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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 570-iii
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
THE ROLE AND PERFORMANCE OF OFSTED
WEDNESDAY 24 NOVEMBER 2010
LESLEY DAVIES, PROFESSOR NICK FOSKETT, PROFESSOR CHRIS HUSBANDS and ASHA KHEMKA
PROFESSOR CHRIS CHAPMAN, DR JOHN DUNFORD, CHRISTINE RYAN and ANASTASIA DE WAAL
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Education Committee
on Wednesday 24 November 2010
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Lesley Davies, Assistant Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, Professor Nick Foskett, Vice-Chancellor, Keele University, Professor Chris Husbands, Director-Designate, Institute of Education and Asha Khemka OBE, Principal and Chief Executive, West Nottinghamshire College, gave evidence.
Q166 Chair: Good morning. Welcome to you all, and thank you very much for coming this morning to give evidence to the Education Committee on the role and performance of Ofsted. In our meetings, we tend to be as informal as we can be in the circumstances, and if you are all happy for us to use your first names, we will do so.
Is Ofsted fit for purpose, Nick?
Professor Foskett: That is a blunt opening question. The role of Ofsted and the need for it have changed substantially over the years. My own perspective is that the role that it valuably fulfilled 10, 12 or 15 years ago has changed substantially. In times of greater professionalism within the educational world that it serves and of tighter resources-there is a real question about the resources that go into Ofsted and about their effectiveness in changing practice in both school and initial teacher education arenas-I would say that, taking the big question, it is probably not fit for purpose at the moment.
Q167 Chair: You have mentioned resources and the amount being spent. Is it not fit for purpose because it is too expensive?
Professor Foskett: You have to question whether resources channelled into Ofsted might be resources that would be better channelled directly into the education service itself to raise standards in schools and universities.
Q168 Chair: Excellent. Is Ofsted fit for purpose and is it value for money, Lesley?
Lesley Davies: I would have to agree. Over the past few days, I have been looking at evidence of the operation, as you would expect, because I am an ex-inspector. Looking at the value for money of reports, and the inconsistency, certainly in the further education sector, of some of the judgments made, as well as the contracting-out arrangements, I would suggest that value for money needs to be looked at within the inspection service at the moment.
Q169 Chair: But is that more because of quality, rather than because Ofsted is bloated or that too much money is being spent on the regulatory role as opposed to the front line?
Lesley Davies: My view is that what needs to be looked at is the structure of how Ofsted carries out its operation. Within that, you need to look at the remit it is covering. It has been given more and more to do-safeguarding, for instance. We all see safeguarding as important, but whether the balance is right in the inspectorate on the resources allocated is questionable.
Q170 Chair: Thank you. Those are good points, which I am sure we will return to later. Asha?
Asha Khemka: My view is very similar. In particular, I would focus on whether Ofsted is fit for purpose now, which is questionable. The time has come when there is a need to overhaul the inspection system in colleges. At the moment, there is a lot of duplication and far too much emphasis on qualification success rates, which creates a lot of anxiety and duplication of effort. If that is the focus of Ofsted inspection, inspectors do not need to be in colleges; they can do a desk exercise and make their judgment.
We need to look at whether the common inspection framework is providing for our students, our employers, our communities and the taxpayer the information that they need and at whether that is value for money. We are questioning that at the moment, saying, "No, it is not value for money." Having said that, however, particularly over the past four or five years we have seen a reduction in the number of inspections, because inspectors very much use a risk-based approach. Still, my personal experience of inspectors having been in colleges has been very different, in that I have not seen a lot of bureaucracy or demands for data and other things. However, my colleagues in the sector have had different experiences. So, there is inconsistency and Ofsted’s approach is too burdensome, although the number of inspections has reduced. Moving forward, outstanding colleges and schools are not going to be inspected, which is a move in the right direction. However, there is a need to overhaul the system.
Q171 Chair: Thank you, Asha. Chris?
Professor Husbands: Ofsted is a many-headed hydra. There are a number of distinctions that you might want to draw. One is the work of Ofsted in inspecting individual schools and colleges, and another is the work of Ofsted in generating national survey reports. There are some tensions between the ways the organisation goes about those two things.
It is right to say that there is less inspection than there was. One consequence of outstanding schools and colleges not being inspected is that we will know considerably less about what is happening in the best parts of the system than we have known over the past 15 years. Equally, because schools and colleges graded 4 are not incorporated in survey reports, those reports tend to give a slightly rosier picture of the system as a whole than they might otherwise give. Both those points are reflections of an organisation that is trying simultaneously to report on the quality of individual institutions-which is possibly a valid thing to have a national agency doing-and to generate knowledge about the system as a whole. There are tensions between those, so at some point it would be sensible to have a serious look at that.
Chair: Yes. As the session goes on, we can tease out the thoughts on the purposes. When I say "fit for purpose", it is a bit like when we investigated qualifications and the testing. I think that there are 23 different purposes-you might be able to marry one or two in a test, but you are unlikely to deliver 23. The same points could be made about Ofsted.
Q172 Bill Esterson: One of the things that we have been discussing is what the role of inspections should be. I am interested in whether you think that Ofsted should primarily be a force for improvement or for regulation, or what the balance might be between those, for both schools and colleges?
Asha Khemka: The purpose of any inspection should be to give objective judgment, for the choice for students, employers, parents and taxpayers. The inspection process must be fair, consistent and rigorous.
If we bring in the other aspect, which is to do with improvement and regulation, the focus dilutes. My view is that Ofsted’s purpose should be regulation. However, regulation should be agreed in conjunction with colleges. I am particularly focusing on colleges because that is the area I come from and what the Association of Colleges also represents.
Coming back to my point, the sector has matured-it has improved its success rates, its teaching and its learning. Inspection has definitely provided the element to drive up standards. Ofsted is a recognised brand, and colleges value some sort of external scrutiny in order to come to a particular judgment.
There is also an opportunity now to develop the sector itself by bringing in a new model that is very much based on the higher education one, with colleges working with Ofsted and agreeing on a toolkit for self-assessment. Ofsted would train individual people to become reviewers. It would then be in a position to use that information from self-assessment to make its judgment-risk-based-on which institutions should be inspected. That gives the colleges the chance to develop their own capacity, but, at the same time, keep the rhythm.
Lesley Davies: Can I come in on what it should be? An inspection service can and should only ever be a mirror that is held up to an organisation. The only entity that can improve an organisation is that organisation itself-no inspectorate or external entity can do that. You can hold the mirror up, but it is up to the senior management team to go away and look at their areas of weakness. To be quite honest, if you are holding up a mirror that they do not recognise, there is something wrong within the establishment, because it should already know where it needs to improve. Any external scrutiny should have an element that reflects what needs to be put right-not that just says what is wrong. In that, the only people who can put that right are the school or the college. There needs to be some sense that you are not just ticking boxes.
In some parts of Ofsted’s remit that I do not know quite so well-probably in the children’s area, or nurseries-it is more about some of its regulations around child care. So there is a mix-there is a huge machine, which tries to do more than one thing in different parts of the sector.
Professor Foskett: It is a balance that changes over time. Inevitably, the inspection system will have an element of both regulation and improvement. If you are focusing on regulation, it starts on the presumption that there is a great deal wanting in the system, in terms of meeting the minimum criteria and standards that the system is setting. I am not clear that that is the situation overall, although it is in pockets. The primary purpose has to be about improvement in the context of an educational philosophy of continuous improvement and striving for raising standards, whatever the standards of achievement in schools, colleges or ITE. I think it has to do both, but in the current context it has to be principally about improvement-and improvement in close collaboration and partnership with the educational institutions themselves and the professionals who know the business on a day-to-day basis.
Professor Husbands: If you look at the experience of the past 20 years, time after time, when Ofsted has gone in with a new remit-originally in schools they needed to do teacher training, and now they do children and services-you will see that that has provided, through its inspection framework, a toolkit that is then used, as the institutions prepare for and react to inspection, which has the effect of driving up standards. I am absolutely sure that that has happened and think that it is very difficult to mount a counter-argument against that. What that does, quite successfully, is put in a regulatory floor. The question for Ofsted is: once you have that embedded in your system-which I think it pretty well is across much of the system now-where does inspection go? That is a question about different sorts of conversations in institutions about different sorts of frameworks. I expect we will explore some of those later.
Q173 Bill Esterson: Can I return to Lesley’s point about holding up a mirror? To what extent is it about expecting leaders in schools and colleges to respond to what is in the mirror, and to what extent is it about advice?
Lesley Davies: It is very difficult, because you are going into consultancy if you start giving advice on how to do something. Who knows the school or the college better than the school or college leaders? It is like any business. You can get advice separately, but the mirror that tells you, "These are the areas that you are very good at and these are the areas that you need to improve," provides, and has provided, a blueprint for schools and colleges. The big test is: do they then rise to that challenge and improve their schools and colleges? No sort of external regime-whether they are consultants or an inspectorate-can do that for them unless you take special measures to impose a different regime.
If it is just tick-box regulation, which is what it is in some areas, we would want to retain, certainly for our colleges, in any external scrutiny, however it is delivered-whether it is through a peer assessment, which Asha talked about, or through an inspection service-the point that you are shown where you are doing well and celebrate it. We don’t do a lot of celebrating what we are doing very well in this new era of risk assessment. We have lost the celebration of good practice. But where things need to be put right, a clear map is provided of what needs to be done in the areas that need to be focused on.
Q174 Bill Esterson: Okay. Some 16% of the NAHT who responded to a survey said that Ofsted had helped their school improve, the implication being that 84% did not agree. Do you think that Ofsted is making a positive difference to standards? We cover schools, initial teacher training and further education.
Professor Foskett: There is a balance sheet in there between what it contributes and what it handicaps. Picking up on Chris’s view, I don’t think there is any doubt at all that there is a net beneficial effect of the inspection process. It has contributed to the raising of standards and achievements, because it has pushed institutions towards reflection and thinking about the ways in which they can improve standards, and it has given them some benchmarks in which to operate.
There is also a downside. Where the perspective is one of policing and the negative presence of Ofsted within the school, that can have downward pressure. The question we need to ask is whether there could be even faster rates of improvement by a different method of inspection, judgment and regime to raise standards.
Q175 Bill Esterson: What do you think that different method is?
Professor Foskett: I think it is about engaging the professionals in the schools in a more thoughtful and creative way. It is a characteristic of educationalists at all levels-or at least of educational leaders at all levels-that they are involved in self-reflection and continuously looking for ways to improve. That is the culture of the educational arena in which we operate. The problem with Ofsted is that it provides a straitjacket on that, which does not encourage lateral thinking and creativity in different modes that don’t quite match the Ofsted way of working. Ofsted, while raising standards, pigeonholes and constrains development in other ways.
