the most positive about Ofsted. Lesley, you picked up on a whole series of issues that you are concerned with. What would you most like to see changed? What would you most like to see in our report as recommendations to the new Government, to change Ofsted or to improve the quality of inspection?
Lesley Gannon: We would like to see the focus being much more on a supportive process that is about school improvement and driving that forward. I agree with much of what was said this morning. Self-evaluation needs to be at the heart of that, but we have to have a proper dialogue between professionals who understand what is going on in the school.
There have to be some allowances within that for understanding the very specific context. Without getting dragged down the CPA route, there are always going to be very different issues that are faced by different schools. That means that they will need to present some of their evidence differently. We think that a genuine inspector, who is working strategically and understands what is happening in schools, should have the flexibility to be able to look at a school in its context and unpack what is happening there.
We want to see the self-evaluation, but we would like to see it working more strategically, with a separation between the elements that are about tick boxes and compliance. Do we really need Ofsted to check whether certain things have been done? Surely that is something that can be done more strategically in local areas, with pure assessment, with involvement from the local authority or other figures. We feel that there is a level of regulation and compliance checking that could be happening locally.
Feeding into that should be an inspection system that looks not only at the specifics of an individual school, but at the local trends and understands the areas and what is going on there. There are very different ways in which schools are working together, as well as individually, to drive things forward.
There are some things that an individual school can do and some things that it will need to do in partnership if it is facing particular challenges. We would like to see an inspection system that was able to cope with the reality of school improvement, rather than a rigid system that is more about checking for compliance and filling in boxes.
Q123 Chair: What would that look like as an action by the Government?
Lesley Gannon: First of all, we would like to see some changes in the framework. Some of the stuff would come out altogether. We would have to go somewhere else-we recognise that. We think that there should be accountability, but it’s got to go hand in hand with how we start to look at assessment data. We’ve got a lot to say on that as well as on local moderation and how we would have a system that, yes, looks at individual schools proportionately. It’s about working with intelligence gathering in the local areas through a network of regionals, where there is intelligence gathering and focusing in at different times on different things. We think the approach should be proportionate, responsive but strategic.
Neil Carmichael: I was thinking about something else, then. I meant to ask about-
Chair: Ofsted’s reputation among educational leaders.
Q124 Neil Carmichael: Yes. Sorry about that. I was thinking about an answer somebody else had given before-I am listening though. One of the things I have noticed, because I have been a governor of schools for about 20 years, is the absolute fear that the threat of Ofsted inspections brings.
The second thing I have noticed is the ability of Ofsted inspections to miss some very obvious points. The third thing I have noticed is Ofsted’s ability to incorrectly interpret evidence that it sees. This is not in relation to one school; I am talking about several schools. Can you comment on that? Am I exaggerating? If so, is there something we can say that is less critical? How would you set about responding to that?
Jan Webber: A lot of the stress is created because head teachers want their school to be seen as they see it. They want its reputation to be good and obviously the report, which is in the public domain, can have a certain effect on that. I think it is the report that causes a lot of stress. If they felt that Ofsted was validating their own self-evaluation and was seeing the school as it was, that stress would be lessened.
Even if you are going to end up with an "outstanding" judgment, you want to have that outstanding judgment; you don’t want a judgment that says your school is inadequate. The situation is bound to create stress for a whole range of reasons. It is about what other people mentioned before: the report going into the public domain and the judgments people will then make about that school without perhaps knowing the context that they are dealing with. The stress is definitely real.
Q125 Chair: Emma, would you pick up on Neil’s point about seeing evidence and then making an incorrect judgment on that basis? Is that the perception of the governors at all?
Emma Knights: I absolutely agree that there is an awful lot of fear and anxiety in schools over Ofsted, and I agree that it is about the publication of the report. All of us in our professional lives are used to being appraised and having to meet targets, but not many of us have our work so obviously put into the public domain in a way that is often taken up in the press and in other places in an unfortunate manner. That is a really important issue.
In terms of data, coming back to a discussion that took place in the previous session, it was suggested that it was a case of self-evaluation here and data here. But actually schools are now good at using data in their self-evaluation. That might be one of the reasons why there were better conversations in a lot of schools between-I agree and take the point about HMIs in particular-HMIs and the head teachers and the governors who get involved. That is laid out to a certain extent if you have done your self-evaluation properly in that framework. Hopefully, the inspectors arrive understanding why you think that actually this is good, or the data show that it is good. That is actually improving.
Lesley Gannon: I would very much like to respond to that. I agree with some of what has been said. One of the reasons there is so much stress is that many of our members, particularly those in primary and special schools, fear that they are going to have to fight for the inspectors to understand the very context in which they are working.
People who are not used to working with and have no experience of working with very young children are making judgments about what is appropriate behaviour, what is demonstrating the relevant task, what is an appropriate activity for them to be doing and how quickly they are progressing, particularly students in mainstream settings with very particular learning needs.
The inspectors often simply don’t have the background to understand the learning that they are seeing, and that’s a real concern because the head teachers want to show what’s going on in their school, but if someone doesn’t appropriately understand the landscape, if they don’t understand the current initiatives and if they don’t understand the language that the teachers are using to describe what’s going on in there, it’s very hard to show what’s going on.
