Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. There was a piece of research published last week which looked at the literacy and numeracy tests, and argued that one reason why they had increased so much was because teachers at that level were spending so much time now teaching to the test and they were teaching pupils to hit the right targets, but it might look at some superficial improvements in ability, in, say, reading skills, and that when you tested them in other ways that great improvement was not there. And that was what I was driving at with the short inspections and school inspections; is it that teachers, whether it is in teaching to Key Stage tests, or whether performing for OFSTED inspectors, have learned now which buttons to hit to satisfy people, but is that actually a fundamental change in the way they are doing their job?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think, when the framework was created, the focus, or two, both sides of the framework, were the quality of teaching and the quality of leadership, and I do not think anyone would argue that those are two of the key factors in having high quality education. If what we have done is, through the framework, through the training, through inspection, focused attention on those two key issues and raised the performance of teachers in those two key issues then I regard that as a very positive achievement; and if that is said to be simply jumping through hoops, which I do not like as a phrase, no, we have got more good teaching. If, as I believe, inspection has contributed to that, it has not itself delivered that improvement, our teachers have done that; but if it has contributed to their delivery of higher quality teaching then I am very pleased indeed that that has been one of the effects, because the higher the quality of teaching then we know the close relationship that has with achievement, with expectations, and the like. And we want that high quality teaching, not least in some of the schools that serve the most challenging circumstances possible, where, in truth, satisfactory is not good enough for those children.

  41. Just one more specific point. You said, looking at an answer about satisfactory, and good standards, and so forth, I wonder if you could clarify for me; at our last inspection, the lead inspector came in before the inspection and said, `if you're doing okay, you're doing your job satisfactorily, that's fine, you're doing what you're paid for;' when he came back to review the findings, he was scathing about the ones that were satisfactory and he said `that's not good enough, you've got to have good, and very good, and excellent.' What is your view about the satisfactory level, is that substandard, or is it indeed satisfactory?
  (Mr Tomlinson) It is satisfactory, it is precisely that, it is acceptable. I cannot answer your question, I would like to know what it was that was not satisfactory. But if, for example, the views of the inspectors were that those children, given their abilities, could have been challenged more, could have achieved more highly, then I think then you could argue that what was happening to them, your satisfactory, was not enabling them to reach their highest potential. But I do not know what the context is, it would be impossible to deal with an individual question.
  (Miss Passmore) I think the first challenge is to make sure that the provision that you make is at least satisfactory, because it is certainly far from acceptable to have teaching that is unsatisfactory, poor, or very poor; so that is the first thing you need to look for. And then, as Mike has said, you look and see whether what that level of satisfactoriness is doing in terms of provision for the youngsters in the school, and if they ought to be achieving much higher levels than they are, because of your conversations with them, you are looking at the work, you know what children of that age ought to be doing, then you would be saying, `okay, it's satisfactory, but you should be doing a lot more than this to help the children further.'

  Chairman: I am going to move on to Mark Simmonds now, please.

Mr Simmonds

  42. I am very interested to hear, Mr Tomlinson, your view of the perception that schools have of the OFSTED process, because that is certainly not what teachers in my constituency say to me, and there seems to be a direct contradiction there. The question I would like to ask you is, one of the issues, I feel, with the OFSTED inspection process, is the enormous amount of preparation time that teachers actually get involved with, waiting for the inspection to arrive, and I wondered whether there was a way of cutting through that, by giving shorter notice periods, when you are actually going to inspect a school, or indeed turning up without notice?
  (Mr Tomlinson) We cannot turn up without notice easily, because the Act which controls the inspection process requires us prior to the inspection to consult with the relevant authority, which is the governing body, so once you have started that process the school must know. But, that apart, we have cut down the notice of inspection to between six and ten working weeks, which is, in a sense, quite a reduction from what previously could have been 12 to 15 months, so we have cut that down. In terms of preparation, the list of documents we require of a school prior to an inspection are stated quite clearly in the framework, and I would say there is not one of those documents that a good school, operating effectively, would not be able to pull straight off the shelf. I do know that some headteachers have required their staff to undertake additional work in preparation for an inspection, and last September I wrote to all headteachers, saying to them quite clearly that there were three things that I did not wish them to ask of their staff prior to an inspection. One, I did not want them to revise their schemes of work in preparation for the inspectors; I did not want them to rewrite and revise all their policies; and I did not want them to demand additional lesson preparation beyond that which the school already operated. And I made it quite clear that that was not what I wanted, and it was not a requirement of OFSTED. If I can do anything more to cut through the demands that are sometimes made, in the name of OFSTED, rather than directly an OFSTED request, and that is the difference, then I will do it, but I have been very clear with all headteachers, in a letter in September, that I did not want those sorts of tasks given to teachers as part of the preparation for an OFSTED inspection.

