Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 60-79)



  60. We are suggesting in the way you are thinking in terms of the way inspection contracts will go, that is what will happen.
  (Mr Bell) To some extent that can happen if the inspector is not very good, whether they are part of a very small team or part of a very large team. This is about bringing about an improvement overall, as we have done in the quality of inspection. I think that good inspection, as I suggested, is independent, rigorous, external, and helping the school to improve its performance. One of the things I would say about this inspection is we are spending £30 billion on education in this country. I would have thought it is entirely legitimate for Parliament (which votes that expenditure) to know what is working and to have objective measures of performance, because I think one of the virtues of this kind of dialogue and debate this morning is that we can talk to you on the basis, not of anecdote, not of what we happen to think should or should not be happening, but on the basis of the evidence that we find, and that can bring about improvements in quality.

  61. Is that not the real heart of the difference between some of us on this Committee and the kind of philosophy you are espousing, the fact that when we were in New Zealand they wanted a better alternative to assess the achievement of their pupils but none of them wanted to go either to the inspection system or to the testing and examining system that we have in this country. It just seems to me sometimes that the view that you have just expressed is constantly pushing our schools to testing and examining at seven, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18, where at the end of the day we drive out through inspection on the one hand and exams and testing on the other the ability to allow teachers to teach and children to learn. That is the criticism of part of what Ofsted is achieving.
  (Mr Bell) Obviously it is not for me to comment directly on national tests in this conversation.

  62. Is there not a danger that what you are obsessed with in Ofsted is measurement—the old management thing if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it? That seems to be what you are espousing today.
  (Mr Bell) What I would say—and I think we had a conversation about this the last time I was here—is that one of the virtues of the Ofsted inspection system is that it does not just look at one measure of performance. So when a parent or a teacher picks up an Ofsted inspection report he says, "How well is this school doing against national comparators? How well is this school doing against similar schools? What is the behaviour like in this school? What is the management like in this school? What range of extra curricular activity go on for the pupils in this school? What is the attendance like?" I think that rounded picture of what is going on in a school is very, very important. The other thing I would say—I think this is a really very encouraging statistic—is that we are now pretty well there in terms of the second round of inspections. We will finish the second round of inspections of all schools by next summer. So far nine out of ten schools inspected a second time have shown improvement since the first inspection. I am not claiming credit for inspection, but what I think I can do is report on that improvement. I actually think it is quite a powerful tool for you at a national level to have that evidence, but do not under-estimate how important the individual schools feel about having that.
  (Mr Taylor) Just really to pick up on your use of the word "measurement" and to underline the point that David is making, that in a system where, as I think you rightly say, there is a considerable danger that only that which is quantified and recorded and assessed in a formal statistical way is valued, the importance of having a body which keeps saying, "Yes, but what about quality? What about the quality of the teaching? What about the quality of the leadership? What about the nature of the experience for children? What about the way in which the community is supporting its schools?" is all the more demonstrable because we get in to evaluate the heart of the process in ways that are not subject to those easily tabulated sets of bar graphs. We actually test out whether those mean anything and whether when you look at what is happening to real pupils in real schools, real children in the early years and real students in colleges, what they are getting matches up to these external benchmarks and statistics. That is what we are there for.

  63. Are you saying that loudly and clearly enough? Why did we have to go to New Zealand and as what they were doing in their education system? Why are not some of you people saying we are getting to the stage of over-examining and over-testing and we are doing damage to children's education? I do not hear that from Ofsted.
  (Mr Taylor) You have not been reading our reports.

  64. We have, it is buried. I do not hear David Bell going on television and radio and clearly saying there is a great danger if we carry on this path of over-testing and over-examining we will drive out the ability of teachers to teach and children to learn in the classroom. We just do not hear it at the moment.
  (Mr Taylor) I will quote one example. Read the main findings of the report on the first year of the new AS arrangements about the dangers of the excessive burden. There are many more examples.
  (Mr Bell) Can I give you one—

  65. You were not expecting to come to this Committee and get an easy time.
  (Mr Bell) I had a naive belief once, Chairman. You received as part of your pack of materials a press release relating to our recent report on the curricula in successful primary schools. That is a very good example again of what we are saying. Here are schools that have combined the continuing emphasis on high-quality literacy and numeracy with a broad, balanced and enriched curriculum. We say categorically in that report that this is not beyond the reach of all primary schools in this country. It is another piece of evidence. We are not just saying keep focusing on this, that and the other. We recognise, as David said, the importance of the quality of experience. As I said when I launched that report, this is a good news story about combining high standards with a high quality, enriched curriculum for young children.

  66. What is the strongest thing you have said about the number of tests and exams that children have in the system? What is the strongest thing in any of the publications?
  (Mr Bell) Colleagues can come in if they will, given their greater awareness of Ofsted's distinguished history! The point I would make is that decisions regarding assessment at key stage levels—seven, 11, 14 and 16—are national government decisions, so I do not think it is for me to comment.