Also, if you have inspectors who are focused on one process, which is hefty for the amount of time that they have to carry it out-it is an awful lot to get through-it may mean that for some of the school-generated evidence, some of the things that the school would like to show, they are not able to. There is no room to put that into the mix, and sometimes they are the very things that you would want an inspector to be looking at.
Q126 Craig Whittaker: Everybody has said that the regime is too rigid, too tick-box and too focused on compliance. Yet we hear also that you are quite in favour-particularly Emma just said-of compulsory self-evaluation. Are you saying that teachers and head teachers are not professional enough to do that anyway without having to have a compulsory tick-box form to do so?
Emma Knights: There are two questions. The first is, "Should self-evaluation be compulsory?" and the other is, "What tool or form do you use to do that?" We think self-evaluation is absolutely a hugely important part of the process, and we would be doing that whether Ofsted existed or not. But we are concerned that messages might go out, suggesting that it is self-evaluation that is not important. We keep saying that it is an absolutely crucial part of improvement in schools.
The form issue is much more about how you do it. It is absolutely right that schools should have the ability to use a system that fits with and suits them. But the reason why we are slightly concerned about the messages that are going out is that we don’t want some schools to become complacent. It may well be the schools that are coasting, or perhaps the schools that are in danger of declining standards, who might think, "Aha! We don’t have to do this any more. This was a bit of bureaucracy that we could get rid of." It absolutely isn’t bureaucracy; it’s crucial. I am not hung up on what form you use, but I really want it.
Chair: May we have quick answers from Lesley and Jan, who are controlling their indignation?
Lesley Gannon: Schools are going to be doing self-evaluation. It is absolutely essential, and an essential part of school leadership. But what they want to do is to be able to evaluate in a way that is meaningful and useful, and that will sometimes differ.
One of the shortcomings of a fixed form is that because you don’t want it to be too long-you need it to be punchy so that you can get the information over very quickly if you’re dealing with Ofsted-you can’t always highlight and drill down on some of the issues that are specific to your school. What we would like to say is, "Absolutely, self-evaluation should be at the heart of it, but Ofsted should be able to look at self-evaluation data in a range of formats." It shouldn’t simply be able to understand it if it is on one form.
Chair: Before Jan explores her area, I invite Neil to come in.
Q127 Neil Carmichael: I think any successful organisation or person is bound to do some self-evaluation, form or no form; but it is the culture and systems that you use. I have a question specifically for Emma Knights. Should governors be playing a stronger and more effective role in dealing with self-evaluation? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to be setting the targets, testing the head teacher and demonstrating what they understand about the school?
One of the things that I have noticed is that too few governors understand the process of self-evaluation and so on, particularly with reference to the form that we are abolishing. But that does not mean to say that governors should be taking, in my view at least, an enhanced role in that area. What do you think of that?
Emma Knights: Absolutely. Governing bodies are crucial to evaluating the school; that is our job, and we should be doing it. In some cases, yes, we should be doing it better. Governing bodies do sign off the self-evaluation form, and some are more involved in developing it than others. Certainly there is a whole section on governance, and you would expect the governing body to take the lead on that. It is part of a cycle of school development. Whatever we call that process, it is the crucial cycle for governing bodies to work with-it is our bread and butter.
Jan Webber: You talked about indignation. Schools are very good at self-evaluation, as has been recognised by Ofsted and the Government. A good school knows itself and knows exactly where it is at, including the total range of performance. The head teacher in the previous session said that she knew the condition of her school before she was told about it. In a way, we are saying that we would like that to be externally validated, but that the school is best placed to know itself. To improve, it may be helpful to have that external check, but it is the school leaders who will improve the school.
Governors are involved in self-evaluation to different extents. Governors are often involved in the judgment about leadership and management, and in helping the school to improve.
Q128 Chair: Does Ofsted lead to enough challenge? Schools are very collegiate places, the teaching profession is very collegiate and governing bodies tend to be part of the community and quite collegiate. Everybody is very cosy together. When Ofsted inspectors go in, does it lead to enough challenge? Is there enough challenge of individual classrooms, schoolteachers or practitioners when Ofsted comes in and the school isn’t doing well enough because there isn’t enough good teaching?
Does that lead to enough action? Governors tend to work to help improvement in a collegiate way. Is there a lack of facing up to and tackling underperformance in schools? The whole point of inspection should be to throw a spotlight on that, and you need to act. If leaders and governors lack that will, you do not get the action you need. Is there any truth in that?
Lesley Gannon: There will always be examples that we can cite where there hasn’t been enough challenge within individual schools, but generally, I don’t think that is the case. Schools and school leaders are very aware of the challenges. There are sometimes issues with what they can do about some of the challenges and with how long dealing with those challenges will take them, but they are aware of the challenges. They do everything they can to acknowledge them.
