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


Memorandum from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (NHMCI 08)

  1.  ATL would wish to put on record its appreciation of the real progress made by OFSTED recently. Our comments on future developments should therefore be taken in the context of a real belief that it will be possible for OFSTED to play a major part in the improvement of the education system in the future. There are therefore six areas where the committee might consider it worth questioning the newly appointed HMCI.


  2.  Given a situation in which much that goes on in schools is centrally driven, it remains important that schools are able to access information about good practice, particularly where such practice is not universal. In the past HMI had a very important role in disseminating good practice. It would be useful to establish where this area of activity stood in the HMCI's scale of priorities.


  3.  OFSTED performance in this area has been patchy. It would be unreasonable to expect that OFSTED could contribute a view on the 40-50 major initiatives currently running. But it is important that initiatives are not simply doomed to success.

  4.  We would look forward to seeing a pattern in which major initiatives were looked at but where HMCI was forthright in documenting design weaknesses where these had emerged. Within the current plethora of activity we would also be interested in where OHMCI's priorities lay and in the extent to which it might prove possible for OFSTED to offer the government an evidenced view about the education system's capacity to sustain further large-scale innovation.


  5.  OFSTED is to be commended for its continuing awareness of the unduly demanding nature of inspections and for its concern to minimise burdens. But more needs to be done to ensure that schools stop wasting time and effort in excessive pre-inspection paperwork. We would very much hope that the HMCI would seize the opportunities offered by the new Inspection Framework (currently out for consultation) and the revised Handbooks (due shortly) to ensure that schools do not undertake needless pre-inspection work of a kind which contributes little to the improvement of the school.


  6.  In raising the issue of value for money we do not intend to ask questions, for example, about the efficiency of the tendering process for letting inspections to contractors. The issue is a deeper one:

  7.  In a situation where a commendable proportion of institutions come out well, what justification is there for continuing with a system which inspects all schools? Is a blanket inspection system more than reasonably efficient?

  8.  As far as ATL is concerned, we would now wish to see an early investigation of alternatives. Such an investigation would involve costing the options not just in terms of inspection days and OFSTED's costs but also in terms of the opportunity costs represented by the excessive amount of pre-inspection preparation commonly undertaken by schools.


  9.  The decision to drop lesson grading was a wise and welcome one and should ensure a reduction in the complaints that go to the Adjudicator in future. Nevertheless the Adjudicator's most recent report has criticised delay and inconsistency in dealing with complaints and we would look for assurances of improved performance in this area for 2002-03.


  10.  The relatively new system of post-16 and post-19 inspection involves a considerable potential overlap between the two organisations. We consider that ALI has much to offer OFSTED in terms of working traditions in the non-statutory sector. We would like to see the new Chief Inspector capitalising on the opportunities involved.


  11.  There continue to be concerns about the demography of the school teacher workforce (the average age is dangerously high) and about the casualisation of the lecturing profession.

  12.  While acknowledging the role that TTA and GTC England play in issues of teacher supply, we also noted the high impact of Mike Tomlinson's warnings on this subject at the end of August 2001. We should like to see OFSTED drawing upon its evidence and indeed seeking more on the related topics of teacher deployment and career development. We feel that equal opportunities aspects could usefully have more emphasis.

  13.  In this context it should be said that one of the weaknesses of the present model is that it allows these issues to be looked at only on a discretionary basis. If a school is performing satisfactorily in terms of outcomes, it is unlikely that, for example, any equalities issues will be raised either during the inspection or in the report. Thus the school's responsibilities for overall career development are ignored in favour of a short termist concentration on acceptable pupil outcomes. In view of the issues of teacher supply, OFSTED's authority might encourage all Heads to take the long term view characterised by the best Heads at present. Pre-OFSTED HMI inspections looked at teacher qualifications and specialisms in a way which provided valuable evidence about the profile of the teacher workforce. Something similar now needs to be done in relation both to teachers and to assistants.

  14.  In conclusion it is our view that OFSTED will have much to offer both the public and the education system and we wish the new Chief Inspector every success.

Association of Teachers and Lecturers

April 2002


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