Examination of Witnesses(Questions 40-59)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
40. I am sorry, Mr Bell, I do not agree with
that. I believe you are the sole purchaser of this kind of service.
I know in parallel in the private sector if you have the powerful
role that you have, you can make yourself open to the smaller
player, new people coming into the market or you can get into
a comfortable relationship with the big players. It really is
the message you give to the world out there. I understand what
you say about consolidation but we would be very concerned if
there was not a message going out from Ofsted that if a smaller
group wanted to tender for Ofsted inspection they would not be
(Mr Bell) To be frank, there is always a balance to
be struck on this between making sure that the market offers opportunities
for a range of providers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand,
ensuring that the system we have provides quality and value for
money, because again those are statutory responsibilities that
I have. That is why we are in a consultation period at the moment.
We do want to hear what the market has to say. We are anxious
as well to open up that consultation more widely. We will hear
what a range of other people have to say and I am sure what this
Committee has to say will be important.
41. One of the concerns this Committee has had
as well is that teachers are seconded in, it is valuable for them,
for their training; is that still a criterion?
(Mr Bell) Again it is for individual contractors.
42. Again, I would beg to differ, as the Chairman
did. That is one of your criterion.
(Mr Bell) Yes, but what I would say is that I am very
keenvery keento continue to encourage serving teachers
and headteachers to participate in inspection. It is not just
good for us, as it were, in terms of having a broader range of
people doing inspection. I actually believe it is very good for
the individuals concerned because those skills that they take
back can be applied in their own schools.
(Miss Passmore) As far as the market is concerned,
we have reached the point where we feel that to have a very large
number of contractors offering a very small number of inspections
does not allow us to meet our requirements to deliver a value
for money service, so we have put a minimum number of inspections
on a contract.
43. At what level?
(Miss Passmore) At the moment we are looking at 45
inspections over the course of the whole year for the coming year.
Looking further ahead, there are proposals to look for a longer
contracting period and for perhaps larger areas, but at the moment
the consultation is only with contractors. That finishes tomorrow.
We are then going to look at that response at consultation much
more widely because some of the concerns you have raised are concerns
that I share about achieving a reasonable balance between what
is value for money in all the administration that we have to deal
with, whether it be one contractor or 50 contractors, and we are
very keen to make sure that we are able to deliver the service
well. We do want to increasewe have said to the Committee
beforethe number of headteachers and teachers who take
part in inspections and we have been looking at the ways in which
we can do that so that it is beneficial for the people taking
part in inspections but does not leave their schools in a difficult
situation while they are doing that work. We have in the Education
Bill that has just been enacted powers to look at ways in which
we can do Section 10 inspections slightly differently, by doing
more internally, and we are considering whether that may be a
route of involving teachers for perhaps a term or two terms which
would not then be so difficult for their schools.
44. I do not want the Committee to spend too
much time on this but I have to say we do have some misgivings
about the sort of drift we are getting from this. Even a little
bit of consultancy, dare I say it even my own institution, the
London School of Economics, will tell you the perils of getting
into a situation of large scale but with a small number of providers.
(Mr Bell) I can assure you that we are in consultative
mode at the moment.
Chairman: Be wary. School inspectionsand
we are going to be led on this by John.
45. Mr Bell, one of the key problems facing
schools at the moment is the recruitment and retention of teachers.
There is a school of thought out there that part of the problem
is the amount of red tape, bureaucracy, and the number of directives
that seem to be swamping the profession. Your predecessor indicated
at the back end of last year that Ofsted would focus more on this
issue, not only as a way of monitoring the issue but as a way
of helping the schools improve the way things are going forward.
Are you going to maintain that focus?
(Mr Bell) If I might just highlight the fact that
you asked us to report in the Annual Report for next year on some
of the issues to do with bureaucracy in schools and that we will
do. I think the issue of bureaucracy and Ofsted has two dimensions
to it. One is what is Ofsted doing itself either to increase or
reduce bureaucracy. My predecessor talked about a number of steps
that we had taken to try to reduce bureaucracy associated with
inspection. For example, schools should not go about doing especially
written lesson plans or policy documents just for the inspectors
and so on. You are right the other part of this was for us to
be able to report on the impact of bureaucratic demands on schools.
As I say, that is something that we will come back to you and
report on when we talk about the Annual Report next March.