Professor Husbands: There is the potential to mischaracterise this. What Ofsted has been absolutely brilliant at is raising the floor and potentially lowering the ceiling. What the inspection framework provides is, to some extent, a compliance-based structure. Given that there were, and in many cases still are, places where raising the floor is absolutely what you need to do when you are addressing serious underperformance, that is performing a valuable function. The question is, when you are looking, and when the White Paper is going to look, towards a self-sustaining school-led education system, what is the nature of the relationship of an inspectorate to really push at the top end and to keep stretching and raising standards of performance? I think that probably, going back, the idea of holding the mirror up is absolutely critical, because even the best of us, actually, needs somebody from outside to say there are other things you can think about here.
Q176 Bill Esterson: I thought for a minute that you were going to suggest different processes within Ofsted for different schools.
Professor Husbands: To some extent, we are already there. We are going, as it is, with different inspection timetables, and teams are likely to be constructed differently. There are short inspections and long inspections, so we have already gone a fairly long way down that road. I would say that I think a common tool, which may not necessarily be the same as a common framework, is pretty critical, because otherwise you run up against all sorts of boundary issues that become counter-productive in practice.
Asha Khemka: Inspection, in my view, itself does not improve standards. However, inspections being a trigger, a driver, an element, which have encouraged improving standards-that is not out of order. However, within that framework, we need to look at why there are differences; why there are people who think they add value and people who think they don’t add value, or that they don’t make improvements, because there are very varying practices. The professional judgment made by inspectors is not consistent. Then there are tick-box exercises. Then there is too much demand and the inspection process is burdensome, creates stress and doesn’t really result in improvement. Where there are people who are fully framed, who are experienced and use their professional judgment in that contextual environment, rightly, then it does result in improvement.
One example that I want to bring to your attention is where there is some anxiety in colleges about a level playing field. In schools, the success rates are judged in a very different way to colleges. What is the difference? Let me give you an example. In schools, success is judged based on how many students actually take the examination or re-sit it with an awarding body and then achieve the qualification. So that is the measure. In colleges, the measure is how many achieve the qualification against how many actually enrolled on courses in the first place. That results in a very different type of success rate. One example we have seen recently is one particular school, where a sixth form rated outstanding on a success rate. If the college measure was used, that would be inadequate rather than outstanding. So this particular area needs to be looked at. I am not advocating making systems more complicated, or having different systems, but looking at something that is simpler, parallel and so on.
Coming back to your question, Ofsted has played a part. Inspection does play a part in raising standards.
Lesley Davies: I pick up also on the simplification. From memory, there are about 247 questions that an inspector is expected to answer in some way, shape or form. That is far too many and is burdensome on the inspectorate. How do they make the decision about which ones they are going to ask?
There is an issue about framework. You mentioned the common framework. If you think about learners-not the institutions and not the inspectorate-we want to inform learners about the best place they can go to get the education and training they want. If they cannot manoeuvre their way around these reports easily, or understand exactly what Asha says about comparing success rates-how will I do if I join the college on engineering and what’s my chance of success if I join the sixth form in a school in my area?-then why are we doing this as well? There is a dual role: one to improve and another to inform potential students. To do that, we need either a common framework that’s applied but contextualised, so you apply it in different ways to different parts of the sector, or we need, as Chris rightly said, a tool kit.
At the moment, it is highly complex. We have different frameworks applying to the same age group. If you are in a school in the sixth form it is a different framework that looks at "Are you happy?" and "Do you turn up on time?" There is also Asha’s point about, "Do you pass the exam you have been entered for?", forgetting those who have already left. If you’re in a college it’s far more about outcomes and strategic leadership. It’s a completely different way of looking at the same age group. I suggest that if you’re 17, you don’t care about the framework, you just want to know where you need to go to get what you want out of that education system.
Q177 Bill Esterson: If I could briefly mention initial teacher training. The question is whether the balance is right between regulation and development.
Professor Husbands: The framework has shifted. The frameworks in force in the late 1990s and through to 2008 had a very heavy regulatory edge. In the 2008-11 framework, Ofsted shifted the focus so that the starting point was providers’ self-evaluation. One difficulty with that was that it then structured the framework for self-evaluation so precisely that that in itself became a regulatory tool. My answer is that we are moving in the right direction, but struggling to translate that into a practical expression of the aspiration.
Professor Foskett: That is compounded by the intensity and frequency with which that inspection occurs. There is a time frame over which evolution and development improvement takes place, and the frequency of inspection is rather shorter than that time frame for improvement. So the notion that you’re inspected every three or four years is far too intense to see the sort of developments that reflection can bring about.
Q178 Tessa Munt: I want to concentrate on the idea of a single inspectorate. In some of the answers you’ve given to Bill, you have answered some of the questions I was to ask. I would like to ask whether a single inspectorate offers any benefits in terms of regulation development of teacher training provision. Does it help identify good practice and spread that about?
Lesley Davies: We could look at the make-up; whether you divide inspectorates and inspection activity, or whether it’s in one entity. But I think that the structure, however, is less important than getting the framework right-having the inspectors who are trained in their area and know what they are doing and therefore the outcomes. You can have one large organisation-many businesses have business units that are run perfectly well-or you can have one big organisation that can’t cope with the span of its business. If you look at Ofsted, a year ago we did have separate areas-directorates-that looked at FE colleges. There was a strong focus on the FE sector, which is our sector and we’re passionate about it, and other areas.
The organisation restructured about a year ago and lost that directorate and now we have directorates that look at development for different areas. I can’t make the judgment whether that has improved or hindered the inspection process, but we want to look for a simplified inspection that is fair for all learners and organisations; that we can compare like with like for age groups, for adults, young people and children; that gives a good blueprint for improvement; and that is cost-effective and value for money. Whether that is within one inspectorate or many, you could go either way. Far more important, I think, are the basic principles to get the inspection service right.
Asha mentioned a new world. We’ve come a long way in the past 20 years with management information. As a world, we now have the internet, but inspections still basically use the same tools. We have so much management information: we have framework for excellence, which gives an indicator, and surveys go out every year for FE colleges, surveying employer views and learner views. Colleges such as Asha’s college will carry out at least three surveys a year on their learners and employers, and Ofsted’s new methodology does it again. Why? Why are we not looking at the use of good management information to inform and therefore, reduce the burden of external inspection-to get it right? That, for me, is far more important than whether it is in one inspectorate or many.
Q179 Chair: Does anyone else want to come in on that?
Professor Foskett: The organisational arrangements, as Lesley has said, are less important than what happens on the ground. A particular issue that ITE, or education departments in universities face, is the burden of being inspected and audited by more than one organisation-so, they would have an Ofsted inspection, but they would have a QAA audit as well. They operate on quite different principles and have different intensities and modus operandi. That makes life very difficult for education departments which have that experience.
The key issue is that whatever structure you have, it has to be simple, clear and comprehensible to those who are engaged in it, and not over-burdensome. The burden detracts hugely from the day-to-day operation of doing the job of educating and working with students.
Q180 Chair: On the structural issue, would you like Ofsted to take over the QAA? Do you want everyone under one inspectorate?
Asha Khemka: On higher education, it is not really an inspectorate, because the QAA involves a different arrangement. We would advocate that a similar model is developed-this is what I talked about earlier-where Ofsted is involved and works with colleges to develop that toolkit and train the reviewers, so there is consistency, rigour, and these reviewers then do peer review and validate self-assessment reports, because there is enough maturity in the sector to produce evaluative judgment-based, accurate-
Q181 Chair: Do you want that to fit in more? Would you like FE to be viewed as one with higher education, in a different way? Or, do you want consistency with school inspection, which as you say, often deals with the same age groups-not entirely, but to an extent?
Professor Foskett: The QAA operates in a much more collaborative and participative way. My view is that it is much more effective because of that; it engages the academic staff by doing that.
Professor Husbands: I am sorry to interrupt, because I know that Tessa wanted to ask another question. There are some structural issues here. There’s a scale issue, which might make it difficult to operate the school inspection system in the same way that we operate the QAA. It is just the sheer number. Ofsted has increasingly begun to deploy head teachers and senior leaders as part of inspection teams, but it is difficult to work out how you could do that on a sufficient scale to transform the model. So, there are some issues around fitness for purpose.
I’m less worried about governance structures and inspectorates than I am about the quality of the people who are doing the work. If we go back to Dr Arnold and the establishment of HMI, you get the notion that the concept was informed connoisseurship. Inspections were being undertaken by people who had a deep understanding of the processes they were inspecting, and there was huge respect from the profession for inspectors.
Asha Khemka: I slightly disagree with the last comment about governance. It’s very important to keep the focus on the reports of different aspects of the inspection process, or different sectors of that process. A very good example now is the annual report, which has just come out; it doesn’t really adequately focus on further education. If you look at the number of young people, double the number of 16 to 18-year-olds are educated in colleges compared to schools-two thirds of A-level students are educated in colleges compared with schools, and so on. That governance and looking at how information is reported for public consumption is equally important.
Q182 Chair: We are going to move on to the quality of inspectors. Do the senior staff and leadership of Ofsted feel that they have the skills to carry out and lead the various roles? Are they properly deployed? Have you insights into whether they are?
Professor Foskett: My observations are that those at the senior level have credible backgrounds that gives them professional standing. They are viewed as operating in an effective and positive way. It is the quality of the actual inspectors on the ground in the institutions where there are most concerns.
Q183 Ian Mearns: This is a key question. We have a bit of a debate going on about the outcomes that Ofsted is finding as opposed to people’s opinions of our policy makers, particularly with regard to initial teacher training. Yesterday’s Ofsted report told us that initial teacher training is outstanding in half of higher education institutions, but only in about a quarter of school settings. Does Ofsted have the breadth of experience to inspect initial teacher training properly at that level?
Professor Husbands: Shall I answer that as it falls directly within my area of expertise? I shall give one bit of background first. In respect of initial teacher training, Ofsted is effectively always on contract to the TDA, which is required to take quality into account when making allocations and places, and to use Ofsted and other data in relation to that. It has a particular relationship, which is right, and I accept that as a finding. The evidential base is there, and you are absolutely right that that is slightly at odds with the direction of policy, but just as Ofsted holds up a mirror, it holds up a mirror to policy making as well as practice.
Q184 Pat Glass: We have heard a lot of evidence in Committee about the inconsistency and lack of quality and expertise in inspectors and areas such as early years, SEN and behaviour. What are your views about the quality and consistency of Ofsted inspectors, particularly in relation to initial teacher training and further education? Since they took over from the adult learning inspectorate, has that been a force for good or otherwise?
Asha Khemka: I will focus on further education. The consistency of inspectors varies, as I have said. Full-time inspectors-HMIs-have a lot of experience of inspections and have known the sector for a long time. When they go to colleges, they are not ticking boxes. They are using their professional judgment to make the judgments contextually, depending on the circumstances. However, that practice is not consistent across the board. A lot of my colleagues have reported that there are inspectors who go through the tick-box exercise.