Mr Pollard

  43. Chairman, can we ask for a copy of that letter?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Certainly, we will supply that.[1]

Mr Shaw

  44. Mr Tomlinson, you are off in April; are you going to be writing in The Daily Telegraph?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No.

  Mr Shaw: There has been a different tone since you took over as Chief Inspector.

  Mr Pollard: A very welcome one.

Mr Shaw

  45. And reading the papers that have been submitted to us, and some of the things that you have been talking about, I wonder, in the future, do you see inspection having more of a role, in the way that the HMI did some ten years ago? For example, it is one of the complaints of schools that the inspection team come in and they do not actually provide any advice about future plans, etc., `if we're in a scrape, how do we get out of this,' the inspection team just says, `you're in a scrape.' Now two of the submissions, I think, from the National Association of Education Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants, say, `that's what should be happening;' and then the Association of Inspection Providers say, `we should keep to the point, we should just be inspecting and not actually taking in other aspects.' Where do you see it going?
  (Mr Tomlinson) First of all, in terms of the inspection itself, we have a clear duty under the Act of Parliament to inspect and report upon the performance of the school, identifying both the strengths and, if any, its weaknesses. But what I would hope that we are moving to, have moved to, we will move further down, is I want to have, as part of that inspection, as much dialogue and feedback between inspectors and teachers, inspectors and managers, as can be fitted in. There is a degree of that, and that dialogue is not just a matter of saying, `well this was good, that was not so good,' in analysing why, and I do know that, on occasions, and nothing to be gained, inspectors will say, `and, by the way, there is an example of good practice here,' or there. I also believe OFSTED has a duty to make known, in any way and every way possible, examples of good practice to aid other people looking for solutions, and we do have a website that already has schools that are willing to talk to others about their good practice, in particular aspects of their work.

  46. You inspect local education authorities now, as part of the School Standards and Framework Act.
  (Mr Tomlinson) We do.

  47. And you ask schools to comment on the performance of the LEA; but you do not go to the LEA and ask them about schools. I wonder if that is something that you envisage happening. If you are talking about all these stakeholders, providing the best possible advice and having the clearest picture of a school's performance, then if you think about the amount of data that is collected and the support that is provided by the LEA, perhaps it ought to be two-way traffic as well, and we are talking about involving the children, the young people at the school, the LEA have a major role to play; what about them having a role?
  (Mr Tomlinson) The inspection of LEAs does look at and focus upon their support for schools.

  48. No, but when you inspect schools, why not speak to the LEA as to their perspective on the school, and all the data that they provide?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I am sorry, I misunderstood your question.

  49. To be a two-way traffic, that is what I am saying?
  (Mr Tomlinson) My answer to you is that that is one of the issues we have been consulting on, on the new arrangements, which is one of the questions about obtaining information from what we have described as the partners with the school, which will include the local education authority, could include local employers, and other community groups, and the like, and we have opened up that debate about obtaining information because we want the fullest information possible about the school, in order to come to what we regard as the most informed decisions.

  50. So, to summarise, in the future there will be more people involved in having a view on the school and its progress, and that inspection will include a pathway forward to reconcile any particular weaknesses, etc. Because that is a very different tone from when OFSTED started out, and I think the point that my colleague was talking about, as to how that atmosphere was created, came about because it was not about how we get out of it, it is just `you are all rubbish and off we go,' and that is how it left people feeling afterwards, and so that is why people felt that fear at the possible arrival of OFSTED?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not at all argue with your analysis. What I am now saying is that we are consulting on this. I do not know what the outcomes of that consultation are, but if they are positive then that means that we will move forward in the way that you describe. But, as far as the report is concerned, the report will point out those areas which the school needs to tackle. I think what we have got to reconcile is the increasing autonomy of schools to decide where they turn to for advice and support to take their agenda forward; and what I am keen to make sure is that that remains the decision of the school, the headteacher, the senior managers, the governors of the school, that they can make that decision, and I think they must make that because that is the only place it can be made. And many will turn to the local authority, others will turn to external sources of help and support. I do not think we should dictate, I am always dubious about telling them exactly how to solve their problem, because I do not find that there is a single solution to a particular issue.

  51. You have expressed concern about the number of schools in serious weakness that then fall into special measures. I understand that serious weakness was not actually a definite category until about two or three years ago; can you just say yes or no?
  (Miss Passmore) Yes; it was introduced subsequent to the original Act.

  52. Right; so it was not specific criteria, and therefore the only way that perhaps a school could get out of serious weaknesses was not until its next inspection, is that correct?
  (Miss Passmore) A school that is now formally designated as having serious weaknesses at the time of its inspection, then there are various follow-up mechanisms, but—

  53. But it used not to be the case, did it?
  (Miss Passmore) There has always been work done with schools that were not formally designated, but when we, the HMI, working within OFSTED, checked reports, if when we read a report there was some concern, then we would arrange to visit that school, and we would say that we were of the opinion it had serious weaknesses. So there has always been some follow-up mechanism. But a school, if it is designated as serious weaknesses, when it thinks it has dealt with those weaknesses, it can request an inspection to have that designation removed, provided, obviously, the necessary improvements have been made.