  67. You are responsible to this Committee and you do not have to be frightened of the Department for Education and Skills nor the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister believes we are at our best when we are bold. What we are explaining to you is sometimes be bold and say to this Committee that Government policy and the way it is working through is not good for the education of our children.
  (Mr Bell) I will be very frank and bold with you. I believe that it is important to have national testing at seven, 11, 14 and 16, and obviously external testing. I will tell you why I think it is important to have that. Again prior to those sorts of arrangements being in place, it was not possible for parents and others to know how we were doing in the education system, not just how we were doing generally but often what progress their children were making. What I would say—and I think this is an issue that is worthy of further examination perhaps by Ofsted and more generally—is that that national testing system, of course, has spawned a whole range of other assessments in schools, and I think there may be a question as to whether that is always sensible. So we have now got tests between key stages, we have now got the tests that secondary schools will often apply when pupils first go into secondary school—and we commented on that in a recent report on the transition from primary to secondary. There is a question there that needs to be looked at. Again picking up what we said in that report about successful primary schools, those headteachers and those teachers in those schools were not complaining and saying, "This is a terrible burden, this is awful, this is dreadful." What they were saying was, "We can use that information intelligently to find out what our pupils are doing and to devise an appropriate curriculum." There is a question about good schools always being able to use assessment information intelligently. Maybe there is a question about all the other assessments that have been spawned on the back of the national tests.

Paul Holmes

  68. I am interested in exploring a bit more how you measure the success of the improving schools. You were saying that as Ofsted approaches its second complete round of inspecting schools, you have got a lot of evidence that a lot of schools have improved since the first round and you were saying that 30% of teachers were unsatisfactory when Ofsted first went to schools and now the figure has dropped dramatically. How much is it that schools have simply learned how to press buttons and jump through the hoops that you want them to? Is that the same as saying schools are dramatically improving or are they simply achieving what you want?
  (Mr Bell) I think that is a serious and important question but in the end I would have thought that headteachers, teachers and governors would recognise that that is not particular sensible and valuable. The other thing that I would say is that although an inspection is a process that takes place over a few days in a week, one of the things that inspectors are very careful to do is to look at evidence that demonstrates what is going on over the rest of the school year. For example, we look at samples of children's work to see what has been happening. The questionnaire to parents gives you a flavour of what is going on when inspectors are not there. It is an important point that we must continue to use inspection as a focus but also to make sure we have a bigger picture of what is going on in schools. When you talk to headteachers and teachers, nobody is pretending inspection is not a pressure, of course it is a pressure for all sorts of reasons, but I think often schools will comment that it is useful to have that external check on what is going on. The best value for inspection is derived in schools where teachers and headteachers and governors see it as part of their continuing process of evaluating how well they are doing.

  69. Can we go to the specific example where 30% of teachers were unsatisfactory and now it has dropped to—
  (Mr Bell)—Five per cent unsatisfactory.

  70. The NASUWT, of which I am a member (to declare an interest) have said in their evidence: "The conduct of inspection is overly dependent on the use of unreliable subjective perceptions sourced from the practice of classroom observation." Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon has been very critical of the unreliable nature of classroom observations. In the first round of Ofsted inspections a lot of teachers said—and I was subjected to the first round of Ofsted inspections as a teacher—"We are not jumping through hoops for these people. We have got all our normal work to do. We have got exams, we have got reports, we have got coursework, we have got exam boards." In the second round of inspections they jumped through hoops. An average teacher does three lessons in the week that Ofsted is there. Do you really think that the three lessons your inspectors see that week are the same for the next four years until you come again?
  (Mr Bell) Let me just comment on one part of what you said. I think if you asked teachers and headteachers up and down the country whether the Ofsted criteria for what constitutes good teaching is right, most people will say, "Yes, that gives you a good flavour of what it is to teach effectively." I think that has been an important lever. You might say that is just doing what Ofsted expect, but of course, that criteria did not just emerge out of the ether. That was a judgment about what really did make effective teaching, so if teachers are looking at their performance critically against the characteristics of what makes good teaching, forget the Ofsted dimension of this, and improving their practice, surely, that is a good thing. I think that is an important point to make and that is not quite the same as jumping through hoops. As far as what you see when you observe and is that typical—it is back to the point I would make that it is quite important that inspectors do not rely simply on an observation once, twice, three or however many times but actually look at the wider evidence that gives you an insight into the quality of teaching. For example, what does pupils' work demonstrate? Is it good quality? Is it well marked? Does it cover the curriculum range?
  (Miss Passmore) As David said, the criteria we have developed and are continuing to refine (and will have further refinements in the framework that will start next September) have come through working with a very large number of people in schools along the way. I think the purpose of teaching is quite clear to everybody, that it is to help youngsters to learn, and if jumping through a hoop means you do something that helps youngsters learn, then that must be a movement in the right direction. We have seen over the years while we have been present in classrooms some very poor practice where nobody was learning anything. There is a great deal more practice where youngsters are making progress. We do still from time to time hear anecdotes about people being parachuted in for the week and extra preparation. We keep saying, "Please do what you do normally do", because when you look at the work and when you talk to the pupils, it is not in anybody's interest to do something different just for that week. We are concerned that we do not know—the time we have often cited—what happens on a wet Friday afternoon. We have to assume that what we see is the very best that is going on. We have done some paired working to assess what is going on and to whether it is valid or not. We have had two inspectors in a room (with the agreement of the school concerned, because obviously if you have got two inspectors rather than one that of itself could add to stress) and we have found very, very similar correlations between both inspectors. We are working at the moment on doing further work to try and improve so that we get even less discrepency where people might make different judgments about the same lesson.