Q185 Chair: For clarity’s sake, that is not HMIs-the feeling across the board is that HMIs are of pretty high standard. It is the additional inspectors.
Asha Khemka: In general, yes. Some additional inspectors are very professional and very good, so it would not be right to say that regional inspectors do not do their jobs well, because they bring in the sector expertise. They are practitioners, and they understand the curriculum areas and so on. However, there has been inconsistency in their practice and approach. The problem that we have is when there are too many inspections. When the services are being outsourced in different regions for different people to carry out the inspections, they are not going through the same type of rigour or type of training. That really needs to be looked at. The type of inspectors and professional delivery build confidence in colleges about their value. Once we review the system and the way in which inspections take place, there will be an opportunity to save costs and to bring consistency by having a smaller inspection team as a result of what we are about to do. Yes, there is inconsistency, but in further education overall, I would say that people have come to expect that they know their area and understand the further education sector. By and large, they do a good job.
Q186 Pat Glass: Can I add to that question? You can answer it as we go along, because it has come up from what Asha has said. We have also heard lots of evidence that, with HMI leading the inspection, you get better consistency, better outcomes all round, a better picture of the institution, and where you get rogue inspectors the HMI calls them into line.
Q187 Chair: For Hansard’s record, all four of you nodded in agreement.
Lesley Davies: It is an issue of value for money. Ofsted used three outsourced inspection service providers, which are regional. They carry out and plan the inspections and train the associate inspectors separately. They are separate organisations, so when you talk about consistency, it is very difficult to ensure a consistent national picture when you have three separate organisations under contract to deliver. They also then produce and submit the reports. We have surveyed our colleges, and some of the principals I have spoken to have said, "The inspector might as well have just rung me and given me my grade over the phone, because it was just on data. They didn’t look at anything else. They wouldn’t listen." Others have said, "They didn’t know what they were doing," and "They relied on tick-box." Others are very professional, as Asha has said. By and large, it is the outsourcing that we see as an issue, and there is an issue around its cost as well.
As far as the reports are concerned, which is a major part of the policy, the reports are not as full and rich as they used to be. They no longer give tables about the judgments on teaching and learning, so you have no idea how many teaching and learning sessions were viewed or what percentage, which can be very low, and you don’t know the grades of those sessions. You have no idea, because it is not included in the reports of any achievement data, so you cannot compare when you are reading reports. I have a quick look at the reports when they were published, because we have had complaints from our principals about not being able to access their reports. Just looking yesterday at 405 reports and the new methodology placed on the web this year, 49% of those reports were published late, some up to 200 days late. On the performance of an internal-speaking of ALI, I am ex-ALI, so I declare that-if you look at the 2005-06 annual report for the ALI, 99% of reports were published on time. That is not about its being a big organisation. The reports are late, because either there is an outstanding query on the judgment or because there is something operationally not working, which may be to do with the outsourcing. Whatever it is, it puts more cost into the system and it delays judgment going out into the public domain. So there are a range of issues with this outsourcing arrangement that should be looked at.
Professor Foskett: Can I comment in the context of ITE, which in recent years is the area that I am more familiar with in schools inspection? In a large system, you might expect a limited amount of variability in the nature of inspection, but the consistent view repeated to me by institutions across the country is one of inconsistency in the judgments that are made. The worrying thing about that is that ITE inspection is really high stakes inspection, because of the direct connection to funding decisions by the TDA. Many of the stories are clearly anecdotal rather than strongly evidential. Stories that come out of inspection are a lack of familiarity with the inspection framework by the inspection team, or the use of minute evidence to be extrapolated to make grand judgments about institutions or programmes, which is really very worrying. To quote one of my colleagues who has said on a number of occasions, "If the inspection report that was produced on their institution was presented as a master’s level dissertation, it would fail because of a lack of evidence to support the judgment."
Q188 Chair: Is there any evidence that because of the inconsistency in quality there is a big moderation exercise going on? It is like a car production line; we don’t get it right the first time, which basically leads to people who have never even visited the institution editing the reports to try and bring them up to a bland level of acceptability. Is there any evidence for that?
Professor Husbands: There is a moderation exercise.
Q189 Chair: And is it quite large in scale?
Lesley Davies: There is a double moderation exercise, because I believe the ISPs-the regional service providers-moderate, and Ofsted then carries out its own small sampling moderation.
Asha Khemka: However, it is not really fair to compare the ALI with Ofsted whether it is improved or not, because although there has been improvement in those areas, as Lesley has talked about, we are talking about very different inspectional frameworks. The common inspection framework has changed several times and the most recent one, which has just finished, had 276 questions or something along those lines, whereas the ALI inspection framework was very different. At the same time, Ofsted used to be in colleges as well to assess the performance of 16 to 18-year-olds, and the ALI based its focus on adult numbers. I don’t think it is a fair comparison to say whether Ofsted, as a result of that inspection service, has deteriorated or improved.
Q190 Pat Glass: Can I ask you about the tick-box exercise? It was interesting what you said about why the inspectors bother even coming and why they don’t just ring up and give your grade. One of my issues has always been the lack of planning time that Ofsted has. In a sense, the tick-boxing should go on first, and then the professional judgment and dialogue should take place in the institution. Is that happening, and would it be better if Ofsted had better planning time?
Professor Husbands: There are three parts to the answer. First, one of the reasons why inspection has increasingly moved to what looks like a tick-box framework is risk aversion on the part of Ofsted. Given its accountability, one of the ways in which you insure yourself against the consequences of that is that you systematise the process.
Secondly, inspection teams are certainly working on very tight time scales. It is now quite rare, in the case of ITE, for substantial reading to be done before the inspectors arrive. It is very rare for the team to have met before they arrive. Again, I think that is a consequence of intensification of labour at Ofsted’s end; it is the way that it is required to manage itself.
Thirdly, the consequence-certainly this was the case in our most recent inspection-is that judgments are reached very quickly on the basis of documentation, which are very difficult for the inspectors to revise in the course of the substance of the inspection. Substantial dialogue takes place around judgments that have been reached very quickly on the first morning on a reading of the documentation. That is a three-part answer that probably could have been summarised by the word, "Yes."
Lesley Davies: On better planning time, the three weeks that we have at the moment is a minimum, I think. I would err against any inspectorate trying to plan. Even now there is evidence that what the inspectors have to do is just take pot luck on what they can view as teaching and learning, because it is such a short time scale. Nothing can be fully arranged, so it is very much a case of seeing what they can see on the day.
The tick box certainly appears around data. Most of the complaints that I have received from principals to the Association of Colleges concern an over-reliance on data. Data are certainly something Ofsted has before it goes into inspections. If data drive the inspection on the ground-as many principals report-because they are something solid and a solid outcome, you certainly know the data issues before you go in.
Q191 Nic Dakin: I am picking up that you are all very clear that Ofsted has played a significant part in improving what is going on in our schools and colleges and in ITT, but that we are at a point now where there is an opportunity for change. Listening to the four of you, I have a vision coming through from Asha of an opportunity for change, which is based more on self-evaluation, with Ofsted’s role coming afterwards, but I am not picking up whether that view is universally shared. I am also picking up a bit of a contradiction, Asha. You are saying-I agree with you-that young people choosing between institutions should be able to have a similar evidence base on school sixth forms and colleges. Would you argue for that approach to be for schools as well, so that it is consistent across the piece?
Asha Khemka: Obviously I would not want to dictate what happens in schools, but any system that is simple, transparent and gives the right information to the user-students, parents and taxpayers-needs to be looked at. The reason why I am advocating the model of universal peer review-[Interruption.] I think you are having difficulty hearing me. I am advocating a model based on a vigorous peer review and a self-assessment tool kit. The reason why I am discussing the consistency of information on success rates and comparisons between schools and colleges when the choices are made is important. We need to come up with a framework that gives the right information-the same information to the public-on success rates in colleges for young people and success rates in schools. How we do that is a matter for debate. What we need to consider-
Chair: Brief answer, please, Asha.
Asha Khemka: Now is the time to give value for money. We are in a difficult financial situation. Thinking about value for money, if we already have a framework for excellence, minimum levels of performance and other requirements, why do we include those as part of inspections as well? That is what I am advocating.
Professor Husbands: One thing to remember about initial future training inspection is that it is almost the case that we have never used the same inspection framework over two cycles of inspection. That makes it very difficult to make comparisons, and it makes it incredibly difficult for Alan Smithers to do his league tables, because the basis for comparison shifts around all the while. We are probably about to see a considerable policy shift in the management of initial teacher education. We are moving to a more diverse system. Although the temptation is to say, "Let’s keep the current framework and run it for longer," because it has moved in the direction of self-evaluation, we will have to design an inspection framework that captures a much more diverse system of initial teacher education. There are some difficult questions to be handled there.
Lesley Davies: It is perfectly possible to have a common inspection framework that does exactly that-it acts as a framework. Underneath that, where you have maturing parts of the sector-the college sector is mature-by and large there is little in the way of inadequacy. Most are satisfactory, good or outstanding, and you can apply that framework with a lighter touch and rely on the development of peer review. Where performance isn’t that high, in other parts of the world, you would revert back to a heavier inspection process. You start to flex up, therefore, the possibility that not all the resources go into inspection. Those resources can go into the sector to self-improve, where it is mature enough to do that.
You always have that risk-based approach, where an inspectorate can, at any time, go in and decide to inspect. That would give us the best of both worlds. It would move us forwards with using good management information, and it would reduce the burden of everyday inspection. Why frequently go into a college that is good and monitor it, when every indication that you have on annual surveys, whether it is on performance, success rates, learner views, employer views, learner destinations or finance, suggests that you do not need to? It is possible to have both, but we need to look at a more sophisticated way of delivering inspection services.
Q192 Nic Dakin: How would you pick up the celebratory good practice-stretching the ceiling as well as stretching the floor part-in that approach?
Lesley Davies: At the moment, we have other ways of doing that through Excalibur with the Learning and Skills Improvement Service. Whether the good practice should come through an inspection regime, or whether that should be part of one of our other organisations, or whether it is possible for us to declare a thematic on good practice, which does happen, there are other ways. What I would hate to see-we are in danger of seeing this-is our not celebrating and sharing good practice, because we are so focused on risk assessment and value for money. Whether or not that’s an inspection service requirement, I think that that could be delivered in a different way. We need to think a little more widely and innovatively about the inspection service for the future.
Q193 Nic Dakin: When the head teacher unions came to see us recently they argued that the current four-scale grading system is inadequate, because it doesn’t do what it’s trying to do. Do you agree with that, or do you think that it’s a sound grading approach?