From the school leader perspective, if you want to take a school that is in difficulty forward, you need to have the buy-in of the governing body and the local community. You want the staff to be going forward as well. It will not help that process if someone comes in and tries to set one against the other, and cause all sorts of difficulties, particularly if that person doesn’t have a great deal of credibility in that community-either the teaching community or the local community. It is more useful in that situation for someone to go in and talk about how to combat those challenges and be supportive. If a school isn’t receiving the support it needs, from whatever body, or if the head teacher and governing body are struggling with real obstacles, the person who goes in can discuss possible strategies.
Our members have expressed the concern that when they have known that there is a problem and have asked the inspectors to suggest possible ways forward, they haven’t seen that as their role. That is an example of a poor inspector who is not doing what we would hope. I think Ofsted would say that that is not what it hopes for. But that is what happens. It doesn’t help anybody just to say, "We’re going to make this judgment and throw a spotlight on something based on not particularly strong evidence, even though you have already identified it as a problem, and we’re going to use it as a stick to beat you with." That doesn’t help anybody to go forward.
Q129 Ian Mearns: Since the beginning of Ofsted, the landscape has changed dramatically, both in terms of how inspections are conducted and what results there are in schools. If you put today’s inspection regime into the schools of 20 years ago, I think that an awful lot them would struggle to come up with a good standard. We must accept that Ofsted has had a role in changing that landscape, particularly in bringing forward the quality of school leadership because an awful lot of school leaders 20 years ago couldn’t have lived with this regime. I don’t know what you think about that.
Jan Webber: It’s linked in a sense to the previous question. I think that school leaders now do know about their schools. They do rise to the challenge, and they do challenge their teaching staff. They are very, very concerned about teaching and learning in schools. To think that Ofsted doesn’t challenge them to do that is wrong.
I think therefore that challenge is throughout, and I would like to think that governors do challenge, too. It would be wrong to give the impression that a report is published and that the challenge is not risen to, in that case. That is very important. They do know what their teaching staff are like. They know who the good teachers are. They know who the brilliant teachers are. They know the teachers who need support. I think that leadership in schools is very good today, and I would therefore agree with one of your comments.
Emma Knights: I fully support that. It is obviously one of the roles of the governors to challenge, as well as support. It might not always be done as well as we want, but it is clearly our role. You mentioned the "will to improve". I absolutely think that across our schools there is a real will to improve.
Q130 Charlotte Leslie: Thanks for coming along. I am going to ask briefly about Ofsted’s impact on school improvement. My first question is to Emma. To what extent is it easy for governors to take an Ofsted report and easily tease out what actions need to be taken to improve?
Emma Knights: I support what has just been said about how, quite often, we do know what the issues are. It is very rare that Ofsted will come in and find a hole that the governing body wasn’t aware of. Of course, we will all have a range of things-whether we call them action plans or whatever-that have been presented to us by the school leadership team that we comment on, prioritise and set our key focuses for the year. Ofsted is only one part in that cycle, and how important a part does depend quite often on the quality of the inspectorate. I have actually heard the adjective "wise" being used within the last month about three separate HMIs that governors have talked to me about. I thought that that was quite interesting, because perhaps that is not usually a phrase that is associated with Ofsted.
Q131 Chair: Were these HMIs?
Emma Knights: They were HMIs who had reported to governors, as well as the head teachers. That is the feeling that the governor had come away with-that actually it was helpful in terms of either confirming what the governors already knew, or in terms of, as Lesley was asking, "Can we have some thoughts about how we might progress?" That is not always the scenario, but that is the one that we want to try to achieve.
Q132 Charlotte Leslie: So wise HMIs can identify in a much more holistic and in-depth sense an issue that you probably know exists, and are able by the identification of that problem to suggest some solutions? Does that make any sense?
Lesley Gannon: You will get some excellent reports that talk at a strategic level. They will often cite the good practice that is already there and identify ways in which it can be developed across the school. That’s fantastic and people really value it. You will also get reports that will have comments like, "Occasionally, children spend too long sitting on the carpet," and you think that’s not really useful to driving forward the school. There may be some issues there about pace that you might want to talk about, but that level of focus is inappropriate. Again, you see the good reports and you can really pull stuff out of excellence; then you get the other ones and you really wonder what the point of it all is.
Q133 Charlotte Leslie: When the reports are good, would you say that that would be a reasonable model for Ofsted to be based on? A good report-is that satisfactory for the role that you think Ofsted should be doing? If every report was consistently good, everything would be fine and we wouldn’t be having this inquiry.
Lesley Gannon: It would be nicer if they weren’t so restrictive. It is very formulaic.
Jan Webber: I think that it depends what you mean by a good report. We’re already using categories with reports, aren’t we? Because of the process, that report should not be a shock to the head teacher or governors, because it is meant to be a collaborative process now.
There are discussions and team meetings that head teachers attend and feedback is to head and governors, so it shouldn’t be a shock. It should also be explained in the feedback. Therefore, that report should reflect the dialogue that has happened throughout the inspection; and, therefore, the governors should know what they and school have to do to improve. I think that there is a lot of trust in HMI, and there is a lot of experience there, and people value that.
Q134 Charlotte Leslie: If the role of Ofsted is to identify issues, which you may already know about, and identify possible solutions, is there enough help there for schools that want a bit of a hand with how to address those issues? Do school improvement partners do it? Does Ofsted do it? Is there a network there for schools?
