Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1-19)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
1. I welcome David Bell and the team; there
are some familiar faces and some not so familiar. This is the
first operational meeting we have had with you, Mr Bell, because
it was rather a get-to-know you occasion the first time you came
in. Now we can blame you for everything, as you have been in post
for how many months?
(Mr Bell) Six months
2. The buck now stops with you. Would you like
to make a brief opening remark?
(Mr Bell) I can hardly believe it is six months since
I first came here. I have to say, you were generous to me in taking
account of my newness, I suspect. I might not be so lucky today!
I am not sure that an HMCI is supposed to say this, but my job
is proving to be interesting, stimulating and very, very exciting.
Ofsted is an excellent organisation to work for, and already I
have been very impressed at the calibre of my colleagues, a number
of whom are with me today. It is very clear to me that Ofsted's
history since 1992 has been one of evolution rather than revolution.
We have adapted our inspection arrangements in line with changing
circumstances and the new demands that have been placed upon us
by Parliament. We have delivered what we have been asked to do.
You will not be surprised to know that it is a personal priority
of mine to ensure that this record is maintained. Consistently,
Ofsted has inspected and reported on its findings without fear
or favour. It is that capacity to speak from the basis of our
evidence that makes the post of HCI so worthwhile, and also the
work of Ofsted vitally important. One of the personal challenges
I have had to face in the last six months is coming to grips with
our wide range of inspection responsibilities. In the last year
we extended our brief to include regulation on Early Years and
the inspection of 16-19 education in colleges. Another part of
my role is to provide advice to Government and contribute more
generally to the national policy debates on education. Again,
if you just look over the past six months, using the evidence
we have got we have reported on topics as diverse as the primary
curriculum, teaching assistants, achievements of black Caribbean
youngsters, and work on LEAs. All this is in addition to the 1800
school inspections that have taken place since we last met. Nothing
stands still, and we are taking new developments in our stride.
Let me give you one example because it is something this Committee
raised a year and a half ago. We have new ways of working with
schools with serious weaknesses, so that we now hope to arrest
the decline into special measures. Schools and LEAs are invited
to an action plan seminar. Earlier visits are being made to schools
with serious weaknesses, and we are making an assessment about
the capacity of a school to improve and the progress that needs
to be made. A major part of my work is about management of Ofsted.
It is a much larger and much more widely dispersed organisation
than it has ever been before. The senior team from Ofsted that
you have here today recognised the very significant management
and leadership challenges that we face in running the organisation
as efficiently and effectively as possible. If I might make one
or two more specific comments on Early Years by way of introduction
in this first part of the session, it is just over a year since
we took over responsibilities for inspecting day-care and child-minding.
This followed implementation of the Government's national childcare
strategy, the publication of the 14 national standards against
which childcare and providers are judged. Our overall aim is to
ensure children are safe, well cared for, and engaged in meaningful
activity. Our regulatory duty is to register, inspect and investigate
complaints against providers, and enforce necessary action. Just
to give you a feel for the span of our work, so far we have registered
15,000 new applicants. We have inspected over 50,000 existing
providers. We have investigated 6,000 complaints against providers
and we have enforced 100 actions. Alongside that, internally we
have had to absorb over 1,400 ex local authority staff, establish
eight regional offices and support our home-based inspectors in
their work. We believe there are signs of achievement in our first
operational year; equally, though, we are not complacent as there
have been, and continue to be, some difficulties along the way.
For example, with our information systems we are making steady,
if unspectacular, progress in resolving a number of our difficulties.
We are on track to achieve our prime objective of the inspection
of 100,000 providers by March 2003. However, we have been hampered
by some delays in obtaining clearance from the CRB. Nevertheless,
we are working hard to improve our performance after a slow start
in some regions of the country, particularly where the recruitment
of administrative staff proved to be problematic. Let me conclude
these opening remarks by saying I believe that Ofsted continues
to provide a unique perspective on the education system through
our right of access to inspect. I am determined to make as much
of this as possible in co-ordinating our inspection activity,
not least because we need to continue with our efforts to make
inspection as light a burden as possible, consistent with the
need to maintain standards. Mr Chairman, I look forward to discussing
this and other aspects with the Committee this morning.