Professor Husbands: In initial teacher training, grade four effectively serves two different purposes. It serves the purpose of grading inadequacy, and it serves the function of grading non-compliance, which may include technical non-compliance. Non-compliance may arise due to an individual not complying with the required number of days in school. So effectively you have a three-grade system, because the fourth grade inevitably triggers an investigation from the TDA into the prospect of withdrawal of accreditation. The four-grade structure is not fit for purpose, because there needs to be something that teases out non-compliance from adequacy. It is possible to be technically compliant and inadequate.
Q194 Nic Dakin: So how would you change it?
Professor Husbands: You could go for five grades. You could go for a non-compliance grade and four other grades.
Q195 Nic Dakin: Do you agree with limiting judgments for grading? Has that been a helpful innovation from Ofsted?
Asha Khemka: I don’t think that that is helpful at all, because the safeguarding and equality of opportunity limiting grade has skewed the results for further education colleges, which is not fair, because safeguarding is a different issue in schools compared with colleges. Equality of opportunity should be embedded in an organisation’s practice rather than being a separate limited grade, because that does not really celebrate or promote equal opportunities. It does not even celebrate the safeguarding element, so it should not be the case.
As far as the four grades are concerned, we started with seven based on lesson observation. We moved to five, and then we moved to four, so we are never happy. I am very happy with four grades, and my colleagues would support me on that, because the four grades give a clear picture of outstanding, good, satisfactory and inadequate.
Lesley Davies: I think it would be wonderful if we kept the four grades, but ensured that all inspectors make the right judgments against those grades. That is more important than changing the grading system.
Professor Foskett: As I have said, my recent experience is mainly in ITE, and I agree with Chris’s comments. There are some subtle distinctions that the current grading system doesn’t enable us to tease out. We should look at the grading system being more sophisticated, if you like, at the bottom end. It would be helpful if we could distinguish between those categories.
Q196 Lisa Nandy: During this inquiry, we have heard a great deal of evidence that Ofsted is a serious cause of stress. From your own experiences, do you agree with that?
Professor Foskett: Shall I kick off on that one? The simple answer, again, is yes. The notion, particularly in schools, of changing the amount of notice does not really change the situation-in ITE, the reduction in the amount of notice for inspection was partly in response to concerns about the long-term build-up of stress during the preparation for such inspections. You know, more or less, when you’re going to be inspected, so if you have reasonable notice you at least know when it’s going to be and you can worry about it, rather than worrying that it might be tomorrow or next week. So I am not sure that that has changed much.
Q197 Lisa Nandy: Is it something that is inherent in the system, or are there practical things that you can do?
Professor Foskett: In any form of measurement, assessment or judgment, there is bound to be some element of stress. That can be positive stress, because it is about driving for change and improvement, which is right. I suppose that it is the high-stakes nature of the judgments that produces a real worry about the exact consequences of any failure to achieve against such high standards. That really worries me. Anecdotally, once again, I am certainly aware of quite a number of people within ITE who have experienced quite severe personal health issues as a result of their experiences of Ofsted inspection, particularly where those judgments were deemed to be unfair, unrealistic and based on inappropriate evidence and where there was a high-stakes negative consequence that came with that.
Q198 Lisa Nandy: I’ve been mulling this over while listening to you all, and it seems to me that part of the stress that is being created is because there isn’t a great deal of confidence that the judgment that will come back will necessarily be fair. If those judgments were improved, would it be a less stressful experience for people going through it?
Professor Husbands: There is stress built into this. None of us likes examinations, and this is an examination. I think that, in terms of institutional management, the consequences of failure are very significant in terms of potential withdrawal of institutional accreditation. We all often feel that the examiners are going to mark us unfairly. If we think back to the exams that we took at school, that is built in. Most of us come out of the other end feeling pretty sure that they did mark us unfairly, so I think that that is probably built into the system. The stress is probably a second-order issue. Get the framework right, get the structure right, and that is manageable. It is never going to go away.
Chair: Thank you all very much for giving evidence to us this morning.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Chris Chapman, Professor of Education, University of Manchester, Dr John Dunford, Educational Consultant, Christine Ryan, Chief Inspector, Independent Schools Inspectorate, and Anastasia de Waal, Deputy Director (Research) and Director of Family and Education, Civitas, gave evidence.
Q199 Chair: Good morning to you all. Welcome to this evidence session on the role and performance of Ofsted. Before we start, I should declare on Dr John Dunford’s behalf that he is an adviser to the Committee, and therefore that should be noted on the record. Are you all happy for us to use first names? We try and keep it relatively informal.
The latest annual report from the Chief Inspector has come out, and it says-I think it is very much in tune with today’s White Paper, so much of which seems to have been released to the press ahead of coming before Parliament-that too much teaching is still not good enough and does not deliver what we now expect of it, and that, in 50% of secondary schools and 43% of primary schools, teaching is no better than satisfactory. Is Ofsted well enough equipped, and does it have the quality of staff, to make judgments like that-judgments that we can rely on?
Anastasia de Waal: One of the biggest problems that we have seen with Ofsted is that, as there has been less money-this is the most recent problem-inspections have become truncated. That has meant that it is actually very difficult for inspectors-they are very frustrated, I understand, in many cases-to gauge true quality. One of the problems with that is that it is very much a compliance model. In some ways, I find it deeply frustrating to hear Christine Gilbert say that many lessons and much teaching is very dull, when I feel that a large contributor to that has been that schools have felt under pressure to comply. That has probably had a rather dulling effect on their teaching. Hopefully, we can, I suppose, go forward to a model that is more sophisticated in understanding what makes for quality, that allows different models of teaching, and that enables teachers not to have to perform in a certain way when they’re inspected, which probably makes them teach in-I would say-a duller way than normal.
Christine Ryan: Our inspections have a much higher inspector tariff than is typical for Ofsted inspections. With the schools we inspect, it can go from a 10-day inspector tariff for the smaller schools to more than 35 days for the very largest schools. Even on that tariff, our schools, and certainly some of our inspectors, feel that it still does not allow them enough time actually in the classroom. The system we’re running has that much higher tariff than Ofsted, and our inspectors and schools sometimes question whether there is sufficient evidence to make judgments about quality of teaching, because you don’t see every teacher teach anymore. Under our previous frameworks, we used to see every teacher teach. That was quite a powerful piece of evidence. These days, we can’t do that because we are inspecting more frequently. We were required to move inspection to every three years instead of every six, which has meant that we have had to make economies in the scale of inspection.
We no longer see every teacher teach, but we do see a significantly greater portion of lessons than would typically be found on an Ofsted inspection. Whether it can still arrive at its judgments is a matter for Ofsted, as it uses a different framework and different criteria from us, so that is for Ofsted to decide. I simply say that our model is much richer in terms of observation, but we still find it to be a minimalist model for being secure about judgments on quality of teaching in large schools.
Professor Chapman: I would comment on the variation in judgments by inspectors; the research suggests that there is a variation. That is problematic in itself, and is likely to become even more problematic when we have a situation where inspectors are observing only a few lessons, and only parts of lessons, as well. I think that there are issues that we need to address around observation at the classroom level.
Q200 Ian Mearns: Inconsistencies?
Professor Chapman: Inconsistency of inspection judgments, yes.
Q201 Chair: But if fewer schools are being inspected less often, is there not an opportunity to increase quality, training and consistency among inspectors, so that where inspection does take place, it is likely to be of a higher and more consistent quality?
Professor Chapman: That would seem to be a sensible option, yes.
Q202 Chair: Do you see any indication that that is the likely direction of travel?
Professor Chapman: With the current system that we have with our regional providers, I think it is a necessity rather than an option, so let’s hope that policy makers do travel in that direction.
Dr Dunford: My reading of the Chief Inspector’s report this year was, as ever, that the cup was half full, but in the newspapers the next day, the cup was considerably less than half empty. There is something around the interpretation there. I was looking at an inspection report on a school the other day. It has 1,000 pupils. The inspectors observed 31 half-lessons-they only went in for half a lesson, 31 times-and were making a judgment about the quality of teaching. Now, I don’t think that the general public should put their faith in 31 half-judgments once every five years, or whatever it is. For a start, we heard from the previous witnesses about inconsistency of inspections. I think all inspections ought to be led by an HMI; then there would be much more consistency.
Q203 Chair: May I interrupt you at that point? I did it with the previous panel, so I’ll do it with this one: is it the opinion of everybody on the panel that an HMI should lead every inspection? Does anybody disagree?
Christine Ryan: Yes, it is about the quality of the inspector. HMIs generally tends to be more reliable because of the breadth of experience, but I have to say, even comparing HMIs now with HMIs that we might have used five years ago-we use HMIs in our inspections-they are not the same, because they have had different experiences. What they have been required to do within the inspectorate has been different, and they have different types of experience. I would hesitate ever to say that a particular designation by definition makes somebody perfect. You have to have rigorous systems for selection and decide what the criteria for good are.
Dr Dunford: That was a yes, was it?
Christine Ryan: No, it was not a yes. It’s more complicated than that.
Dr Dunford: My point is that the quality of teaching is best assured through good systems within the school itself. That can happen on a day-to-day, week-to-week or month-to-month basis. It is a much bigger and more important part of a quality assurance system than someone coming in once every few years and seeing a few half-lessons. It seems to me that a good inspection system-the inspection framework is moving towards that-is each inspection framework moving closer to a validation or assessment of the school’s self-evaluation, particularly in relation to the quality of teaching.
Q204 Pat Glass: Ofsted has a certain brand, and whether we disagree with it or not, it is highly regarded by many parents and, through the media, by the general public. If you could change things tomorrow, what would you do differently to improve Ofsted?
Professor Chapman: If Ofsted’s remit is around inspection for improvement, I would ensure that the inspection team had a significant ongoing relationship with the schools, post-inspection. That may not be possible in the current economic climate, and therefore you may have to think about a different model, but I suspect we may come to that.
Anastasia de Waal: I would very much like to see much longer inspections-inspections that are able really to gauge what the quality was like. That would enable inspectors to move away from a very tick-box method, which they are having to use now partly because of time pressure. The reliance on data is also very symptomatic of the fact that they are not able to get a very good gauge themselves by being in schools.
Dr Dunford: Twenty years ago, I remember undergoing inspection where 20 inspectors came in for a whole week in a big secondary school. I don’t agree with the ongoing relationship, because I think you have to be clear about inspection and quality assurance on the one hand and school improvement on the other, and have a proper relationship between the two. While I think a lot of attention is given to getting the inspection system right, much less attention is paid to getting the school improvement system right and coherent. There are a number of things I could say about that.
Q205 Pat Glass: What is the one thing you would change?
Dr Dunford: I would improve the relationship between the accountability part of the inspection and what comes in to improve the school when things are going wrong.
Q206 Chair: So a separate service. You want the improvement that Chris wants, not delivered by Ofsted but triggered by it, and coming in more effectively.
Dr Dunford: Exactly, and done school to school, in a way that I think the current and most recent Secretaries of State have recognised is the way forward.
