Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



  Q40  Mr Chaytor: All I would say is, 15 years of Ofsted, 15 years of the National Curriculum, 15 years of national testing and the majority of people still do not understand how they can improve their work?

  Mr Bell: If I may supplement that, Chairman. It is not that children do not understand their work.

  Q41  Mr Chaytor: It is how they can improve their work. We are talking about school improvement?

  Mr Bell: That is exactly right, and, if you put it this way, assessing how well a child is doing is not merely about the tick beside the answer or the cross when it is wrong, it is about using that assessment information to help the youngster know what to do next. You are absolutely right, many youngsters will get that feedback and say, "Now what?" I think that is where the whole assessment for learning movement is terribly important to help teachers know how best to help pupils understand what they need to learn.

  Q42  Chairman: The Government PR machine suggests that the new generation of teachers that have come in in the last few years are of a much higher calibre. They should be better at this sort of thing. Are they?

  Mr Bell: The Government often uses that, quite properly, from our inspection evidence on teacher education, Chairman.

  Q43  Chairman: Indeed, it is an incestuous relationship.

  Mr Bell: Certainly not, Chairman. It is interesting. We would comment that more attention needs to be given in teacher education to precisely this point.

  Q44  Chairman: We are going to come on to teaching.

  Mr Bell: Okay, but I just make this comment. It is an interesting thread to pursue that it is one of the weaker elements of teacher education and becomes one of the weaker elements of teaching. I think there is an issue about the early professional development of teachers all the way from the training through.

  Q45  Mr Chaytor: This is really passing the buck back to the training institutions. Is there not an issue about the relationship between inspection and the process of improvement? This is still the position 15 years on.

  Mr Bell: Chairman, we have been very clear in this report, and this brings me to precisely the point that Mr Chaytor has made, not just on assessment but on other areas. We say at the end on the section on impact, "Some aspects of the education system have not improved as much as they might, despite all the money, effort and time spent on national strategies, school inspection and the like." I think what that leads you to, however, is how do you focus your attention better? I think there is one really important development on this as well. School self-evaluation, which we touched on in an earlier answer, is sharply focused now on the progress that pupils are making; it is absolutely central to how well a school is doing. You do not know how well pupils are progressing really unless you assess for learning, and I think it may be just one of those interesting by-products of the change in the inspection system that schools themselves will drill more and more into this issue, but I am absolutely not complacent. Where there are things that have not improved in the education system, inspection in one sense holds its hands up as well in not driving forward improvement in the same way.

  Chairman: We have to move on. We want to look now at the proposed single inspectorate for children and learners. Stephen is going to guide us through this.

  Q46  Stephen Williams: Yes, Chairman, but as a history graduate I want to briefly go back—where you did not let me in and I am not going to let it go—to a comment that Nadine made. One of my close friends is the head of history in a Bristol comprehensive school. There are no doubts on the curriculum in his school. Is it not the choice of heads of department what they teach at GSCE and A-level? In this particular school it is certainly Tudors and Stuarts rather than Hitler and Mussolini.

  Mr Bell: Absolutely. There is a high degree of flexibility but there is a lot of time that can be devoted to the European dictators; and I think that has been a generally accepted point that the balance, particularly in examination syllabus, can be too heavily weighted towards European dictators, but, you are right, nobody is forced to teach Hitler and Stalin endlessly, but there are a lot of incentives in the system to cover a lot.

  Q47  Stephen Williams: I have one final comment about history. As a Welshman who grew up in South Wales, we were taught more about the British Empire and the industrial revolution could not have happened without Welsh steel and Welsh coal, but it is not perhaps wise to say that to a Glaswegian.

  Mr Bell: Or Scottish brain-power!

  Chairman: I have to say, sometimes I would like to talk to my local people to really understand what Ned Lud was about. Luddite is used as a term of abuse. He came from Huddersfield and he was not just a destroyer of machinery. So the regions have a claim after all. Stephen, please move on.

  Q48  Stephen Williams: Moving on from Luddites, because I knew what you were talking about, in the Chairman's introductory questions he referred to the Chancellor's objectives of reducing the number of inspectorates down from 11 to four and implied it was effectively driven by economics rather than by education. You did not demur from that. If the Chancellor was not putting this through, would it be something you would have lobbied for?

  Mr Bell: I think it would not have been appropriate. I am not in a sense standing on my dignity on this one, but I do not think it would be appropriate for the Chief Inspector to lobby for the expansion of Ofsted. The Early Years expansion was not something that was lobbied for by the then Chief Inspector. It was a matter of government policy to bring that forward. So I would have lobbied for it, but now that it is there as a proposal, I am very strongly supportive of it, and I think that is an important distinction to draw.

  Q49  Stephen Williams: There are four organisations that are going to be merged together: your own and the Adult Learning Inspectorate, the Commission for Social Care Inspectorate also and part of the court series, CAFCASS, which has not been referred to so far. What is the combined budget for all of those four organisations?