3. Mr Bell, thank you very much for your introduction.
Can I open the questions by asking you if you looked at the widely-reported
OECD study this morning in the Financial Times?
(Mr Bell) I am sorry, I have not.
4. It is quite worrying when it can say the
findings there seem to contradict the perceived wisdom about successful
countries and states that most industrial countries have a lot
to learn. What it does point out, something that was reinforced
by our visit to New Zealand recently, is this growing problem
that we seem to be able to teach to a relatively good level with
a reasonable percentage of our students, but we share this difficulty
with four or five other OECD countries, including New Zealand.
We had interesting evidence of that in New Zealand. Does the inspection
system help in this?
(Mr Bell) It helps first of all in relation to the
point you made about teaching. If you look at our inspection evidence,
just when Ofsted was being created, chief inspectors were talking
at that time of up to 30% of teaching that was unsatisfactory,
now poor teaching has dropped to just around 5%. Inspection is
not the cause of that, but I think inspection has been an important
mechanism in focussing on what constitutes high-quality teaching.
So there is important evidence that inspection has helped to drive
up the quality of teaching. On the second part of the question,
I recall at our first session here making the point that one of
the biggest problems facing the English education system is the
gap between the very best and the very worst. For all sorts of
reasons, we have a big gap. Some of our inspection evidence and
activity recently has been focussed on, for example, schools that
are facing the most challenging circumstances, which often will
contain young people who are disengaged 100%, or are increasingly
disengaged from education. I happen to think that the amount of
discussion, debate and so on about the 14-19 curriculum does offer
some opportunity for thinking more creatively about different
kinds of opportunities for young people. I know that that is a
concept that this Committee
5. I was looking at one of your reports when
you were talking about LEAs and you said there is no proven relationship
with the quality of an LEA and overall standards of attainment.
On our visit to Birminghamand Elizabeth Passmore gave evidence
to our Committee during that visitwe were rather of the
opinion that the work of that education authority had made a significant
difference in what was occurring and had occurred, in terms of
achievement in Birmingham. People could ask whether there is a
proven relationship between the number of people and the budget
of the Inspectorate and improving standards in schools. The depressing
thing about the OECD standard is that we seemed to be on a par
with a number of countries that are not devoting enormous amounts
of money to a growing inspection system and growing numbers. How
many people work at Ofsted?
(Mr Bell) Including our Early Years staff, it is a
full-time equivalent of 2,500, but a substantial number of these
people are involved in Early Years and childcare regulation.
6. What is the annual budget?
(Mr Bell) Our annual budget is £195 million,
but, again, the majority of that budget is devoted to the Early
7. The numbers are getting almost half the size
of the Department for Education and Skills itself.
(Mr Bell) The point I would make is, given the billions
of pounds that are spent on education each year, the amount of
money that we are spending on the schools systems represents a
minuscule proportion of that expenditure. I think we have made
an important contribution in terms of the quality teaching in
schools, the quality of leadership, increasing the range of the
curriculum and so on. Prior to the inspection system being set
up in 1992, the majority of schools and teachers would go through
their careers without any inspection and there would be no public
reporting of what was going on in schools. I think that the combination
of focusing on what goes on by inspecting schools, and making
schools publicly accountable is an important lever in driving
(Miss Passmore) We found when we looked at all 150
local authorities and the performance in those local authorities,
if you take the whole lot together, you cannot find positive correlation
between the way in which a local authority performs the functions
that we are required to inspect and the outcomes for those young
people. But there were some cases where there was clear evidence
that an authority that had not been performing particularly well
and schools that had not performed particularly well, had together
moved forward considerably. The best example of that is
the authority you will be visiting shortly. There are authorities
whereI suppose one would say fortunatelydespite
the authority not performing very well, individual schools are
well led and the people responsible for leading those schools
are nevertheless doing well for the youngsters in those schools.