Professor Chapman: Can I come back on that briefly? I said "If the premise is improving through inspection." I would endorse what John says if the premise is a blank canvas. I would be thinking of using Ofsted as an accountability and regulation system, and perhaps as a broker for identifying local school-to-school collaboration to support internal improvement. That is the model that I would be looking for.
Q207 Pat Glass: Christine, do you want to come in?
Christine Ryan: First of all, you have to define clearly what it is that you are expecting the inspectorate to do or to be. One of the things that is no longer clear is whether inspection is designed for improvement or to catch people out. There needs to be clarity about what you are asking Ofsted to do, and I don’t think there is that clarity anymore. For any organisation to be successful, it needs to know what its purpose is and have very clear aims and objectives. I think those aren’t clear at the moment.
Q208 Pat Glass: All of you have said that, and it’s come through in previous evidence, so should Ofsted be a regulatory inspection organisation and should someone else be doing the school improvement?
Professor Chapman: Yes.
Anastasia de Waal: I think that’s a false dichotomy in some respects, because if inspection is working efficiently it will trigger improvement. If you’re identifying strengths and weaknesses-strengths to be bolstered and weaknesses to be addressed-that in itself will help improvement. We have confusion in terms of what the purpose is because of malfunctions, not because there is a clarity deficit.
Dr Dunford: There are two aspects to this. First of all, a good inspection does leave the school feeling that the inspection has helped it to improve, as a result of the conversations that have taken place, and the current framework actually does that better than previous ones. Secondly, there is the whole question of the improvement effect of Ofsted on the system as a whole, through the reports that it produces. Over the history of the inspectorate, there have been some superb reports. There were another two or three this year: one was called "Twelve outstanding secondary schools", and another, "Twenty outstanding primary schools". On every page there is a wealth of good practice and lessons for every school. Ofsted’s taking its breadth of view of the system and condensing it down into that kind of report can have an immensely beneficial effect on the system, on top of what it can do for individual schools.
Q209 Neil Carmichael: In an earlier session we touched on the idea that you might have a two-stage inspection, coming in and inspecting to see what the situation is and then returning some time later to see what’s been done about the conclusions of that earlier inspection. In other words, you would inspect and follow up, possibly using the same team-in fact I would have thought almost certainly using the same team. What do you think of that idea, notwithstanding the obvious cost implications? Let’s just explore the idea.
Christine Ryan: Well, that’s what we do, and that’s our system at the moment. We find that it works very well on the compliance side, and I agree with Anastasia that it is a false dichotomy to keep talking about compliance as though it was separate from improvement. Although there are far too many regulations and they are far too complex and greatly in need of reform, they are there to establish minimum standards. They are not about remote and esoteric things; they are about quality of teaching, for example. So there isn’t a separation.
But what we do find beneficial is to make the initial visit, in which we make the compliance judgments, open up initial discussions with the school, and look at the areas where we think there might be gaps and at what the best practice is. Then we go back a month later and we see what improvement the school has made in that time on any compliance issues that it had, and in terms of providing more information for the things that will inform the next part of the inspection. Then we do a full-team inspection, and it is the same reporting inspector on each occasion. It works very well, in terms of helping schools to move on.
Dr Dunford: What you described does, of course, happen when schools are not doing very well. Inspectors do go back at prescribed intervals to check on how they’re doing. It seems to me that an inspection should empower schools to improve, and it is therefore not about, "Oh my goodness me, someone’s coming to check on us again in six months’ time." It is about leading the school to improve itself, and that empowerment should be a very important part of the inspection system.
Anastasia de Waal: Absolutely. I think that a system that was supportive-if it was seen to be valuable in terms of improvement, schools would see it as supportive-would be very desired by schools. I think that there’s perhaps been a misunderstanding about why schools don’t like Ofsted. It is not that they don’t like being scrutinised; they don’t like doing things that they don’t feel are an asset-unhelpful tick-box and form-filling exercises. If we were to see a system in which there was follow-through, that would probably make the inspection itself much more meaningful to schools.
As I understand it, one of the reasons why schools prefer HMI in the main is that they feel they are getting additional advice as well as, "Have you fulfilled the criteria?" That is terribly important, and it is why we need to be looking at what it is that HMIs bring to the table that inspectors with less training and expertise, and crucially less confidence to say "How about trying this?", don’t.
Professor Chapman: Ofsted’s major contribution to improvement-I agree it isn’t a dichotomy-is in terms of diagnosing schools’ strengths and weaknesses and identifying cases to improve. If we turn back to the evidence about a third of schools either partially or wholly implement the findings of inspection. So in the current situation inspectors come in; they go away and then it is left to the school’s internal capacity to take on board or to generate their improvements. So a return visit or an ongoing relationship may well be a fruitful way forward.
Dr Dunford: Graham, there is another thing that Ofsted could do, which it does not do and I think is a failure on its part. It has the biggest and best database probably of any school system in the world and yet it does not seem to use that database sufficiently well to help the system improve. So you could easily get from that database a directory of excellent practice. The inspector would go into a school and find that the science department is not very good. They could then point to outstanding science departments in the area that the school can visit. That would seem a pretty obvious thing for Ofsted to do.
Christine Ryan: Can I come in there? In the earlier session people talked about having a peer review system. A peer review system is operated by ISI. What is fundamental-and we all seem to be in agreement on this-is that inspection should add value. It should not be a sterile exercise where you just go in, decide whether they are compliant and come out again. Inspectors have vast amounts of experience. Within our system, the team inspectors are themselves current, serving practitioners. We deploy around a thousand of these a year to go into and inspect other schools. The exchange of information and the opportunity to see the most effective practice and to take it back into their own institutions-the sharing of best practice that that generates is phenomenal. The inspectors themselves frequently comment that it is the best professional development that they get, as well as the benefit to the sector as whole. If you want inspection to work and you want inspection to be valued, there needs to be an opportunity for dialogue with the school. There also needs to be an ability to recognise best practice, and for that best practice to be shared there needs to be some value added to the process.
Q210 Chair: Could it fade away? If it really does work to help school improvement and, most importantly, self-evaluation and leadership confidence, and it seeds co-operation among institutions in the area so that they come and help each other out and it helps the mechanism, could the inspectorate just disappear over time? We have such an ecosystem of excellent self-evaluation from initial training all the way through to leadership training and mutual support and mutual examination that perhaps you don’t need this big inspectorate.
Christine Ryan: You have always got to have an ability to safeguard the practice and to make sure that things don’t decline. One of the interesting things in the report was that something like 55% of the schools that were found to be outstanding the first time round were no longer outstanding on a revisit. That raises a lot of questions. It may raise questions about the validity of the initial judgment. It may raise questions about whether being rated outstanding generates complacency and therefore decline. Have key factors in the school changed? You always need to have a system there to do that check. But what inspection needs to do, as schools improve, is to become more sophisticated, to be more flexible, to adapt to the new realities and to make sure that it continues to act as an agent for driving improvement and not settle simply for something that makes sure nobody falls off the bottom.
Anastasia de Waal: If inspection is useful in the sense of helping improvement and really allowing schools to self-evaluate in a true sense rather than to self-regulate-as we have seen quite often with the SEA-it is necessary, and I think schools desire it and it is very useful. On John’s point about data, I think that Ofsted could add a lot of value. It is a very expensive organisation. It could put much more of those data to very good use in terms of best practice. But the caveat is that it needs to be able to recognise that diversity is allowed. If we are looking at best practice as in, "Are you complying to a particular way of teaching and a particular way of running schools?" that is not useful and I am worried that that would be the way forward. It has to be very clearly about inspectors recognising that different ways of teaching, different pedagogies and different ways of running schools, are going to be useful and then we would have rich data which we could all draw on usefully.
Q211 Pat Glass: Finally, has Ofsted focused far too much on high achieving GCSEs? We would normally expect a school that had 75-85% five A-Cs to be judged outstanding, but if in that school 3-4% of children are getting no GCSEs whatsoever, and there are significant gaps between the most able and the least able learners in terms of outcomes, is that school truly outstanding? Have those things been missed by Ofsted?
Dr Dunford: It is not the fault of Ofsted that the main accountability measure is a stupid measure. Five A-Cs just creates a perverse incentive to concentrate on the borderline. There are much better outcome measures that can be used in an intelligent accountability system.
Q212 Pat Glass: Should Ofsted be looking at the children who are not achieving, as well as those who are?
Dr Dunford: To be fair to Ofsted, it does look at that. It spends a lot of time looking at the data at the beginning. People felt that the inspections were far too data-driven, particularly under the last framework. I think that they still are, to a certain extent, but, to be fair, good inspectors would look beyond that.
Anastasia de Waal: On that point, I think that to an extent it is the fault of the set-up that there is a dependence on data. It is back to this thing I keep saying about inspections being too short. Parents imagine that they are seeing the results data for themselves and that Ofsted is adding something else: it is looking at the school to see how it is doing. They then discover that actually Ofsted is also looking at the data. That does not add the value that I think parents feel that it does, which is why they have so much confidence in it. It is up to Ofsted to say, "We have the data. We will of course factor them in, but we’re going to look beyond them," but that is not happening sufficiently.
Q213 Pat Glass: So there is too much focus on the data and not enough on the professional dialogue.
Anastasia de Waal: Definitely, and that is one of the reasons why we have seen too much emphasis on benchmark, borderline students. They will make the difference between one judgment or another. Ofsted could be remedying that situation rather than compounding it, as it does now.
Q214 Bill Esterson: I just want to come back to something that John said about the comparison between the old inspection regime and Ofsted. Could we learn from things under the old regime that perhaps are missing in the Ofsted approach, that perhaps Ofsted could incorporate to improve the current system? Perhaps you could start, John.
Dr Dunford: It depends on how old you are.
Q215 Bill Esterson: I will leave the question entirely open to you.
Dr Dunford: The inspection I was talking about was in my early days as a head teacher more than 25 years ago. It was still stressful. There were 20 people there for a week, and they were all over the place, but it felt like fellow professionals were coming in to help us improve. What happened is that prior to 1992 we moved to a situation in the formation of Ofsted where there was actually too little school inspection. Because school inspections were so big and took up so many resources, there were actually very few of them, but there were a lot of reports in those days on how the system as a whole was working.
Post-1992, everything has been piled into inspecting individual schools, and actually there are too few reports on how the system is working-there are not enough resources put into that. If you look at the chief inspector’s annual report yesterday, there is practically nothing in there that evaluates the effect of the 1,000 policies that have been thrown at schools in the past 20 years.
I don’t think that that has answered your question remotely. The balance has completely changed.
Q216 Bill Esterson: You seem to be saying that there is a balance between the two approaches.
Dr Dunford: And Ofsted ought to be doing both.