Jan Webber: The issue is-to use the word "challenge"-that Ofsted comes in and challenges a school; it doesn’t support that improvement. Therefore, other people have to support the improvement, and that was part of the discussion earlier. I think that, in some cases, schools need additional help, and that can then be provided by a local authority as a result of that report. The issue would be, as you said earlier, what happens if there isn’t a local authority.
The other person that can help a school in that situation is the SIP. If the role of the SIP is not there either, one wonders where that help is coming from. You can commission people to help you; you can buy in services-there’s no doubt about that. But if a school has a report that has been damaging to its public image and has psychologically affected the staff, additional help is very useful in identifying where that help can come from. In some cases, SIPs work with schools across an area, not just in one small locality, and they will have examples of good practice and of help that can be brought in. There is a support mechanism there, but it hasn’t come directly from Ofsted, and one wonders where it will come from.
Q135 Charlotte Leslie: Do you think that there should be more-I hate the phrase "joined-up thinking"-links between SIPs, local authorities and Ofsted? Would that help?
Jan Webber: If SIPs are appointed by the local authority, schools would be slightly concerned about their independence. If a governing body was in control of appointing its SIP, had trust in that SIP and felt that the experience was good, that would be a very helpful relationship.
Q136 Chair: What if Ofsted did it? What if the SIPs were linked to Ofsted in some way?
Jan Webber: There was talk earlier about the willingness to say straight to your SIP exactly where things are, and therefore getting in the right kind of help. That might be affected if you felt that there was another agenda there.
Q137 Chair: On the other hand, by being embedded in Ofsted and by having that constant relationship, they might be just the advocate you need to say, "I know that this snapshot does not reflect the wider reality." Is there any truth in that?
Emma Knights: I am slightly worried that this might all be overtaken by events. Our members are extremely worried about what the landscape is going to look like in three months, six months, or a year’s time, in terms of support for school improvement. I know there is a ministerial inquiry looking at the role of local authorities, but, in the meantime, a lot of local authorities, because of the financial situations that they find themselves in or are about to find themselves in, are making school improvement staff redundant. We have real worries about what that will mean for this ongoing support.
Lesley Gannon: NAHT has already put forward some ideas about ways in which SIPs and Ofsted can work together supported by a charter on assessment. There are some interesting ideas to be explored around whether they should be part of the same thing. The key thing for us would be that, whatever that relationship, they would be performing distinct roles, rather than duplicating and sometimes coming to different conclusions, because that wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest.
Jan Webber: In many ways, our views are very similar. We think that there should be a framework of accountability. The inspection is just part of that framework, and obviously notice should be taken of self-evaluation as well.
Q138 Pat Glass: Good morning. I want to talk to you about the quality of inspection teams, but before I do that, could I quickly go back? We have heard a lot about the way in which inspectors come in and how it is a tick-box exercise, but some of those tick boxes are actually very important. It is important that someone is checking that the central register is up to date and that every teacher in school-or every adult in school-has been regularly police cleared. If we have a situation in which Ofsted inspectors are not doing that, and there is no local authority, who would do those very important things? Where do you think schools will be with that? Is that a danger? Is that something that will cause you concern?
Lesley Gannon: It would be a danger if nothing was being checked. We all acknowledge that there is a place for those compliance checks. As for who should do that, I think that’s something that there could be more openness and greater discussion about. One idea that NAHT has previously put forward is for teams of local peer assessors and so on from the profession, who would then feed into a framework. But certainly we wonder whether, with so many of those checks, and with some of the areas that need to be checked being quite complicated and then being interrelated between the local authorities and so on, that should be taking up the time in a school inspection and be done by the actual inspectors.
Q139 Pat Glass: So Emma, do you see a role for governors in this, given that some of these could be quite dangerous if they weren’t checked?
Emma Knights: An awful lot of those responsibilities and duties in the legislation are governing body duties, so obviously we do have a role in checking that these things are happening and we will say to our school leaders, "Has this been done?" Then of course you’d say, "Who is going to check that the governing body has done that?"
I completely agree with what Lesley was saying. Inspectors do not have much time here and I agree with the comments that were made earlier, that what is absolutely crucial is the teaching and the school leadership. Given the resources that we have got yes, if we were going to have more days, then we could look at other issues. There is a question of what’s absolutely crucial and what can be dropped off the list.
For example, one of the things that our members report back to us quite frequently is that inspectors are very good at looking at value for money. Well, to do that in half an hour is pretty much impossible, so should it be within the framework at all, or should that be a different system of accountability?
Jan Webber: I would agree with that totally. I’m not saying that compliance issues aren’t important-we realise that they are important-but, again, we don’t know that that should be part of the framework, or that the framework should be slimmed down. But there should be some audit of those compliance issues, possibly by people, as you say, who are best placed to do those, rather than by making it part of the Ofsted remit. Ofsted can then focus on those areas that are crucial to school improvement.
Q140 Pat Glass: But do you feel that there may be a gap, if there is no local authority and Ofsted isn’t doing it?
Jan Webber: I think we would have to find somebody who is best placed to do that. I don’t think that you could just take those issues away; they need to be dealt with differently.
