Select Committee on Education and Skills Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon (OFS 02)

  Below are three questions that should have been asked before Ofsted was allowed to operate. Alas, the standards needed for research are not seen as relevant to Ofsted. Morally and economically, however, even more stringent standards should apply to Ofsted because of the dire effects on the teaching profession and the huge financial cost.

  1.  Sampling: What studies have been undertaken to check that the size and representativeness of the sample is adequate? For example, how many lessons need to be observed before the ratings awarded settle down to a stable level? For how many days/hours/months does a team need to be in a school? What evidence has been sought to illustrate the effect of the Ofsted visit being pre-announced? (Would Health and Safety ever find cockroaches if they announced their visits? In education the staff would probably be less stressed if visits were not pre-announced. . . But we need evidence. . . )

  2.  Reliability: To what extent do different inspectors come to the same conclusions if working independently on the same topic? Ditto for teams of inspectors. (Schools certainly believe it matters who you get. Many inspectors have been fired. . . did the schools receive apologies for having been sent dud inspectors? What proportion of all inspectors have been fired?)

  3.  Validity (the sine qua non): How does Ofsted know that its conclusions are correct? How does it explain the fact that it defines a good school as one in which pupils make better than average progress and yet has called several such schools "failing"? How does OFSTED know that its assumptions about what makes a good lesson are applicable, relevant, accurate, valid? How valid? Predictive validity = 0.9 or 0.5 or 0.2 or zero?

  4.  Impact (not a research criterion but socially very important): What evidence has OFSTED for the effect on education of the entire system of inspection. . . How can they prove it has not made schools worse? And the crisis in teaching greater? (They can't. . . it's not entirely their fault but they should acknowledge the severe limitations on our knowledge of how to evaluate a school.)

Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon

November 2001

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