Q217 Chair: Is there anything else, apart from longer inspections? Is there anything else that we have lost from the past that needs to be restored?
Christine Ryan: Dialogue with the schools. This business of two days’ notice-you have no opportunity to establish a dialogue with the school. We are fortunate: we are allowed to give five days’ notice because of our peer review system. Even in that five days, you are able to have a dialogue about a lot of what I would call the housekeeping issues of inspection such as compliance, policies-that sort of thing. It gets it out of the way and frees up inspector time on the ground for actually inspecting the quality of education. I think that dialogue with the schools has gone.
You don’t have to go as far back as John was talking about. When I first started running inspections-Ofsted inspections then-I was managing teams of 15 on inspection. That first framework had some very big teams for secondary schools. There is a halfway house: I think the pendulum has swung too far for Ofsted. In fairness, that will be about budget. I run an inspectorate that is much smaller than that, and I know how much budget will impact the shape and nature of the inspection.
Q218 Chair: Salvage from the past, Anastasia?
Anastasia de Waal: One of the criticisms of HMI was that it was overly supportive of teachers-that was the very critical view-and that there was too much discretion exercised. The pendulum has swung so far the other way now, that I would disagree about the inconsistency between inspectors being a problem. I think it is more the consistency of the highly standardised way in which the regional inspection providers particularly are having to inspect, partly because of a lack of expertise, partly because of a lack of time and partly because of a lack of training.
Q219 Chair: That is a response. If they are suspicious of the quality of their own staff, they will tend to bring in more of a tick-box approach in order to try to ensure they do not suffer the inconsistency.
Anastasia de Waal: Exactly, which is obviously a problem with a system that is truncated to that extent and where there is not enough investment in inspectors, which is why schools prefer HMI. We want to see inspectors who are exercising a lot more judgment, because that is going to be a lot more helpful, and they are going to be able to gauge something that looks beyond something extremely standardised. Rather than consistency and inconsistency being the big issue, it is a lack of discretion being exercised by very professional, confident inspectors who, importantly, are ones we and Ofsted have confidence in.
Q220 Chair: Just for clarity, you are not saying that we have inspectors like that now necessarily; you are saying that is what we ought to have in order to be able to give them that.
Anastasia de Waal: That is what HMI is seen to be today to a much greater extent. Obviously, it is not homogenous but that is where I think there is seen to be a difference between the HMI inspector and the AI.
Professor Chapman: Just to pick up on Christine’s point about dialogue, teachers who say they will change their practice as a result of inspection and lesson observation do so as a result of quality feedback. What I hear anecdotally from teachers on masters courses, and see written in literature, is that the variation in the quality of the feedback that teachers are getting on their lesson performance when they are observed is huge.
Q221 Ian Mearns: I come from a local authority background and was chair of the education committee in my borough. No one is mentioning local authority advisory services in this discussion. Is there a role for local authority advisory services in that dialogue? On the ground, going back 25 years ago, John, when you were inspected, you had the HMI coming in with a team, but there was always the local authority advisory service. The quality of those 25 years ago would be quite questionable around the country, but by and large they are much improved now.
Dr Dunford: I would have to disagree with you, Ian. They were pretty mixed then. Nowadays, I’m afraid, that as far as secondary schools are concerned there is practically no expertise in local authorities-certainly as far as secondary school leadership is concerned. The job of local authorities now has become quite properly one of brokering and commissioning support from other schools which are doing this. The expertise for running schools lies in schools now, quite properly. There is a degree of expertise in primary, because primary head teachers will still get promoted into local authority roles. That does not happen in secondary schools. There is a difference between primary and secondary in relation to the local authority role.
Q222 Ian Mearns: I must admit I was thinking more about primary. That is where a lot of my experience has been in the recent past, where a lot of the guidance and advice given by LEAs to the primary sector has been very good, but you are not necessarily getting that yourself.
Dr Dunford: That is not the case in secondary.
Anastasia de Waal: Just to add to that on primary schools. There is a problem in that in some cases local authorities swoop in when they gather that there is going to be an inspection in schools that they are worried about. They do a lot of work with the school. Sadly, what we are seeing less of is the follow-through afterwards with the support that is needed. That could be a very valuable experience.
Q223 Ian Mearns: Equally disturbing can be when the local authority has not had a prior dialogue with Ofsted. It has a concern about the school but the school comes through with flying colours, much against the judgment of the local authority. That does happen a lot.
Anastasia de Waal: That suggests, again, that the inspectorate is not getting a very clear idea of what is really going on in the school.
Chair: Of course, the reverse also happens. Tessa.
Q224 Tessa Munt: I would like to put a particular situation to you, which, I understand, is the case in one of the county councils in Sussex. They are just about to send in foundation primary and junior stage-private and state-inspectors into every single school and nursery. They are sending in three inspectors: one is to look at welfare and organisation; one is to look at learning and development; and the other is to look at the business. They are calling it supporting quality improvement. That local education authority is actually assessing each of those schools, and they are not looking at the ISI reports or the Ofsted reports. It strikes me that that demonstrates a lack of trust in the existing system for judgment. It is a fantastic waste of money, because everybody gets a nice glossy file and all the rest of it, and it is a massive duplication. What do you feel is the role of the local education authority?
Dr Dunford: I am amazed, quite honestly, that a local authority can afford to do that in this day and age. They have Ofsted reports, reports from the school improvement partner, and the school’s own self-evaluation, and they have all the data that they want in terms of outcomes, results, attendance and so on. The proper role for local authorities in this, as I said in answer to Ian’s question, is to find out what is going on in schools-intervention in inverse proportion to success is still a pretty good mantra-leave the schools that are doing well on their own, and, in the other ones, broker and commission experts to help to put that right, which means getting people in from other schools.
Q225 Tessa Munt: But they are demonstrating a lack of trust in the existing system. They are saying that their aim is to assess all schools and nurseries, private and state, for the level of support needed.
Christine Ryan: But I would ask on what evidence they are basing that intervention, because, very often, what I see happening with these sorts of initiatives is that when you dig down and say, "Where’s the evidence that indicates that that is actually necessary?" you come up dry. There is very little hard-edged evidence. There is quite a lot of soft or anecdotal data.
I would ask where the evidence is, for example, that the independent schools in that county are in need of local authority support. They have very astute parents who vote with their feet and their cheque book apart from anything else. Where is the evidence that they can’t rely on the inspections that are already done?
Q226 Damian Hinds: Following on rather nicely from that, I have a question for Christine. Earlier, you mentioned the benefit of sharing best practice from your inspection system, and John was speaking about the system-wide improvements that we’ve had from Ofsted reporting on what is happening across the school system. In one of our earlier evidence sessions, Professor Tony Kelly said, quite memorably, "I am not sure good schools need to be inspected, but I think all schools need good schools to be inspected." He means, in other words, within the Ofsted regime. Yet, in the ISI evidence to the Committee, you say that wholly private provision should be organised separately. Why?
Christine Ryan: Only private provision?
Q227 Damian Hinds: For wholly private provision, inspections should be done separately. Doesn’t that perpetuate the divide between state sector and private sector schooling and stand in the way of best practice?
Christine Ryan: That is only if you assume that the best practice is only in the private sector.
Q228 Damian Hinds: No. I don’t think it does assume that.
Christine Ryan: I don’t make that assumption.
Q229 Damian Hinds: I may not have been clear in the question. Why wouldn’t you have all schools together sharing all best practice? It’s absolutely the opposite of what you just said.
Christine Ryan: No reason at all. The reports are public and anybody can access what is there as best practice. In our written response, it was in relation to what the role of Ofsted is in the private sector. I think it is a different situation where you have a system that uses no public money and is not publicly funded. It is a private commercial organisation, and I think that these schools are extremely diverse in their nature. That is one of the reasons that many independent schools-there are more than those inspected by ISI; there are two other independent inspectorates-and their collective associations have chosen their own form of inspection. They want something that is sufficiently flexible to recognise their diversity and to work with that.
The national system, by definition, is going to focus on the very large majority of maintained schools. They are regulated under a different regulatory framework-the regulations for maintained schools are a different set from the independent school regulations. What I am arguing for is a system that is sensitive enough to understand the very different contexts in an independent school as opposed to those in a maintained school.
Q230 Damian Hinds: Obviously, you have confidence in your schools, and rightly so. Parents vote with their feet and with their cheque books. But do you believe-I will be interested to hear the perspectives of the others in a moment-that there are things within your sector and membership group that more state schools could learn to make learning better facilitated through the inspection regime?
Christine Ryan: Very often, a lot of independent schools have the opportunity and the freedom to do things, to experiment and to be innovative in a way that people in state schools do not. They don’t have so much of an eye for league tables and the like. Many of these schools have opted out of this process-they don’t declare their results and do alternative exams and so on. I think that learning can go in both directions. I wouldn’t argue for a kind of apartheid, in which the two are isolated from each other, by any means.
Q231 Damian Hinds: There is a sort of apartheid now in the sense that there is a lot of public policy pressure on the proportion of university entrants from the private sector versus the state sector. We have a situation in which social mobility has declined over time, and these issues are going to be important. What are the perspectives of the others on sharing, both ways, between the state sector and the private sector?
Dr Dunford: Those statistics always fail to take account of the fact that independent schools are, per se, selective. There is good practice in independent schools and there is good practice in state schools, and I think it is part of the job of the inspectorate to draw out that good practice. They don’t only do it through individual school inspections; they also do it through survey work. I would like to see them doing more survey work as a means of spreading good practice around the system, and surveying practice in independent schools, colleges and maintained schools, and bringing that together in papers on the teaching of history and so on. I think I am right in saying that the survey programme has to be negotiated every year between Ofsted and the Department for Education, which resources Ofsted to carry this out. Personally, I think that Ofsted should have more independence and freedom to decide what it wants to survey. Its degree of freedom is quite limited.
Anastasia de Waal: In the climate that we are, in theory, going to see-of greater autonomy for schools-I think that, in many ways, the proof of the pudding as to whether Ofsted is working will be whether the independent sector will want to use it as an inspectorate. If it is able to gauge quality on a diverse level and if it is able to recognise good teaching, which might manifest itself in different ways and pedagogies and so on, it is doing the right thing. That is what we need to see for the state sector if there is to be greater autonomy, and it should then be translatable to the independent sector. I think that, at the moment, that is one of the things that is particularly problematic. Looking at the ISI as an example, it seems that the next inspections will enable that diversity to be much better gauged.
Professor Chapman: Both sectors have much to learn from each other. They deal with a range of pupils from different backgrounds and I would advocate a closer relationship between the state and independent sectors, especially in working with those students with special educational needs.
Q232 Damian Hinds: The greater autonomy that we are going to see, on average, in the state sector has come up a couple of times. In that scenario, there is a danger, if we perceive the inspection frequency in inverse proportion to success, that things can go wrong. Apart from GCSE results, which might be quite a lagging indicator, what are the early warning systems that would allow people to know that something is amiss and that there needs to be some further intervention?