Q141 Pat Glass: Moving on to the quality and experience of inspectors, the Chair said earlier that if you don’t have the good quality and experience, then you are not going to get good-quality teaching and outcomes. I am particularly concerned about a number of areas. I would be interested in your views on whether we could be recommending that inspectors need to have that background, quality and experience, so that those who are inspecting early years should be early years experts, and that we shouldn’t just draw on whoever is around or available. I would be interested in your views on limiting judgments and what kind of knowledge and experience inspectors have of some of those very specific limiting judgments, and also of things such as special schools. Should the inspectors have worked in, or have some experience of, special schools, particularly in some of the more, in a sense, extreme areas of behaviour or learning?
Jan Webber: I’m looking at the area of special school heads, because we have members who are special school heads. They feel that the framework presents issues for them-being judged in the same way as other schools. One of the comments made when we took this to council for members’ views was that it should be looked at very carefully in terms of inspecting special schools. I don’t know if that is your experience as well.
Lesley Gannon: Absolutely. Our special school heads feel very passionately that not only is it important that the inspectors have some experience in the area of special needs education that they are looking at, but that they have also had recent, relevant management experience in some of those areas. School leadership, particularly where there are really quite profound needs or a real challenge there, is very difficult. It is very difficult, for example, for someone who has not had management and leadership experience in that context to effectively evaluate management decisions around teaching and learning in relation to progress and how that is managed, targets are set and so on. That is something that we are really concerned about.
Generally, early years is another area where we feel that there is a severe shortage of experienced inspectors who really know what they are looking at. We spoke to our members and nearly 19% of our membership took part in our poll: they said that they felt that the quality was inadequate and the comments we heard were that people don’t understand the sector they are looking at.
Jan Webber: Can I just take up the point about leadership, management and experience? Because of the nature of inspection at the moment, there is more of a collaborative feel. Head teachers can talk to the inspectors. What they want is mutual trust and respect, and if they believe that that person has had recent management and leadership experience, then the dialogue is of a better quality. I think that is very important.
Q142 Pat Glass: So it is about recent management experience but also expertise in those areas that they are inspecting?
Jan Webber: Yes.
Q143 Pat Glass: Finally, we have heard a lot about the inconsistency around inspections. Is that about the time allocated, not just for the inspection but the planning? If inspectors-I guess the role of the main inspector is crucial here-had more time to understand the school that they were going into, then the tenor and the direction of the inspection would be very different. There is a role for challenge in some schools and it is not just about support. If the inspectors had more planning and reading time, would that make a difference to how inspections were carried out?
Lesley Gannon: It would potentially make it more difficult to ignore school-generated evidence. That is one of the big complaints. There often is not time for the school to present anything other than the statistical evidence that they have pulled through. More time would certainly address that issue; it would mean that there would be time to look more at what was going on there.
There are elements where that would undoubtedly be of benefit. But it is not going to be of benefit if you have an inappropriate inspector who really does not understand the context. It is not going to compensate for that, nor will it improve things without a situation where there is an appropriate and successful system for pushback as well.
If it is not a dialogue, if there is not a proper moderation system that looks in and a responsive complaints system that addresses some of the issues about the quality of the individual inspectors, they can have all the time they like and it will not make the big difference until some of those quality issues are dealt with. For the good inspectors, more time to look at what the school is doing will always help. But for the ones we have the biggest problem with, I’m not sure that it is the time issue. I think it is some of the other sections.
Q144 Pat Glass: Can I ask you again about the role of the lead inspector? Do we hold the lead inspector sufficiently accountable for those inspections and should they be held more accountable? Should there be a route through which the lead inspector can be held accountable, not just for the quality of the inspectors that he brings along with him, but for what is in that report and the impact on the school?
Lesley Gannon: It is a massive area. School leaders feel that lead inspectors are not accountable. They feel that they can say and do pretty much as they like and because of the way in which inspections are carried out, it is very hard to demonstrate anything different. If there are inappropriate comments or inappropriate analysis and if all that has happened in a room in a discussion between a school leader and a lead inspector, it is very hard for that school leader to demonstrate that there is a problem there and to prove it afterwards. There isn’t a clear system that school leaders can point to where that is challenged.
Q145 Chair: You said that some inspectors are notorious within localities for their unprofessional attitudes. Complaints are made and nothing happens as a result. Does Ofsted not seem to do anything about even sustained complaints about notorious inspectors?
Lesley Gannon: It’s very difficult to prove that something has happened. We understand that Ofsted-the employers-can’t simply operate on hearsay; we’re a trade union, so obviously we respect that. At the same time, there are issues when time and time again, we hear the same names coming up.
Q146 Nic Dakin: Do you share Jan’s goal here, that the lead inspector should always be an HMI? Would that address that problem?
Lesley Gannon: We think that the constant presence of an HMI would make a significant difference.
Emma Knights: We would support that too.
Jan Webber: Members have evidence to say that. Again, it is down to the consistency of the lead inspector, and we’re going back to that again. The thing is, if it is an HMI, it is more likely to be consistent. We have evidence of members challenging and the lead inspector has been very good at bringing their inspectors into line. We have other examples of where that hasn’t happened. That inconsistency damages trust and respect.