Mr Baron

  54. Mr Tomlinson, whilst accepting that good schools should have nothing to fear from an OFSTED inspection, that has certainly been my experience in the constituency, what I am concerned about is what appears to be a two-tier level of recovery for those schools that have not done so well in an OFSTED inspection, and the lack of follow-up, in many respects. You commented yourself, and my colleague referred to it, earlier, that slow progress made by schools with serious weakness compared with those that are put into special measures. What are you going to do in order to improve the current inspection and follow-up arrangements; now I take your point about schools being autonomous, but schools that have not performed so well, particularly with serious weaknesses, do probably need some help?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I will also bring in my colleague, Elizabeth. The first thing is that the agreement about the LEA role and the circular that accompanies that places responsibility first on dealing with schools with serious weaknesses with the local education authority, as the main source of follow-up and action; and therefore we would come in alongside them, but not in place of them, because they do have a role. But we are seriously looking at that arrangement, as is the Department for Education and Skills wanting to talk to us about arrangements for the way that we deal with those schools. But, Elizabeth, can you comment.
  (Miss Passmore) We are in negotiations at the moment as to what we might do. We know that, for schools designated as special measures, the very crucial time that there is after the designation and in the first six months and that things need to happen then, there is a window of opportunity for bringing about changes. The current position with schools with serious weaknesses is that HMI only follow up a sample, because, as Mike has said, the first responsibility is with the local authority. But we have had some discussions with some of the local authorities about how big that sample should be and whether it should be an expectation of schools that they will be seen by HMI, and the extent to which we should visit quite early, if that were to be the decision that is made, because having that early visit and early check and early extra discussion is what seems to have made a very significant difference with a lot of other schools.

  55. What you have been suggesting is that this is an area of concern, that more needs to be done; because, I think, as one or two of you have said yourselves, a significant proportion, a high proportion, of those deemed to be in serious weakness fall into special needs eventually, over a 12-18 month period. Do you think you are doing enough though? Can I just prise you out a little bit more; you are saying you want to be more proactive, but how are you going to go about this?
  (Miss Passmore) One of the suggestions which found favour with some of the local authorities was that, in fact, we would mirror the initial arrangements for schools that have special measures; so we ask for an action plan from the local authority about what it is going to do for the school, that now does happen for schools with serious weaknesses, but we do not at the moment always follow that up six months later. And we think that if we did follow it up six months later, and there was an expectation there that things would have changed in these schools with serious weaknesses as well as special measures, then that might just be the significant difference that we could make. If you do not go back for 18 months and things have not been getting better then it is getting a bit late, and we want to see things improving for the children very quickly, rather than then having to take extra remedial action a year or so later.

  56. So what you are saying is you are going to give this greater attention, and next time we meet you will have perhaps more concrete proposals?
  (Miss Passmore) We will tell you exactly what they are.


  57. But, Chief Inspector, we had the impression, when you first came in to your new role, that you were going to be much more of a new broom, you articulated that you were going to change things pretty fundamentally, and we are getting the impression, in the Committee, that perhaps you have been sat on by the Department; and do you feel squashed, in that way?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Absolutely not, absolutely not; neither sat on, nor pushed.

  58. But you did say that you were going to make more fundamental change in the inspection system, and you have tinkered around at the edges?
  (Mr Tomlinson) No, I think that is unfair. We have put out a set of proposals that do represent quite considerable change to the present model; and assuming the responses to those proposals are positive then we will want to move forward on a number of fronts. Not least, of course, is the fact that what we are proposing is that the agenda for inspection includes at least one item contributed by the school, the school is part of setting that inspection agenda, which is a considerable move away from the top-down imposition of the agenda and saying, `this is it; hard luck.' That is quite a significant shift.

  59. Is that the most significant change?
  (Mr Tomlinson) It is one of them. I think the other thing is the wider involvement of the community and its views and information about the school. I think also that, in terms of the pupil dimension, that is new. We have a system which is working reasonably well, it can always be improved, and I believe what we are doing will improve the system, and we will have to wait and see whether the teachers and others responding to the consultation support the view that some of those changes will be welcome and will improve what happens. In terms of my taking up the appointment, my approach, my fundamental approach has been to say that inspection has got to be something which is done in partnership and with the school, not simply the school being a passive victim of the process, it has got to be a process which commands the respect and credibility of the school, such that they believe that it is a document and a process which they can then use in their own efforts to improve. I have to say that, in going round the country and talking with large numbers of headteachers, teachers, and the like, I think that some of that change is beginning to happen, in the way in which things are conducted.

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