Dr Dunford: The other thing that Ofsted looks at is parental complaint. There is a parental complaint process to Ofsted and it monitors the number of complaints it gets.
Q233 Damian Hinds: Is that statistically valid? If you monitor complaints, that tells you nothing, because they are so lumpy.
Dr Dunford: No, it absolutely isn’t. But in the end it is the examination results-the outcomes-that will indicate whether inspectors need to come into the school, or it might be safeguarding issues.
Christine Ryan: You are going into very dangerous territory if you are looking for remote indicators-if you are talking about never inspecting certain schools because they were, at one time, outstanding. Anything that relies on data collection should be handled with great caution. The mere fact of what you are collecting will influence how people manipulate and develop their process to meet those criteria. It then becomes about how you interpret it and about what data do not tell you, so using only data is risky. That sort of remote monitoring alone would not pick up, for example, many of the common safeguarding issues that we discover on inspection.
You have got to think proportionately. Your inspection system must be sophisticated-it needs to be flexible, malleable and responsive to things on the ground. There is a grave danger in never inspecting any school.
Q234 Chair: Can I just come back on that, Christine? Do the independent schools that you regulate spend more money overall-as a percentage of their turnover-on inspection than schools in the state sector do? Do you have any comparisons with how they do it?
Christine Ryan: It is very difficult to get hold of information about what the state sector costs are for inspections. You can trawl through the annual report and the business plans, but it is very difficult to draw out, for any type of school, what the inspection has cost. Our schools have to pay full cost recovery for their inspection, and it varies according to the size of school and is done on a non-profit basis.
Q235 Chair: Even though it is hard to draw out, do you have any sense of that? Yours is more of a market-based mechanism in a schools market, anyway, so that would give us an idea.
Christine Ryan: Do I think that it is any more expensive? It probably is not overall. For certain sizes of school it will be-there is some sort of subsidy that we operate for very small schools for which the impact would be greater. It will vary according to size, but I suspect that overall the answer is no. But there are economies of scale with Ofsted. Part of the difficulty with Ofsted is that it is not designing for one kind of inspection; it has a very broad remit.
Q236 Damian Hinds: It strikes me that, overall, Ofsted inspection is a very lumpy, lurching way to go about grading. You go from satisfactory to-suddenly-outstanding and, of course, everyone is chuffed to bits when that happens, but when it happens the other way, it is gutting. There is a relatively small number of gradations-and all this contributes to the pressure that schools feel, and, if some of our previous witnesses are to be believed, some of the evasive actions that they will take.
Would it not be better to have a more subtly graded scale of achievement for schools-a balanced scorecard? Such a scale would take into account some sort of inspection-perhaps smaller and more frequent inspections-along with GCSE results, value-added results, parental survey results, perhaps, and a whole series of things that would come up with a numerical score, which could never change by more than two, three of four percentage points in a year. Instead of getting these lurches, you would get a single measure, which would take into account most of the things that we should care about.
Christine Ryan: I would question the usefulness of a single measure. A school is a very complex organisation; it is not just an exam factory. You can have a situation under Ofsted’s system of limiting judgments, for example, where if you have a major safeguarding failing, the whole of leadership and management is, therefore, deemed inadequate. That could be in a school where exam performance is excellent. So what are you telling a parent if you say, "This school is inadequate, because it has a safeguarding failing"? What are you telling a parent if you say the reverse-"This is outstanding"?
Q237 Damian Hinds: Governments go to great lengths to start off with very sophisticated measures, which they then massively simplify into "Noddy" book versions. We talk about four categories within Ofsted-obviously there is lot more richness: there is five-plus, C-plus in GCSEs, as opposed to all the subtleties of value-added in different subjects, and so on. It is natural, because that is what people find easier to consume.
Christine Ryan: But there is a halfway house.
Anastasia de Waal: One of the reasons in defence of a system that is simplified and made rather crude is that it is more democratic, in the sense that people who don’t know about an education system-who don’t necessarily understand what makes for good and bad-can understand whether the school is good. A lot of that is, in theory, about a very positive parental empowerment strategy. The difficulty is being solely reliant on that. Obviously, the biggest difficulty is being solely reliant not only on what can become a crude measure but on the measure to which we already have access-that goes back to data. We need it to be concertinaed, so that you can have a look at something that is boiled down into an admittedly fairly crude measure, but where you can actually get the detail as well.
We have heard that one thing that was welcomed about the new Ofsted inspection reports is that they are not so lengthy. At the same time, we need to know the detail about the school. Is it specifically the positive elements around what is in the curriculum? Is it enough just to say there is a broad and balanced curriculum, or do we need to know what that actually entails? I think that you can have a balance, but you shouldn’t scrimp on the detail, because that detail needs to be accessible particularly in coming up with those measures.
Q238 Neil Carmichael: I was just reflecting on the fact that it is rather ironic that everybody is frightened of the inspections, but that the actual action taken to solve the problems is sometimes mealy mouthed, inadequate and hesitant. That is certainly my experience, and I picked that up from an earlier question of Ian’s during your exchange about the role of local authorities and so forth. Just before I ask my question, I want to say how right you are not to worry about data. I have seen schools that have had a good or a bad inspection report that has completely challenged or at least contradicted national challenge information. Both are based on data; both draw completely different interpretations and allow for lengthy debate that has usually ended with some sort of compromise. So data are not sufficient.
My question concerns the autonomy of schools towards which we are heading. We have to have an inspection regime that we can rely on to identify the schools that are failing; we can’t inspect all schools all the time. What sort of accountability model should we see, which will interface between the school and the Department for Education? There are a lot of schools that clearly are not picked up quickly enough; I have seen two, in fact, in which there has to be a crisis before somebody actually spots that something needs to be done. That is not good enough. It is not good enough for the children, and it is not good enough for the parents.
Chair: Question please, Neil.
Neil Carmichael: I would like an answer to this simple question: what kind of accountability model do you think we should have to keep a tab on schools without relying on inspections?
Chair: Does anyone want to pick that up? John, thank you very much. I am always grateful; I have never been more grateful than now.
Dr Dunford: I have written a lot over the years about intelligent accountability and the need for more of it, and this is absolutely the core of the answer to your question. I have always found it much easier to describe what is not intelligent accountability-we have a heck of a lot of it in education-rather than what is intelligent accountability. For example, the balanced scorecard that Damian was talking about was floated by the previous Government, but Parliament quite rightly refused to pass it when it came up in May, because it had gone too far on this balance that you quite rightly say we need between complexity and understandability. There is a simple answer to every question and frankly it is usually wrong, because there always are complex issues, particularly in a place such as a school. So you need something that has a degree of complexity about it.
We should focus on quality assurance here. What is going to assure quality? The answer to that is ongoing, good quality self-evaluation in the school itself, day by day and week by week. Then we need an external check on that, which might have to be a paper check for those who are not in a proportionate system to those who are doing pretty well. Actually, yes, there is a role for the local authority here. If it knows its local schools and the data from those schools, it can be in a position to broker some kind of external inspection and the right kind of support. But then you come back to the measures, and it is crucial to get them right; I don’t think we’ve got them right.
The point you alluded to was that a couple of years ago, when the national challenge started, any number of schools were told they were failing because they were below 30%. We’re getting that again today, only it is now 35%. Frankly, those schools are not failing, which is often reflected in the fact that they’ve got a good Ofsted report. What’s wrong there then is the way in which the measures are being used. You’ve got to have a good measure of the pupils’ attainment and progress. That frankly isn’t five As to Cs, but a different kind of measure, which is a detail that I won’t go into now. But there is space there, if you get the measures right, for more intelligent accountability. You create a system in which schools are incentivised to have a good sense of direction.
Q239 Chair: Anastasia, any thoughts on accountability?
Anastasia de Waal: Yes. Intelligent accountability should definitely not be divorced from inspection. Inspection should be part of that intelligent accountability. If it is not, it is because it’s failing. The important thing is that we need a cycle in terms of accountability. It shouldn’t be a shock therapy-suddenly it happens, and then it goes away and everything carries on as normal, which is too often the case at the moment. We need to have a system that is supportive in terms of accountability, so accountability is not just about mistrust or checking up on compliance, but about supporting schools.
Most importantly, we need to spend money on this. If we want schools to be good, particularly when we have a situation with greater autonomy, we need to know what they’re doing, and in order to do so, we need to be able to look at that. That’s going to be expensive and involve probably quite a lot of people. But it is a positive thing if it happens consistently rather than something out of the blue occasionally, which is the "not" part of everyday life.
Chair: I think that brings us neatly to the relationship between Ofsted and the Department for Education.
Q240 Ian Mearns: I think you’ve previously suggested that one of the by-products of the creation of Ofsted was the loss of the professional voice within the policy-making area within the Department. Will you offer any views on how the Department and Ofsted, or others, may remedy this, and why they should try to do so?
Dr Dunford: I think it’s absolutely right. Before the formation of Ofsted in 1992, the inspectorate was based in the Department. When civil servants were having policy discussions at the senior level, chief inspectors were involved in that, and at the middle level, staff inspectors were involved. Therefore, there was a professional voice, not just of a head teacher who knows about his school and locality, but of a senior HMI who knew about the voice right across the system. It seemed to me that that has been hugely lacking since 1992-the lack of the professional voice in the policy-making process.
Now unlike Pauline Perry who gave you evidence, I wouldn’t move the inspectorate back into the Department. What I would do, though, is to have a chief educational officer in the Department, rather like there is a chief medical officer in the Department of Health and a chief veterinary officer. That person will be the senior professional voice in the policy-making process with direct access to the Secretary of State, as the senior chief inspector used to have, and use evidence from Ofsted. Ofsted’s role should then be to stand between the Government on the one hand and individual institutions on the other, reporting without fear or favour, on the performance of not only the institutions, but of Government policy, and feeding that back into the chief educational officer’s advice.
Q241 Ian Mearns: So you think evidence is important in creating education policy?
Dr Dunford: Yes. I think more of it would be good.
Chair: That is extraordinarily radical.
Q242 Ian Mearns: Anastasia, I think you have written rather disparagingly that Ofsted is a Government lapdog that fears scrutinising or criticising Government policy sufficiently. What would you do to remedy that? For instance, do you think we should have a parliamentary Select Committee on education?
Anastasia de Waal: As I put it so nuancedly, being a Government lapdog, I think the important thing is for there to be a distinction-a lack of which has been a problem-between Government policy and Ofsted. Where Ofsted became particularly problematic and where the relationship broke down, interestingly, is where it got too close and where Ofsted was about enforcing Government policy. That is not useful, not least because the Government should be enforcing policy if they want to, not the inspectorate, which in theory is looking at what schools are doing. [Interruption.]