Emma Knights: Absolutely. The inspections that our members more recently had issues with were of exactly that model. They had problems with the additional inspectors and all of them used the expression, "Oh, but the HMI brought them into line". That didn’t appear in the final report. The HMI lead inspector role is crucial.
Q147 Ian Mearns: On inspection reports, after the lead inspector and his team have left, they give you some initial feedback, and then off they go and the report comes back. I have heard a number of times from different schools that someone outside of the inspection team has rewritten reports on behalf of Ofsted, and they haven’t even visited the school. There is evidence that that is taking place. Do you have any thoughts or comments about that?
Jan Webber: There is a checking process for the reports and there has to be a match between the grades given and the description in the report, so sometimes there can be changes for that reason. There is an official process for that. A school gets a copy of the draft report, and it can check it and make comments, but that is on the basis of factual inaccuracies. If they don’t agree that the report is what they heard in the feedback, then it is more about challenging a report, which is a different process altogether.
Q148 Ian Mearns: That is a very difficult process, because I’ve certainly had cases reported to me where the verbal feedback has said one thing and the initial written report has said something different. It is difficult to challenge that actually, because someone at a higher level has decided that the outcomes do not match what they want to find in the school.
Lesley Gannon: That is where the context of the individual school is sometimes put into jeopardy. Sometimes this is simply about a poorly written report, but there will be instances where, if the report is not written appropriately and those correct words and terms aren’t in there to go with the grade when it goes through moderation, prices can go up and down. That is always going to be a concern when you want, as Ofsted are encouraging, inspectors to use their discretion when looking at different aspects of the school. There is an inherent conflict.
Pat Glass: I think I’ve covered all the things that I wanted to ask.
Q149 Nic Dakin: In the evidence that you provided, in terms of the impact on school improvement, most of your members seem to be saying that Ofsted has little or no impact on school improvement. Indeed, almost 40% say that it is a distraction and has a negative impact. Is that something that you stand by?
Lesley Gannon: Absolutely. What they are saying is that very often they have to spend a lot of time dealing with issues arising from inspection, once they are up to the due date, which takes their eye off the ball. It might be that it’s to do with specific issues around stress, how the staff are reacting and how concerned they are. It may be that, as a result of an inspection, the morale of the teaching staff has collapsed or that it has caused a lot of problems with parents or a lot of concern.
Others just feel that it is a distraction. They want to get on because they don’t feel that they can show what is going on in their school effectively simply by opening the doors and letting them come in. Some sort of different and special effort has to be made, in case you have that team that doesn’t understand or that inspector who’s not going to listen to any argument, just in case you have to produce a load of extra stuff to strengthen your arguments. That is time taken that could be focused somewhere else.
Q150 Nic Dakin: Jan, do they protest too much?
Jan Webber: It’s back to the consistency between teams, and you’ve alluded to that. A good inspection will validate a school staff evaluation and it will see the school as it should rightly be seen. Therefore, it is part of that school improvement process, because it is validating that and the route that is going to be taken. However, in other circumstances, it can cause a lot of stress.
I was with a group of head teachers last week who were looking at inspection, and their stress levels were incredible. That was not because they were poorly performing schools, but because they were so anxious about the whole process. Sometimes that is because they have heard of issues with other schools. So it is not consistent. In some cases, it does have a role in school improvement, but in others it causes a lot of stress and dysfunction.
Q151 Chair: So quality and consistency is what all the witnesses are talking about. The previous session suggested re-embedding Ofsted in the Department for Education, rather than having Tribal and other companies do it. How can we best improve the quality and consistency of our inspection system? Do you have any proposals, Emma?
Emma Knights: I just wanted to make a general comment about not wanting huge amounts of upheaval and changing of goalposts. I have worked in organisations that are restructuring and you stop doing your proper job and spend an awful lot of time restructuring. So I am slightly wary of that unless I am really sure that something good is going to come out of it.
The morale point is really important. It can really affect a school and its ability to improve. One of the problems with changing the goalposts is that people who were "good" might end up this time around as "satisfactory", which is really demoralising for a school. They are doing what they were doing before and trying to improve, but it looks in the public view as though they’ve gone backwards. So in terms of the press, the parents and even the children, who say, "I thought I went to a good school," that has a really negative effect.
Q152 Nic Dakin: That is in the 2009 framework, isn’t it?
Emma Knights: Yes. In fact, a lot of people were really concerned about what would happen to how the inspections were carried out. There is an awful lot of myth and rumour that goes around causing a lot of stress to school staff and governing bodies. The way in which the inspections were carried out actually improved in a lot of ways, but if your end result is a notch down, that has huge implications.
The slight worry is that, if that is going to keep happening, we are going to have to keep ramping up more. The system is going to be ramped up on us so that we have to be better and better and better to count as "good". There is a whole issue around "satisfactory," because a lot of people don’t think it means "satisfactory" any more. And there is a great span between people who are almost "good"-they have just missed "good"-and those who are in danger of sliding right down into special measures.
For me, the critical issue at the moment is not taking the heart out of schools that are really moving in the right direction but won’t look on paper as though they are.
