Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to Clerk of the Education Sub-committee from the Director of Policy and Communications, Commission for Racial Equality

13 November 2000

Thank you for your letter of 3rd November to our Chair, Mr Gurbux Singh and for the enclosed transcript of the evidence given by HMCI to the Select Committee on 1 November.

Mr Singh has asked me to reply on his behalf. The Commission wishes to draw the following points to the attention of Education Sub-committee.

The CRE would like to express its thanks to Members of the Sub-committee for raising issues related to its research into OFSTED school inspections with HMCI.

Given the announcement of Mr Woodhead's resignation, the CRE Chair is anxious to meet with Mr Tomlinson as soon as he begins in his new role and will organise such a meeting without delay. The CRE wishes to support OFSTED strengthen its school inspections. This has always been our wish and we look forward to a friendly, positive and constructive relationship with Mr Tomlinson and OFSTED.

It is the CRE's view that the issues raised at Committee by Mr O'Brien, concerning accountability are most important and we are attracted to the suggestion that HMCI might be accountable to a Board. This should in no way interfere with the proper independence of HMCI and OFSTED itself. However it could provide a useful sounding board and support for HMCI and help restore confidence in the post and the organisation. In our view it would be helpful if the range of expertise represented on such a Board included expertise in race and other equality issues.

The impending appointment of a new HMCI sometime in the new year provides the opportunity to consider again what skills, experiences and expertise should be required of the postholder. Given the unsatisfactory performance of OFSTED illustrated by the recent CRE research, and the nature of the exchanges about the research at Committee we would strongly suggest that a clear understanding of race equality issues in education, and an understanding of how to address and inspect them, underpinned by a demonstrable commitment to race equality should be clearly written into the job description and person specification for the post, and made clear in advertisements for the post.

The CRE is particularly pleased to note the programme of training in educational inclusion about to begin for all inspectors. This is a major initiative and an expensive one, both in cash and time. Because of this it seems to us particularly important that OFSTED is in a position sometime after the end of the programme to evaluate its impact and success. One measure of its success might be an improvement in the regularity and quality of reporting on inclusion issues in general and race equality issues in particular. For this reason the CRE continues to believe that it would be valuable for OFSTED to undertake appropriately timed research into inspection reports that sought to identify the impact of the inclusion training. The CRE is willing to help in this in any way it can should OFSTED wish to take up this option.

One of the key findings of our research is that merely to count the number of reports that mention race equality or related terms is not very meaningful. Many reports do mention these terms, but only to comment quantitatively on the ethnic profile of the school's catchment area. What we believe is needed, and what the OFSTED Framework for Inspection requires is a substantive assessment of race equality, in terms of relative achievement levels, the incidence of racial harassment, and the impact of exclusions on different racial groups etc. It is the relative absence of this substantive reporting that strikes us as a problem in need of a solution. Further research as suggested above, and a continuing interest in the issue by the Education Sub Committee would be powerful drivers of positive improvement.

The issue raised in Committee by Mr St Aubyn concerning the need for targets relating to inspectors' adherence to the race equality elements in the inspection framework strikes us a valuable and worth further attention. The development and application of such targets/performance indicators may be a helpful mechanism for monitoring the effectiveness of the inclusion training due to begin in December 2000.

If any member of the Education Sub Committee would like to discuss further these or any other issues I would be delighted to help them.

Phil Barnett

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