46. Can you give us an early indication of how
forthright you are going to be on this. If you think it is warranted,
are you going to be quite critical in order to highlight the problems
surrounding this issue?
(Mr Bell) We have said I think for the third time
this morning that we will report without fear or favour. I think
this is an important issue for us to talk about. At times it is
quite difficult to get a handle on it. Headteachers and teachers
will say we have got a lot of bureaucracy and, of course, quite
legitimately either in inspection or in more casual conversation
you say to people, "Give me some of the specifics."
It is quite important to drill down because presumably for government
it will be important to know exactly where that bureaucratic burden
falls and what are the things that people are most concerned about,
so we will try to do that in our report. If I can give you an
example. We have commented on in other work on Education Action
Zones and Excellence in Cities. At times there can be a kind of
bureaucratic overhead in bidding, in writing bids, in securing
funding, and so on. We have commented already quite forcibly on
that. Those are the sorts of ways in which we can make a very
specific contribution to identify where there might be a particular
47. The last time you gave evidence to the Committee
my colleague Meg Munn asked you about the issue with regard to
schools' policy on inclusion as opposed to focusing on the resource
of the school and achievements of the school. You said you would
take a rain check on that and prepare for it this time. How important
do you think the issue of inclusivity is in terms of the overall
(Mr Bell) It is always dangerous to have people with
48. I hope Meg Munn is paying you a good sum
for asking her question!
(Mr Bell) Education inclusion is an area where I think
Ofsted can be quiteI use the word advisedlyproud
of the way in which we have incorporated this in our inspection
arrangements. We have in the last year or so produced guidance
called Inspecting Evaluating Educational Inclusion. All inspectors
were required to undertake training in these materials as a condition
of continuing registration. That right away gave a signal of how
important we saw this. What I think is very important about that
guidance is that we make the point that talking about education
inclusion is not something that can be relegated to a paragraph
of a report of a school inspection; it should actually infuse
everything that you report on in a school inspection. I think
that is a really powerful issue for us. That is one way in which
we can do it. The other way, of course, is that we have quite
a distinguished history in reporting on a whole range of issues
to do with special educational need
49. You say distinguished history. Is there
an external adjudicator on this distinguished history apart from
(Mr Bell) We have talked about SEN issues at the back
of our evidence. We have talked about issues of racial equality.
One of the most important pieces of work we ever did was reporting
on the education of children in public care, a group of children
who we would all have to accept had not been properly included
within the education system. So we do take this really, really
seriously both in individual institutional inspection and in the
broader policy and survey work we do.
50. Have you got a distinguished history in
influencing the climate within schools. I come back to the OECD
report which I am looking at again in the editorial in the Financial
Times when, yes, it says our schools are performing pretty
well but where we should be concentrating all our efforts is lower
down the ability range. It just seems to me that all the work
you do in all these inspections, perhaps Carol Fitz-Gibbon is
right, get rid of you lot and spend the money on helping address
the underachieving child. Let teachers get on with teaching and
children with learning. That is the sort of thing that teachers
say to us, "Ofsted has done a job. Get rid of it now and
put the resources into helping lift this tail." What do you
say to Carol Fitz-Gibbon who says this is a waste of public money?
(Mr Bell) To repeat the point I made earlier, it is
a very small proportion of the education budget.
51. Your budget?
(Mr Bell) The Ofsted budget is a very small proportion
of the overall education budget.
52. Most of our constituents think it is a lot
(Mr Bell) At this point I might bring in Robert Green
to give you the killer fact.
(Mr Green) I am grateful to everybody who has been
trying to bring me in! The fact is the Ofsted budget is about
half a per cent of the education budget in terms of schools and
53. Can I pursue the point about the "distinguished
history". What I am interested in is how do we measure the
impact of the distinguished history? Your report on local education
authorities seemed to include this apparent relationship between
good LEAs and the performance of schools. Would it not be logical
to conclude that there is a case for external evaluation of Ofsted
to demonstrate whether there was a proven relationship between
10 years of distinguished history and the fact that
(Mr Bell) Chairman, I am going to forever regret using
the terminology "distinguished history", I am sure.
What I would say is that it is very difficult to prove cause and
effect when it comes to inspection and the raising of standards.
I for one would not claim that inspection causes improvement.
What I would say to you is, first of all, that the inspection
system identified in many cases the need for improvement in a
way that had previously not gone on in the English education system.