Lesley Gannon: For us, there has to be better training and better checks on who is working, particularly for primary, because the volume is greater and there is a greater need for numbers. The training has to be there and it has to be wide ranging. They have to understand the sector, but they also have to be in the 21st century in relation to what they are looking at in the qualities and the ideas that they are taking into the schools and how well they can evaluate that.
There has to be a greater accountability system, and the complaints process, and how we look at how well it is operating as an organisation, has to be improved.
Jan Webber: Can I take up both points? One is that we are talking about some sort of quality assurance system for Ofsted, which is quality assuring schools. That might be moving to the DfE, but that might not help in terms of independence.
To take up a point raised about grading, we have said in our submission that the current grading system is difficult for schools, because if you are labelled as "satisfactory" the myth is out that "satisfactory" is not good enough. There is such a little gap between "good" and "satisfactory" that our school would say that if you are going to change the framework, you should change the grading framework as well.
Q153 Chair: You wanted five-is that right?
Jan Webber: We went for three.
Lesley Gannon: We went for more, but we would support changing it.
Q154 Chair: All three of you managed to speak without answering my question about whether we should embed Ofsted in the Department for Education.
Jan Webber: I did respond to that. I said it might not help.
Chair: Sorry. I should have listened harder.
Lesley Gannon: We are more concerned about how well it works than about where it is situated. That is going to be key. We would also want assurances that there wasn’t politically motivated interference in how schools were being evaluated.
Jan Webber: It might help the conduct of inspections, but we need a quality assurance system.
Emma Knights: I would agree with those comments. I don’t know enough to know whether that would be the solution, but it would be a bit of a risk to do that restructuring. There are more important things to focus on, such as the training and who you are appointing to be HMIs in the first place.
Q155 Craig Whittaker: We have heard a lot to do with the framework about the balance of inspection factors, and it is fairly safe to say that it appears that most people believe they are too cumbersome. The Government have proposals to slimline the process down to four key areas. Do you think that those four key areas are right? Are they enough? If not, what would you put in them?
Jan Webber: Two of them were recommended anyway by the Association of School and College Leaders-teaching and learning, and leadership and management. We are not quite sure what behaviour and safety will encompass, because that is not currently one of the areas. Obviously, pupil achievement has to be in there as well. We wonder whether it will be only four areas, or whether other things will be included where there is a statutory obligation to look at it. The one that we are trying to unpick is behaviour and safety.
Q156 Craig Whittaker: Does that not include safeguarding?
Jan Webber: We don’t know. Does it include safeguarding? Would that come under leadership and management? What will the definition of behaviour be? What will be looked at? Those are the questions.
Lesley Gannon: It very much depends on how those four areas are defined, and the details behind it. You could take most of what is currently under the different headings and push them back under those four without making a great deal of difference. Absolutely, teaching, learning, leadership and management should be in the foreground, but it will be the methodology and how that is looked at that will be key.
Emma Knights: Yes, I agree.
Q157 Craig Whittaker: Going back to what we were saying about limiting judgments, we have heard various things. One person has said three and one has said five different levels of categories. Talk me through that process. Why is there such a differential between the experts?
Jan Webber: We are suggesting that we do not like the current 1 to 4 grading system of "inadequate" up to "outstanding", because there is little difference between "good" and "satisfactory". That has a major impact. We are suggesting that schools should be seen as performing above expectations, at about expectations and below expectations, which would give you a feel for how the school was doing without labelling it in a way that the public react to.
Lesley Gannon: The immediate preference of our members, but for very similar reasons, has been for five categories rather than three. That is for exactly the same reasons; it is about splitting that position between "satisfactory", "inadequate" and "good". There is not enough fine grading. When you have an even number, a divide tends to be put somewhere where it does not necessarily lie. Three or five, on that basis, is effectively the same argument. They are just different models of trying to achieve the same thing.
Emma Knights: It’s interesting that our three organisations meet regularly, so perhaps we ought to have a discussion on this and see if we can come up with a common view. We all agree, however, that there is a view among some groups that "satisfactory" is not good enough.
As Lesley has said, you draw a line representing what is acceptable, with "good" and "outstanding" above it and "satisfactory" below it. I think that is very, very unfair on a lot of schools within that "satisfactory" category. I would not live or die by whether it ends up being three or five, but you need to discriminate between those schools that are on their way up, and those that are really failing the children.
Q158 Craig Whittaker: I hear that and I hear a message coming through about trying not to be destructive. We have spoken about morale and a whole range of things. Let me ask you this question a little bit tongue in cheek-isn’t life a bit like that, anyway? The sportsperson goes out on the field or swims or whatever they are doing, and it is a win-or-lose situation. Somebody in business has sales targets and all the rest of it. We live in a stressful world. Isn’t it the same for teachers?
Emma Knights: But that is suggesting that perhaps "satisfactory" is losing. What we want to say is that, for an awful lot of children in such schools, "satisfactory" is actually winning. That is the problem.
For example, often the way that our schools are covered in the press is that we are all in chaos-that it is all imploding, and that we are all terrible and failing our children. Actually, most schools are thriving places, doing great things. So this is about making sure that we truly represent what’s happening in our schools.
