Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 100-114)



Mr Chaytor

  100. What steps have you taken in the last 12 months to continue the reduction of this great burden of bureaucracy that teachers always complain about?
  (Mr Bell) Is this the steps we have taken?

  101. The steps you have taken to simplify the information process.
  (Mr Bell) I can highlight a couple of issues. First of all, as a general principle, the inspection arrangements that are going to come into play next year build further on the principle of inspection in proportion to risk, in other words, not inspecting too regularly those institutions. That is a principle that began in 2000 and will be enhanced. That is the general approach but I will ask Elizabeth to highlight some of the very specific actions that we have taken.
  (Miss Passmore) The first thing obviously I think you would expect us to say is schools are now only being inspected normally between every four to six years. We feel that as we have tried to smooth out the timescale, that of itself has been an important step. We said that we would move to having forms being able to be completed electronically. We piloted that first because some of these things sound good but do not always work so well. We conducted a pilot where we received very positive feedback, and forms are now available if schools wish to complete them electronically in a much more simple form than was ever possible before. We are moving to pre-entering data. It sounded like a panacea at one point but we are concerned that if we did not enter up-to-date and accurate data we would be in danger of giving schools more work rather than less when they checked it. That is progressing not quite as fast as we initially hoped. We have reduced the amount of information that we require from schools. We have written and pleaded with them not to undertake extra preparation and do things differently for the period that inspectors are present. We have specifically said to inspectors that they must not ask schools to fill in forms in a particular way that the inspectors would wish. The inspectors must take and use material from schools in a form in which it should be available. We have given further guidance to inspectors in general on what is required and, again, asked them not to ask schools for things that they should not be asking for. We are continuing to review our procedures to try and ensure that schools do not receive visits other than Section 10, visits from the HMI survey for example, within a specified period of having had a Section 10 inspection. We are looking to make sure that the different bits of Ofsted therefore are not placing undue demands on school.

Mr Chaytor

  102. Will that process continue or do you think you have now reached perfection?
  (Miss Passmore) No, I do not think we have reached perfection. We have made a good effort but we shall continue to—


  103. A distinguished history but not yet perfection.
  (Mr Taylor) Could I make the obvious point that bureaucracy is about attitude as well as activity. One of the things which a lot of us who go round the country and meet teachers and heads hear is people saying to us that the attitude of inspectors is one of the things that is most important in reducing the sense that inspection is a bureaucratic process done to them rather than one which is genuinely aiming to work with the grain. I believe it is very important the message we have given increasingly over the last couple of years that inspectors are there to work with schools and colleges to bring about improvement. They are not there to be interfere or be punitive; they are there to support and encourage good practice. All of those are anti-bureaucratic not because they reduce particular amounts of paper work but because they help prevent the impression that we are a bureaucracy with Byzantine methods of working.

  104. Have any of your inspectors objected to this reduction? Have they found it has caused problems for them?
  (Miss Passmore) I have not had very direct feedback on that.

Paul Holmes

  105. The Association of Lay Inspectors submitted evidence both to you and the Committee which is very critical saying their morale is low, they are overworked and underpaid and the shift from requiring paperwork submissions from schools has meant that they have to do more work and they are not getting the time or money. They sound very, very critical and uncertain about what the future holds from their point of view. Have you got any comments on that?
  (Miss  Passmore) When we launched the consultation a year ago about changing the arrangements to Section 10 and we raised questions about looking at how long might a lay inspector be considered to be a lay inspector, it did, unsurprisingly, raise some concerns. We have moved on a great deal from that and in discussions with the Association of Lay Inspectors we have termly meetings to which representatives come. We have had separate, specific meetings to talk about the draft framework. We have provided some training specifically for these inspectors earlier this year, which was well received. At their conference on Saturday of last week one of my colleagues went to talk about the training for new lay inspectors because it is the one group of inspectors where we have had no new recruits in the last ten years and we do not think that can be right. We are looking to advertise very shortly for some new lay inspectors but we are including the existing lay inspectors in devising the training and bringing on stream some new lay inspectors in a very controlled manner. So there were some concerns. I hope that we have been sensitive to responding to them and we will continue to work with that Association as with other inspectors' associations.

  106. What about specific examples because schools now are required to provide less up-front paperwork? That means the inspectors have to do a lot more work and yet they are only being remunerated within the same financial basis as before.
  (Miss Passmore) Direct remuneration is a matter between the contractor and the inspectors. As far as paperwork is concerned, we now do require evidence to be collected on evidence forms which are different from the original ones. In total it should not amount to a great deal more and it is a rather better organised way of collecting evidence which may not have been collected quite so carefully in the past.

  Paul Holmes: But they say categorically it is more and also, for example, there are 40% more scoring categories than there used to be.


  107. Can we have a written response to that?
  (Miss Passmore) Yes.

Jonathan Shaw

  108. One of the new requirements under the Act, I understand, is that you are going to look at schools' ability to consult their pupils by setting up school councils. Is that going to be a problem for schools, do you think?

   (Mr Bell) As a requirement of the Act it is something we consulted on last year, building on the principle—

  109. I thought there was statutory guidance that schools had to consult.
  (Mr Bell) You are talking about what schools themselves do.

  110. Yes, and you inspect on that.
  (Mr Bell) It is an interesting issue. Do not forget, again back to the bit about the range of things covered within Ofsted, we do look at ways in which pupils are involved and engaged in schools. We do not have a specific requirement to report on school councils but in lots of ways we do report on the involvement and engagement of schools by pupils.

  111. My understanding was that you would have a duty to report on schools' ability to consult under statutory guidance. Certainly that is what the Minister said in his letter to me.
  (Mr Bell) Chairman, new tasks are being sent our way every day.


  112. As your inspectors go into schools, not just the bureaucracy that people think is associated with the Ofsted inspection but this whole red tape bureaucracy is a bit of a political football, as you know. What is your impression from your inspections about the level of bureaucracy and red tape? Is this an urban myth or a rural myth or is it a very real problem getting in the way of teachers teaching in the classrooms?
  (Mr Bell) We are just analysing all of the inspection data and that is something we will report on. If I might plead your indulgence and ask that I might not report on that until we have finished it. It is something we will comment on in the Annual Report.

  113. Can I say that this has been a very good session, as far as we are concerned, and a robust session, as ever. I hope you are going to have a glance through OECD Education Report of March 2002 and let us know what think. We also look forward to your Annual Report in February 2003 on standards and equality and we will be inviting interested parties to comment on it before you come back here to account to the Committee on 5 March 2003. We may also be seeing you before that in terms of our inquiry into secondary education.
  (Mr Bell) I am happy to do that, Chairman.

  114. When we meet informally, as we do on certain occasions, we will give you further information on the Committee's activities in New Zealand!
  (Mr Bell) Thank you very much.

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