8. When we were in Birmingham and when we were
in Auckland, the real challenge was that you could have individual
schoolsdog eat dog, everybody competing to be the bestbut
it was very difficult, certainly with the very devolved nature
of the schools in New Zealand, but in a very real sense in the
United Kingdom as well, to get change across the system, systemic
change to raise the overall level of groups of schools. Without
a local education authority, many of us believe that there will
be no instrument or tool to do that.
(Mr Bell) I happen to think that there is no silver
bullet when it comes to systemic change. I think it is a combination
of factors that bring about change. We know that the Department
is talking about ideas about a federation of schools, about some
schools helping to support and lead other schools. I think that
that will be an interesting development and an interesting development
for us to report on. Can successful schools bring forward, lead
forward and achieve improvements in other schools? At the moment,
if you look at school-to-school, it is relatively untested.
(Mr Taylor) When you started by referring to the report
from the OECD, my initial thought was that at last somebody else
is saying exactly what we have been saying for rather a long time,
and the stress on the importance of teaching has been the thing
that is most needed to turn round what we referred to, for example,
in our Three LEA Reading Report of 1994, as the "long tale
of under-achievement". The need for that to be tackled through
systematic national systemic teaching and strategies was what
led most directly to the decision which was a cross-party decision
to have national strategies for literacy and numeracy. I think
we were directly instrumental in bringing about that, on the basis
of reporting on what we found, and on the basis of our relentless
probe of the area of under-achievement, exclusion and disadvantage,
which were for us the most intractable and irremediable problems.
The fact that eight years on from that we are still finding that
this tale of under-achievement exists does not in any way invalidate
the method of inspection, it shows that the capacity to implement
that nationally is still imperfect.
9. I would like to ask you a few questions about
the early years. It is a year since the transfer of staff from
the local education authorities or other local authorities to
Ofsted's employment. There was concern in many quarters that the
relationships that had been built up over many years within local
authorities would break down, and particularly when one considers
issues such as child protection. Relationships on the ground are
vitally important for sharing of information. What has been your
observation of those relationships? Have there been any problems?
(Mr Bell) I will ask my colleague Maurice Smith to
comment specifically on the child protection issue, but let me
make a more general point about relationships. You will of course
know that local authorities retain some important residual responsibilities
in terms of early years and childcare development partnerships.
We have made a great effort to ensure that there are good working
relationships. For example, Ofsted staff will have regular meetings
with representatives of early years and childcare development
partnerships. In many cases, they will attend on a regular basis
with early years and childcare development partnerships. We place
great strength on building and in many cases maintaining relationships,
because it was a transfer of staff that had often worked for those
authorities to Ofsted. That has been a real priority for us to
keep those relationships going.
(Mr Smith) I wonder whether you would mind if I added
a little local flavour to how those relationships work, having
just come from a position as one of the regional managers in the
North-West. We have written protocols with nine local functionschild
care partnerships, the environmental health authority, the fire
brigade, et cetera. Those written protocols only become live when
those individuals meet each other across the table; and those
meetings are now well established following on from the protocols.
A senior member of staff from each regionand I am talking
about the team manager and above in the mainattend as part
of each of the 150 partnerships, so Ofsted has a seat at the table.
In addition, we have regular meetings with those other colleagues
I have mentioned. In each region we also have a dedicated senior
member of staff who has specific responsibility for liaison in
terms of child protection. That person's responsibility is to
link in with however many there areand in the North-West
there are 22area child protection committees, and also
to link in with the named officer in each authority. On the child
protection front, Ofsted is not primarily a child protection agency
but it does have a place in the child protection landscape. Indeed,
our checking mechanisms where we have found some difficulty in
advance of somebody being registered, are effectively child protection
measures to prevent people coming in to the system who will be
a risk to children.
10. It is about those informal relationships
which are very necessary with professionals, not necessarily team
managers and above but those operating at the grass roots level.
What is your observation of those relationships being monitored
and built on?
(Mr Smith) Those relationships are good and are being
built on. One might have thought it would have been a disadvantage
to separate out this role.
11. That was a concern during the Bill.
(Mr Smith) In central government, my experience has
been that that is not the case and that relationships are strong.