Q159 Chair: But we have more NEETs than any other country in Europe. We have the highest teenage pregnancy ratio. We have enormous numbers of young people who cannot read and write, even after six years of full-time education. Yet the representative of governors-the one group that should be challenging the professionals in an organisation-comes along and says we should all be celebrating "satisfactory". Are you not the problem?
Emma Knights: That’s exactly the point-celebrating "satisfactory" doesn’t mean that you are not going to want to improve. You are quite right that governing bodies should be challenging schools and saying that "satisfactory" is not good enough, and they absolutely do. Governors want their schools to be good or outstanding. Perhaps part of the problem is that we cannot all end up being good and outstanding. We cannot all be above average.
Q160 Chair: It’s not about "average". It’s about a quality level that many more of our schools could be above. In many other countries, they are above it, including countries like Finland, which admittedly does not have an inspection system, and others, which have different approaches. A lot of countries do better than us.
Jan Webber: Can I just come in? This is the problem with the grading system, because we are again talking about "satisfactory" and what "satisfactory" means. That is why we would like a different grading system. It is a hard world.
You cannot necessarily look at children in the same way that you would look at items coming out of a factory in a business model. But I agree that it is a hard world. We have to do the best for our children, and all leaders would agree with that. I just think that the current system is possibly not the best one for judging schools.
Q161 Charlotte Leslie: May I suggest-half frivolously-a different grading system? I would love to send my child to this school; I would be happy sending my child to this school; not so keen on sending my child to this school; over my dead body.
Lesley Gannon: That’s a really interesting point, because we have to recognise that there are schools with children whose parents are not in any way involved in the decision-making process, who are not in any way involved in upholding the rules of the school and who are not in any way involved in the education of their child outside the school. Schools have to deal with those very real issues all the time.
One thing that we have to deal with is finding a way to ensure that some parents do not say, "Over my dead body," because other parents will not co-operate with the school. Schools have to be able to work in that context. They have to be able to work with the children-where they have come from and where they are now-to try to get them to where we would love them to be.
The school is not the only influence on that, and there has to be recognition of that within the inspection system. We have to have a system that does not penalise schools that have a greater proportion of the children who can never get beyond "satisfactory", which isn’t "not good enough", because those schools are prepared to keep working with the most challenging parent groups and the most challenging children, and they take the children that other schools do not want to work with.
Q162 Charlotte Leslie: I don’t have children, but schools that I would be happy to send my child to may well be one of those schools, which was my point.
Lesley Gannon: It is an interesting issue.
Q163 Ian Mearns: Part of the problem is that Ofsted cannot come along and inspect parents, communities and the local social miasma that occurs around a school. It is a fact that children are in school on an annual basis for 12% of the time that they are alive.
Chair: Can we take evidence from a witness this morning?
Q164 Ian Mearns: Ofsted is making these judgments, and people are then making judgments about a whole range of factors that influence a child’s education.
Emma Knights: There’s a huge debate to be had-we obviously haven’t got time to have it now-about parents’ perceptions of schools and how parents judge schools. It was an area I used to work on in early years. Sometimes parents’ judgment of early-years settings were very different from the quality of education within those settings. It is a huge topic.
Can I quickly come back to your point, Graham, about failing our children and not doing as well in the international league tables as we should do? One of the reasons-I think we are all aware of this-is that we do badly for our disadvantaged children. Schools are very conscious of that and of trying to differentiate between different groups. I talked about how good we are now at using data.
We are much cleverer now at not just looking at data as a whole, but boring into the matter and saying, "It’s this group of children that aren’t doing so well; it’s these groups of children here; it’s this particular cohort." That is a process that is in train. It does not mean that we are doing it brilliantly, but we are trying to do that. I think somebody made the point about how 20 years ago, school leaders would not have worked in this way.
Q165 Chair: There is one last point that I would like to explore because it is in the NAHT submission-it comes around at the end. You state that the more challenging question is whether Ofsted should be this inspectorate you have been talking about or whether a new body is required for the inspection of all maintained schools. That is, indeed, a very good question. Would anyone like to comment? Is Ofsted fit for purpose, particularly with its wide range and remit? I know we have talked about structural change and there being damage in making that change, but is Ofsted fundamentally fit for purpose? Do we need to have the courage to change it?
Emma Knights: Our members broadly think that Ofsted-I hesitate to use the phrase "fit for purpose" as that suggests we are happy with absolutely everything-by and large does the job-
Lesley Gannon: Satisfactorily.
Emma Knights: Satisfactorily-absolutely. There is room for improvement.
Jan Webber: We would like to see the framework slimmed down. That is very clear, and that process would help with the consistency and the issues that we have raised.
Lesley Gannon: We would like to see some fairly major change. Some of our members obviously don’t think that it is fit for purpose, but a large section think that it is currently satisfactory. However, it requires major structural change in the way it carries out its business.
Jan Webber: Can I say one more thing? We would like to see a system that provides support, as well as challenge in the way that we’ve described. We would also like to see a system that validates schools’ self-evaluation.
Chair: Excellent. Thank you very much indeed for coming and giving evidence to us today.