Select Committee on Education and Skills Second Special Report





Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools

Thank you for your letter of 12 February inviting me to comment on the Committee's report on the work of OFSTED. I shall deal with each of the report's recommendations in turn.

An external evaluation of OFSTED's methods

When I gave evidence to the Committee in December, I explained my view that OFSTED represents good value for money across all its areas of responsibility. Furthermore, in respect of the contracted out inspection of schools, I believe that the inspections are fair and accurate:

  • 98% of inspections and 95% of inspection reports meet OFSTED's required standard;

  • schools' returns on the school inspection survey indicate a very high level of satisfaction with the way the inspections are carried out and with inspection findings;

  • there is an increasing emphasis in schools on using parts of OFSTED's inspection methodology to support school improvement.

In addition, the introduction of the current inspection Framework in January 2000 has brought greater consistency of practice because it is much more explicit about many aspects of inspection practice than had previously been the case. While schools still do not relish the thought of an inspection, they are much more satisfied with conduct and outcome than in previous inspection frameworks. The new framework for inspection currently being prepared for September 2003 of course builds on this good practice. I am unsure, therefore, of the value or purpose of an external review given that we continue to review and modify the inspection arrangements using the views and ideas of organisations external to OFSTED.

Minimising pressure on teachers

I welcome the Committee's endorsement of my letter to schools asking them not to specially prepare material for an inspection. We have published guidance to inspectors about what can and should be asked for at the beginning of and during an inspection, and what should not be asked for. Understandably, teachers often want to impress inspection teams. The message must be that inspectors are more impressed by the quality of the practice seen than by specially prepared documentation, although some documentation is, of course, necessary as part of teachers' routine work.

Practising teachers as members of inspection teams

You will be pleased to learn that over 1000 headteachers are already qualified as inspectors and over 300 more are currently being trained. In addition, we are putting in place arrangements to train up to a further 2000 headteachers in time to take part in inspections from September 2003. This will be achieved by building on the training headteachers receive as part of the Headfirst initiative, which is being run in collaboration with the National College for School Leadership. The initiative trains headteachers in the use of inspection skills to improve their own schools.

We are also exploring ways to attract more serving teachers to join the programme of training to become team inspectors. Future recruitment drives by OFSTED will be aimed increasingly at serving teachers. We recognise the difficulties serving teachers and headteachers have in finding the time to take part in inspections and in minimising the disruption their absence creates for their schools. However, set against this are the potential benefits for the professional development of the teaching staff involved and, ultimately, for the releasing school in terms of the flow of new ideas and good practice.

Seeking the views of pupils

As you know, as part of our consultation on the new inspection framework, we asked for views on a proposal to pilot questionnaires for pupils aged 11 to 16 in secondary and special schools. We have consulted pupils on how they would wish to be involved in the inspection of their school and we have established a parents' and pupils' interests working group. It includes professionals from groups representing children's and young people's interests and from schools where there is good practice of seeking pupils' views.

Work has begun on developing a core set of questions to find out how pupils feel about their school, whether they are happy, how well they feel they are doing and how well they feel they are taught, cared for, supported and guided. These will form the basis of optional questionnaires. In addition we will be encouraging schools to provide evidence of their own evaluation of pupils' views and how they respond to them. I must emphasise that we will not be seeking pupils' views on individual teachers.

Seeking the views of LEAs

We welcome the Committee's support for the proposal that we should encourage schools to assemble views from their partners to feed into inspection. We regard the LEA as being among a school's partners. We will be working with schools to find ways in which views can be collected and how they will contribute to the evidence of inspection without imposing burdens. We have set up a school self­evaluation and school management working group which includes headteachers and LEA advisers and, in the first instance, we are seeking the advice of this group. The methodology of the new inspection arrangements, including seeking the views of the school's partners, will be trialled in inspections in prior to its launch in September 2003.

Analysis of bureaucracy in schools

As part of our joint work with the Department for Education and Skills on reducing bureaucracy, inspectors were asked from Autumn 2001 to report on the nature and extent of the bureaucratic demands on schools. This information will be retrieved and assessed formally after the first year of operation; in the meantime, we will be keeping an eye out for any emerging issues. Those issues will be fed into the continuing debate on how best to reduce the pressures on the teaching profession. Progress will continue to be reported to the Select Committee, including through the Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools.

Schools with serious weaknesses

We are discussing with the DfES the ways in which, together with LEAs, we can work to ensure that schools with serious weaknesses improve rather than deteriorate. There are some actions we plan to take that are dependent on the progress of the Education Bill currently before Parliament. We intend to visit after six months schools whose inspection report indicates they are of particular concern. The purpose of this visit will be to assess the capacity of the school and the LEA to implement the action plan. Further visits will be arranged as necessary. We shall prioritise visits to secondary schools and increase the number that HMI visit to assess their progress. We expect to agree the full range of changes shortly.

Regulation of child minders: monitoring compliance with the National Standards

OFSTED's Early Years Directorate will, of course, monitor compliance with all 14 of the DfES's National Standards for child minders. The Standards on health and on safety relate particularly to the Committee's concerns about children's exposure to tobacco smoke. Our inspectors will discuss with all child care providers how best they can comply with the requirements and we will observe health and safety practice to ensure the well­being of all the children for whom we are responsible.

In addition, we have issued guidance on compliance with the National Standard on behaviour management that makes it clear to all providers that children's behaviour should be managed in a way which promotes their welfare and development. The guidance offers suggestions for appropriate ways to deal with behaviour. We will publish a full report on compliance with this and all of the National Standards in due course and will provide relevant evidence to assist in DfES's proposed review of the Standards in 2003.

I hope this response clarifies OFSTED's position in respect of the matters of concern to the Committee. I look forward to discussing these issues further, along with the findings of my Annual Report when we meet on 13 March.


11 March 2002

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