I would add, going back to a report recently published about child
protection, one of the issues we do come across is the issue of
stability of personnel in the child protection field under the
relevant social services departments. From personal experience,
I will relate that forming a relationship with a local child protection
senior officer is often a relationship that changes fairly frequently.
12. There is an explosion of childcare provision
now, so the transfer means there is a lot more work in early-years
and indeed in after-schools as well. In the maintained sector
there is a team of inspectors, but in the private and voluntary
sector there is only one inspector. Do you think that is right?
Why is there a difference, with one inspector for private and
voluntary and a team for the
(Mr Smith) It is not always one inspector for the
private and voluntary sector. We will actually send two inspectors,
depending on the size and nature of provision. But we will do
it according to need. Our view is that in terms of our inspection
responsibilities under the Children Act, we only require one inspector
to inspect on that basis. When we come to combined inspections,
which include funded nursery education, then often there will
be more than one inspector.
13. You mentioned in your earlier comments,
Mr Bell, that you registered another 15,000 new childcare providers.
Is the childcare register now complete? Have you got everybody
registered who should be registered?
(Mr Bell) No, because we had a transitional period
from September 2001 to March 2003, an 18-month transitional period.
Our stated intention at the beginning was that that exercise would
be completed. As I indicated, we are on target to complete that
process by March 2003.
14. Going back to the transition from local
government responsibility to Ofsted responsibility, you have apparently
still got problems with the information systems operated by the
early-years inspectors. Without going into too much detail, can
you enlarge on what those problems are and when you expect to
(Mr Smith) The problems, in the main, have been to
do with what I am reliably informed is called connectivity, logging
on to the system, and the amount of capacity. We have taken three
steps. As we speak, they are taking place. That is the installation
of ISDN lines for those people in remote areas; installation of
broadband for those people who can connect to that; and the increase
in the number of ports by 50%. They have been the main problems
with the system that we have had.
15. When will it all be sorted out?
(Mr Smith) It has improved considerably over the last
six monthsand I speak both statistically and from personal
experience. The final piece in that jigsaw goes in place in mid
16. In terms of the differential inspection
in terms of the maintained sector and the private and voluntary
sector, are we going to bring them closer together? Are we looking
at different ways of inspecting; or will we always maintain this
(Mr Bell) You will be aware that we are working under
different legislation, which is the first point. As Maurice indicated,
we are also working in different settings in terms of size, scope
and range. There is a debate to be had in due course about the
possibility of trying to bring together, and bring together more
closely, different sorts of inspection regimes. It would be commonsense,
would it not, that it would never be appropriate to have a single
all-encompassing inspection framework that counts in the same
way in a 500-place primary school as in a child-minder's home.
However, we need to be clear about the common underpinning principle
of inspection. One of the advantages of the Ofsted approach is
to be able to use the expertise of making judgments about the
quality of provision, and apply that in the future. The transitional
inspections that are due to be completed by next April are largely
focused on compliance against the 14 national standards. We always
said that after those transitional inspections were completed,
we would be moving to making more quality-based judgments. That,
I think, offers an opportunity for us to think more carefully
about the way in which we go about inspecting.
17. Do you think the more formal inspection
of child-minding premises will put new child-minders off registering
and not come in to the sector?
(Mr Smith) I have no evidence for that.
18. It is about people going underground and
not registering because of the inspection process. My understanding
is that there are many of these. I could give you names in my
own constituency, but I will not, where people have said, "I
am opting out of that" and both parties agree.
(Mr Smith) I have nothing to add to what I have said,
except that that has always been the case I have no evidence to
suggest whether Ofsted taking on these responsibilities has changed
that in any way.
19. I want to ask you about your responsibility
in the area of childcare. Is the Criminal Records Bureau fit for
(Mr Bell) There is a specific policy issue about the
creation of the Criminal Records Bureau, which is obviously not
for me to comment on. As Maurice indicated earlier, it is an important
part of the checking of the suitability of potential providers.
There are difficulties and timescale delays at the moment, but
I think it is an important part of the process. We are not, as
Maurice said, a child protection agency, but if we can carry out
a number of checks, including criminal checks, I think that that
is important in helping us to regulate a good childcare system.