Chair: For the sake of Hansard, we will wait until the bell finishes.
Anastasia de Waal: So what is very important is that Ofsted should have credibility in its own right, and not as part of the Department, both for regulating on a compliance level and for ensuring that Government policy is fulfilled, particularly because, as we move into a climate of autonomy, that is going to be a redundant relationship anyway. We want to see an inspectorate that is not too friendly with the Department and is not afraid of it, but it is equally important that the Department does not have to take on board everything that Ofsted says. We need to have a relationship that is very different from the one we see now, so that the role of Ofsted will be about inspecting schools and gauging quality and the role of the Department will be about education policy. We hope that the richness of the data coming out of inspections will mean that there will be an inevitable overlap on agendas, and obviously there will be collaboration. But we need to be careful about the set-up between the two, which is one of the biggest flaws at the moment.
Q243 Ian Mearns: That creates a problem for Ofsted in the current climate. We have just had a change of Government, and it is clear that there is very different thinking about governmental policy on education. On what basis should Ofsted offer criticism? Should that be of the previous Government’s policy or of this Government’s policy?
Anastasia de Waal: Well, if Government policy is allowing greater autonomy, presumably what we want-as we would in any scenario, and this should have happened when there was much more Whitehall diktat over what schools did-is for Ofsted to look at schools on a school-by-school basis, asking how well the education service that schools are providing is delivering. If Ofsted does that, it will not be anything to do with Government policy, in terms of what the Government think is the correct way forward-if they think there is a correct way forward-and that is where we have seen the problem. If we envisage autonomy that will really work, this is not only vital and it will happen organically, but, more importantly, it should have happened even in a climate where the Government were much more prescriptive.
Q244 Ian Mearns: In your view, is it appropriate for the Government to base policies on Ofsted’s judgments, for example, by allowing schools judged to be outstanding one week to apply for academy status? Is that an appropriate way forward?
Professor Chapman: It is interesting to note in yesterday’s report that a school that was judged as failing went to outstanding at the next inspection. It is not beyond the wit of man to suggest that the reverse may be true. We probably need more sophisticated measures as to how we decide which schools are given greater freedoms.
Q245 Chair: So when you partner an outstanding school with a weaker school, so that the weaker school can become an academy, the help may turn out to be the reverse way round.
Christine Ryan: I would go back to what I said before. The report points out that 55% of previously outstanding schools were not outstanding when they were revisited. It would be a very dangerous strategy just to go on that basis.
Dr Dunford: When you partner an outstanding school with a weak school, it is nearly always-in fact, it is always-the case that the outstanding school can learn.
Professor Chapman: That is absolutely right. Our research on federations would suggest that where you federate a strong school with a weak school to improve achievement, they outperform a matched sample of non-federated schools. So, there are some positive insights to be learned from that.
Chair: As long as they are federated and joined together, which one turns out to be the leader and which is the other one is less important.
Q246 Nic Dakin: I went into a local secondary school in my constituency on Friday. It has just been inspected, and it got a very good inspection outcome. I said to the head, "Well done. How did it go?" He said, "Well, I was happy with the outcome, but the process was terrible. It was awful. It was very adversarial and very negative." Does inspection have to be like that? If it doesn’t have to be like that, is that a description you recognise, and how can we make it not like that in the future?
Christine Ryan: I think that we’re back to the inconsistency issue. Certainly we don’t expect inspections to be like that. Setting up a relationship is very important, but the inspection will still remain rigorous and at arm’s length. The two things are not mutually exclusive. You don’t have to be adversarial to make objective and rigorous judgments. Many individuals have spoken already about inconsistency of experience, and I think that that is the case. Some schools have very good Ofsted inspections and some have terrible experiences; it is about consistency.
Anastasia de Waal: First, I think that it’s a failure in the system if it’s seen to be adversarial, because it shouldn’t be. In theory, this is about working with professionals who care deeply about providing a good education. Secondly, if it is seen to be a daunting process-it is consistently seen to be very daunting-even for schools that come out very well, as opposed to those where there are skeletons in the closet, we need to become very worried. So, we need to move away from this idea of it being something that is done to the school-something that is problematic and does not help them, but works against them and tries to find problems-and into an arena that is about supporting and improving schools.
Q247 Nic Dakin: So how would you change it? We had evidence from a college principal arguing for a different model. Is that the way forward?
Anastasia de Waal: The main thing is making sure that the school understands that the inspectorate and the inspectors are going to understand the school. I think that that is where one of the main sources of frustration is, in that they feel that the inspectors have made their judgments, often on a false premise, even before they have walked into the school, and that they are not really getting a good understanding of some of the issues that the school faces, in particular the detail of the school’s provision. That sets off a very bad relationship, which is too often why we see a very adversarial inspectorate, partly because it is frustrated time-wise and feels that it isn’t able to take the look that it needs to, and also a very defensive school, because it feels that it is not able to give a clear picture.
Professor Chapman: It is very clear that there is variation in the system, but it would be remiss of us not to reflect on the fact that schools deal with and manage the inspection process in very different ways. That can be linked to the school culture, or to the leadership capacity within the school. So the schools’ own responses-their interpretation of the experience-might be very different, and I think that we just have to hold back.
Dr Dunford: I accord with that view.
Q248 Nic Dakin: Gerard Kelly, writing in The Times Educational Supplement, said that Ofsted has clearly lost the respect of the profession it seeks to regulate. Do you agree with that? Is that a good thing? Does it need to be changed? If it is to be changed, how would we change it?
Christine Ryan: It depends on who you speak to and what their personal experience of inspection has been. Inspection by its very nature is going to be testing, but it doesn’t have to be terrifying. People’s personal responses vary greatly.
Dr Dunford: And we’re back to variety and inconsistency. When you talk about an Ofsted inspection, that inspection is actually very often being done by a subcontracted agency, and that seems to me to be part of the root of the problem. And I’m back to my point about all inspections being led by HMI for greater consistency.
Christine Ryan: It’s not easy to get hold of the quality assurance data on what’s happened out there in Ofsted inspections. Quality assurance data on independent inspectorates is published-Ofsted publishes an annual report on the quality of our inspections. There is not an equivalent one that we can get hold of that tells us about the quality assurance arrangements in the contracted-out inspections.
Q249 Nic Dakin: Do you think that contracting-out is part of the problem?
Christine Ryan: Wherever you introduce opportunities for inconsistency, unless your systems are extremely tight and your quality assurance processes pretty much faultless, you’re going to have difficulties.
Q250 Chair: We have limited time, and I want to bring the session to a close. On a yes-no basis-however cruel that is-would the other panellists like to say whether they think we need to move back to a single organisation, so that we don’t have these other organisations providing additional inspectors?
Dr Dunford: Yes, and if we do HMI would once again be the zenith of your professional achievement.
Anastasia de Waal: Yes, absolutely. We need to spend more money in order to do that.
Professor Chapman: There isn’t an element of space on which to make a judgment, but experience and instinct would suggest yes.
Q251 Craig Whittaker: Ofsted by its own reckoning now touches the highest ever number of people every day. Lord Sutherland, when he came to speak to us, said that he is disappointed that it has grown so big and has many other responsibilities. John, I think you said earlier that inspection should be about empowering the schools to improve themselves. We heard Lesley Davies say that we’ve lost the celebration of good practice. We hear words such as "not fit for purpose," "too big," and "cumbersome." If you had a blank piece of paper, what would your model look like?
Dr Dunford: I would have an inspectorate solely based on education in schools and colleges, and I would do something different with the children’s services part of Ofsted.
Anastasia de Waal: I would also have an inspectorate focused on schools, with expert, professional inspectors who have sufficient time and sufficient expertise to focus on a particular thing-the education that is being provided.
Professor Chapman: It a common theme, but, for schools and colleges, I would have a streamlined inspectorate that validates peer review at a local level. I would develop the concept of families of schools, which we have seen in the city challenges.
Q252 Chair: What about Ofsted itself? Would you narrow its remit so that it goes back to being education only?
Dr Dunford: Yes.
Christine Ryan: It should be focused on education, and it should be about achievement and personal development underpinned by good curriculum, teaching, good governance, leadership and management. Its focus should be back where it started, which is on the quality of education in school and colleges.
Q253 Craig Whittaker: So are you saying that the new, slim-line version, which is about to be released on us, is the right thing to do?
Christine Ryan: The new framework looks promising. We need to see a little more detail on its content, but it certainly looks as if it is heading in the right direction in that it is a refocusing of the key elements of what schools should be all about.
Dr Dunford: It should enable inspectors to get away from the tick-box approach.
Anastasia de Waal: Equally, you don’t want it boiled down to the lowest common denominator, which is why we look at those things. Many of the well-being outcomes are going to be outcomes of, for example, good leadership, good teaching, and so on. Hopefully, that will enable a holistic inspection agenda, albeit with a narrowed heading.
Christine Ryan: One of the things that you must remember is that the primary shaper of inspection is the regulatory framework in which it operates. As we have in independent schools, you might have up to 400 regulations applying to a single institution. That puts a really big constraint on any flexibility that you have in your inspection framework. You can’t look at inspection and changing the inspection model in isolation from the regulatory framework on which the inspection is based. Ofsted can only work against the regulation.
Dr Dunford: Perhaps some of those things should be subject to audit, rather than inspection. Things such as safeguarding, for example.
Q254 Chair: We have heard that there will be shorter inspections and very little notice, providing that the inspectors exist, for schools, therefore they’re spending a lot of their time just doing basic compliance. They are literally wasting their time and the schools’ time, and vastly reducing the quality of the inspection.
Christine Ryan: But you can’t change one fundamentally without having a look at the other.
Q255 Craig Whittaker: Going back to my initial question, in which I asked what your model would look like, is Ofsted capable of delivering that?
Christine Ryan: It had done it in the past. There is a great deal of expertise within Ofsted, which has undergone a massive amount of change and repeated change. That is the disturbing thing. It is very difficult for any organisation to make any real ground on improving its performance, when it is constantly dealing with externally imposed change.
Anastasia de Waal: I am not sure that it has done that in the past, at least not in the way that I would envisage a successful system. I don’t that Ofsted has ever been fully successful. We need to see much more professionalism with the inspectors, and I think that, in many ways, schools are inspected by Ofsted management, not by professional inspectors. Ofsted isn’t listening nearly enough to its own inspectors saying, for one thing, "We don’t have enough time in schools." That is the real problem.
Dr Dunford: The point that I would add is the point that I made before. Ofsted should have an important role in looking at the success of the system as a whole, and it should report on the Government’s performance as much as on the performance of individual institutions. I hope that your report will focus on that, too.
Professor Chapman: I think that the answer is yes, Ofsted can do it if it manages to re-establish and redefine its relationships with the professions.
Chair: That is a good note on which to end. Thank you all very much for coming to give evidence this morning.
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 30th November 2010|