That is a fact. I think if one takes the most extreme end of the
continuum and looks at the number of schools that were in special
measures with serious weaknesses, there are a quarter of a million
children who were from schools that were in special measures that
are now, I would argue, receiving a better standard of education
because of what we have identified.
54. But how do we measure that? The concept
of serious weakness and special measures is your own characterisation,
as it were. There is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy about this.
What about the external measures? If I can give you an example.
There is no point in having a reduction in the number of schools
in special measures unless there is an objective measurement of
the improvement in the education of the children attending those
(Mr Bell) It depends what you mean by objective improvement.
What I would say is that those schools have been judged in the
first place using the inspection system to determine whether they
are in special measures or not. If you are saying to me, "That
is your judgment, nobody else's . . ."
55. It is a subjective judgment.
(Mr Bell) The reality is if you look at the judgments
that inspectors have to make before determining a school is in
special measures, they are very rigorous indeed. To be frank,
I would say that if we are suggesting that it is not possible
using the inspection system to identify schools that are failing
to provide an adequate standard of education, that is just not
true. I think we were able and are still able to identify such
schools. You raised a question about the external evaluation of
Ofsted's work. I take very seriously my accountability and Ofsted's
accountability to this Committee. That seems to me to be a very
serious kind of external challenge to the work of Ofsted. I said
it publicly recently that I have absolutely no problem with people
looking at our work. The books are open, if I can put it that
way. One of the other virtues of the Ofsted inspection system
is that the work, the criteria, the framework we use are all open
and transparent. So I do not have a problem. I think the issue
is do you really want to commission an external evaluation when
there are so many ways in which through this Committee you can
challenge me and challenge us about the work of Ofsted.
56. Can I follow up on my colleague's question
on that. One of your predecessors yesterday said on television
that here is a system trying to improve school standards and still
one in four children at 11 are illiterate and innumerate. That
is a comment on the value of the work of Ofsted, is it not? Is
it true that we have still got one in four illiterate and innumerate
children, because it has not come out in the figures?
(Mr Bell) The national test results published recently
suggest that just under 80% of children had achieved the appropriate
level at aged 11. That is what was published at the key stage
with national results.
57. So it is one in five?
(Mr Bell) As David pointed out earlier, the identification
of some of the systemic problems to do with the teaching of reading
and writing in schools were identified in the first place through
the work of inspection. Again, I am not suggesting that inspection
has caused or brought about those improvements in schools. It
would be arrogant in the extreme to suggest that. That kind of
work has been brought about by teachers, headteachers, governors
and others in schools. What I would say is that we have identified
some of those issues and difficulties. We have cited a number
of examples this morningConnexions, Early Years, and so
onwhere we are identifying what is happening and how that
then leads to the bringing about of improvement.
58. But are you not creating the wrong culture?
You have just admitted in the last section you seem to be moving
to larger groups coming in to do your inspections. They are coming
in as hired mercenaries, they go and do an inspection, and one
of the greatest criticisms of Ofsted is that you then walk away
from a school and do not work with a school to make sure that
the improvements that are necessary when you find failures through
inspection actually happen. That is the big criticism of Ofsted,
is it not?
(Mr Bell) Let me deal with that directly. I think
it is very important that we remind ourselves where the responsibility
lies for bringing about improvement. That lies with the governors,
staff and the wider community associated with an individual school,
and I think one of the reasons why it is important to have a separation
between inspection and advice is precisely so that we do not confuse
lines of accountability. Having said that, I think I would be
concerned if schools see inspection as some sort of disembodied
experience that does not make any contribution to their improvement.
I have said in a number of settings recently that the responsibility
for evaluating the work of what goes on in a school is the schools'
but external inspectionrigorous, independent inspection
to published criteriacan assist the schools' processes
of evaluation. That is one justification. Do not forget I believe
another important justification of Ofsted's work is public accountability
for the education system.
59. Can we take you through the culture of this.
You are a teacher or head in a small school. The way you are going,
it seems to me, is in comes a highly efficient team of inspectors
from Pricewaterhouse or Capita and they walk in and they do a
rigorous evaluation of your school and then they walk away. Psychologically,
in terms of any kind of improvement, do you think that kind of
big business world coming in, evaluating, and walking away is
really helpful or could it totally demoralise the school?
(Mr Bell) I think to some extent that could be seen
as a caricature of what actually happens during an inspection