  Paul Holmes: If you think that what you see in that week in a school of an average teacher is what goes on for the best part of the next four years, I think you are being misled.

Mr Chaytor

  71. You made the point about the importance of the bigger picture and the range of indicators for a school. Does it follow that you think that the league tables should be broadened rather than focusing on single score examination results? If so, have you advised the Government to that effect?
  (Mr Bell) I have two things to say about that. First of all, of course the league tables/performance tables are going to be enhanced from this year with the addition of value added data, which will be extended to all primary schools next year. So that gives you an enhancement.

  72. It still focuses on academic achievement, not the broader range?
  (Mr Bell) I think that is one kind of performance inspection. I actually believe that another kind of performance information is what an Ofsted report gives you. As I suggested earlier, you are getting that broader range. We know that the majority of people, when they are looking at schools, will look at performance tables, and as we know from the hits on our web site people will come and look at Ofsted reports. Of course people do what they should do; they go and visit the schools themselves. They talk to the headteacher and teachers, they walk round and see what is going on. I would have thought most people use a variety of indicators and measures to give them a flavour of what is going on. We believe we make one important contribution to that by publishing a report that covers a range of indicators of what the school is doing.

  73. Do you think league tables should evolve beyond the introduction of the value-added element?
  (Mr Bell) No is the straight answer to that because I believe that with the Ofsted data you have then got that broader picture of what a school is doing.

Jonathan Shaw

  74. I have a couple of questions on the Race Relations Amendment Act. The Act requires you to take account and promote the issue of race equality within public bodies and it includes yourself and schools. You have published your Race Equality Scheme. Can you tell what your inspectors now do differently and how you monitor that? Could you also comment on the fact that there has been criticism that there is not always a focus on promoting a positive agenda on race relations in all schools which have a completely white intake.
  (Mr Bell) Can I make two very quick general points. First of all, just to emphasis again, a point I made earlier about our guidance to inspectors. It is a condition of continuing registration to evaluate education that provision is made for this. The second general point it is an area that Ofsted more generally has reported on because, of course, recently we produced a report on the performance of black Afro-Caribbean youngsters in both primary and secondary schools. We do take these issues seriously. Turning to the specifics I will ask Elizabeth to answer.
  (Miss Passmore) We produced our Race Equality Scheme, as you said, and published it by 31 May as required and undertook, when we received the final statutory guidance, which came the next day 1 June, that we would look again at our scheme as and when appropriate. We will do that by 31 March next year. We have in our Race Equality Scheme to take account of our duties as a public body as they apply to us. We also have the duty to promote race equality through our work as an inspectorate. In that area, we have looked at the framework for schools, for colleges and so on, and as it becomes time for reviewing them, we are making revisions to those frameworks so there are provisions in hand for the framework that will emerge for next September.

  75. But what is happening in schools? There has been criticism that little is done to promote inclusion and the positive nature of living in a multi-cultural world in schools that do not have an ethnic composition.
  (Miss Passmore) Schools similarly had to have a policy in place by 31 May and we are at the moment inspecting for the first term or so with that new requirement being in place. We have not at the moment asked for separate paragraphs to be pulled out because, as David said, we feel this is something that should pervade what is going on in the school.

  76. We do not want bolt on; we want it to be part of.
  (Miss Passmore) That is what we are asking inspectors to do. We have started looking again at reporting to see whether there is better reporting and that is now beginning to come through. We are not giving up at this point. We will be issuing further guidance to make the reporting even stronger as we issue further guidance in updates later this term.

  77. You would expect to see schools which have all-white populations promoting race relations?
  (Miss Passmore) It is a duty that they must.

  78. There is a further criticism about the inspection of initial teacher training which was published in June 2002 and the criticism is that it does not make explicit reference to the positive duties under the Act. Professor Osler has given evidence to us and she is saying that it should be explicit within the framework. What is your comment? If something is not explicit in the framework of teaching, what is going to happen further down the field? What is your response to those criticisms?
  (Miss Passmore) The framework obviously was produced at a particular time when it was difficult to know what the final requirements were going to be, and we have had to look at what it is in our duty to require of initial teacher training organisations and higher education and what it is they need to be checking for themselves. We are conscious of these concerns and are looking further at what we need to do to strengthen this.

  79. It was published in 2002 and the Act has been around since 2000.
  (Miss Passmore) This was the revised framework—

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