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


Memorandum from the British Educational Research Association (BERA) (SQE 02)


  HMCI's annual report notes that overall there have been "steady improvements in the quality of education and the standards achieved by pupils" (page 18). BERA welcomes this as good news. As may be expected the report elaborates on the achievements of schools and identifies points of further concern. But there are three issues about the process of inspection which are not mentioned and which we suggest should be of concern to the Select Committee. These are the issues:

    —  the emotional costs to teachers of inspection;

    —  the financial costs of inspection; and

    —  the lack of clear evidence that the "steady improvements" are the result of inspection and hence the lack of justification for the high emotional and financial costs.


  1.  In 1996 Jeffrey and Woods, researchers at the Open University, reported in the Cambridge Journal of Education (26,1,325-343) on an OFSTED inspection in these terms:

    Professional uncertainty was induced, with teachers experiencing confusion, anomie, anxiety and doubt about their competence.

  2.  Since then other studies have carried similar messages and in December 1999 a report called The Impact of OFSTED inspections, from the National Foundation for Educational Research and sponsored by the National Union of Teachers, said:

    One of the main criticisms of the OFSTED system of school inspection is that it can be extremely stressful for teachers and adds to their already heavy workload (paragraph 4.1).

  This report focused mainly on schools on the special measures register and compared them with a sample of schools not on the register. The NUT briefing on this research, of January 2000, says:

    The Government may seek to take comfort from the findings that many schools under special measures improved. However, the findings make it clear that it was the additional resources and support to these schools, which brought about these improvements. In fact, the stigma and consquences of being labelled "special measures" created additional hurdles for schools. However, the real message is that, overall, the research found the human costs of those improvements were unacceptably high and teachers and headteachers in those schools concluded, "there must be a better way".

  Media references over the last year show that OFSTED inspections still induce fear. Some examples are given in Annex I.

  3.  We would expect this issue to be discussed in the annual report. It is doubtful whether the "short inspections" designed for the "most effective schools" and the "reduced period of notice" mentioned in the report will appreciably reduce teacher stress.

  4.  As a research association we believe that substantial research into the emotional cost to the teachers of OFSTED inspections is long overdue.


  5.  According to Annex I of the HMC1 report there were 3,771 inspections of primary schools, 698 of secondary schools and 331 of special schools and pupil referral units, carried out by registered inspectors and 5,800 inspections by the HMI. What did this programme cost? Nowhere in the report are we told. But the OFSTED Corporate Plan 2000 suggests that in 1999-2000 the contracted inspections cost about £53 million and inspections by HMI a further £21 million. Some of this £74 million was spent on inspection of LEAs etc.

  6.  As a research association we believe that accurate figures on the costs of inspection are needed in order to inform judgements made by policy makers on the future of inspection.


  7.  If schools have raised standards as a result of inspection, this expenditure may be justified. But schools are simultaneously engaged in a range of activities intended to raise standards, for example the national curriculum, the literacy and numeracy strategies, assessment results published as league tables, and school development plans, to name but a few of the initiatives introduced by Government.

  8.  Charts in the HMCI Report on pages 23-24 show that at a Key Stage 1 (seven-year-olds) and Key Stage 2 (11-year-olds) there has been a steady improvement in literacy and numeracy for the five-year period from 1996 to 2000. A chart on page 36 shows that performance at Key Stage 3 in English, mathematics and science has fluctuated over these years, but another chart on the same page shows that there has been steady growth in the percentage of 15-year-old pupils attaining five or more A*-C passes at GCSE or GNVQ equivalent.

  9.  The unwary reader, knowing that OFSTED inspections in secondary schools began in 1993 and in primary schools in 1994, might attribute these gains to the inspection, although the report makes no such overt suggestion.

  10.  Early data are not available for the younger children but DfEE statisticians have published a table (on the DfEE website) for GCSE and its GCE/CSE equivalents going back to 1975. A graph from this is at Annex II. It shows, for girls and for boys, the percentages of the age group gaining five or more A*-C grades, and the percentages gaining no grades. The former rises and the latter falls from 1974 to about 1981, then both remain steady until about 1987 when GCSE replaced GCE O-level. From 1987 the high achievers (both girls and boys) rise quite steeply until 1994, when they both falter, and then continue to rise slightly less steeply. The low achievers from 1987 drop and then fluctuate until 1996, since when they have continued to be fewer in number. In every case throughout the period, on these statistics, girls outclass boys.

  11.  It would be difficult to attribute improvement in these statistics mainly to OFSTED inspections, since the steady improvement precedes OFSTED by several years. Moreover, in Scotland, where OFSTED does not operate and a different inspection systems prevails, a similar pattern is found, as the second graph shows.

  12.  As a research association we suggest it is time for a thorough research study to be conducted which endeavours to identify the contribution of inspection (and other factors) to the raising of national standards. Again we believe this is needed in order to inform judgements made by policy makers on the future of inspection.

Professor Michael Bassey

Academic Secretary

British Educational Research Association

March 2001

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