  Mr Bell: The combined budgets . . . . I can do a quick bit of mental arithmetic in my head. Ofsted's budget is around £220 million this year, CSCI's budget related to their children's work is £28 million and ALI's budget is about £23 million. The element to do with the courts inspector, I think, is about half a million, so it is a very small percentage. Our best estimates are that we will be able to save between £7.1 and £9.7 million with this expansion of Ofsted's remit. That is between about 14 and 18% of the current running costs of the other inspectorates. It is really important to make the point that there are transition costs, we would estimate, of about somewhere between £9.5 and £11 million, but, because of those annual running cost savings, we believe the pay-back period is within two years; so the argument that somehow this will be paid off forever is just not true. I should make the point, Chairman—again I think it is important and proper that I make this point—the regulatory impact assessment which, as you know, the departments have to produce if they are making major policy changes, is the responsibility of the DfES, and will be their responsibility in coming to a final decision. The figures that I have given you are the figures that we have supplied to the Department, but we think they stack up, having done a pretty decent analysis of all the numbers.

  Q50  Chairman: Chief Inspector, you are not a financial man, are you? Can we bring in Vanessa Howlison? You are the one organisation that keeps coming to see us that does not say, "Look, we have not got enough money to run." Perhaps you have got too much money. Are there some problems here of managing this much bigger empire which is more complex. Is Vanessa confident from the financial point of view?

  Mr Bell: Can I just make one observation. It is not my job, and it is quite inappropriate for me to sit and whinge about how much we have got. Ofsted has what it has got and it delivers what it delivers on the basis of what it has got. That has always been our philosophy, and it will be our philosophy if this expansion is agreed upon.

  Ms Howlison: I have only been working for Ofsted for a couple of months, but the thing that has really struck me is that Ofsted has a real focus on financial issues as well as on delivery, and I think that is clear from the challenging efficiency programme it set itself, pulling out 20% of its budget—£42 million is a major undertaking—and it has also struck me that Ofsted really focused on finding mechanisms to deliver that rather than simply sitting back and saying, "We have got to save money." Therefore, in terms of Ofsted's ability to run a larger organisation from a financial perspective, I have absolutely no doubt.

  Q51  Stephen Williams: Coming back to the detail, you said, Chief Inspector, roughly £17 million in savings. Maybe Vanessa will want to take this up. Looking at the four figures you gave for the different budgets, they imply that the biggest scope of savings is within Ofsted's current structure?

  Mr Bell: Which is precisely the £42 million that we are making under the Gershon efficiency programme. It is a really important point to make. These are real savings that we have made. We have cut £15 million off the cost of inspection, and that has been important. The administered saving, the process changes that we have made are generating the same again, and we are making a whole range of other savings; so this is not about Ofsted, as it were, inheriting lots of money from elsewhere and in a sense being able to do whatever it wants. We have had to undertake our own efficiency reductions. To be fair to CSCI and ALI, they have also had to do that as part of the efficiency programme, but the Chancellor is arguing, and it seems to be an absolutely logical argument, if you are going to reduce the number of inspectorates you can make further savings because you will have fewer overhead costs, and inevitably that will be the case, and that is what we have been basing our analysis of the data on, that by having one organisation instead of four, to cite the four that you have described, there are savings that can be generated and we believe that those numbers stack up.

  Q52  Stephen Williams: In the private sector I have been through a merger in the past and it was a pretty miserable experience, I can tell you, from the staff's perspective. Is this a merger or is it a takeover: because the scale of your current organisation dwarfs the others, does it not?

  Mr Bell: The Government's consultation paper does talk very clearly about the expansion of Ofsted. It is very clear that the functions of children's social services will come from the two organisations to Ofsted and the consultation about the Adult Learning Inspectorate being abolished and its functions coming to Ofsted. This is, as the Government has laid out the programme, about the expansion of Ofsted. I think you might also say, given the size of the budgets, precisely the point that you have made, there is a degree of inevitability about that. If one of the organisations is £220 million and the other two of the three combined budgets are less than £50 million, there is something logical about that.

  Q53  Chairman: All the best brains are in the smaller organisation.

  Mr Bell: We might consider ourselves pretty small as well, Chairman. I think it is an important point, a serious point to make, however, that this is not about Ofsted saying, "There is no expertise for us to draw upon in these other organisations." The inspectors, the people who are doing the business for CSCI and ALI, will come over to Ofsted, they will work alongside colleagues in Ofsted, who already have a lot of that expertise but not in sufficient numbers to do the work in the expanded remit; so there is a sense in which, Chairman, we will draw together the best of the brains of the different organisations to deliver against that expanded menu.

  Q54  Chairman: We are not going to see a new Chief Inspector?

  Mr Bell: The Chief Inspector's life is finite, as you well know.

  Q55  Stephen Williams: To look at some of the concerns of your new partner organisations (if the consultation actually leads to that) in its consultation at the moment have raised, we had the Adult Learning Inspectorate in last week and they quite clearly had reservations. It did seem to me, though, that the nature of their work is quite different to Ofsted's at the moment. One of the things that was in the report they gave to us was their work with the welfare of soldiers at Deep Cut Barracks?

  Mr Bell: Yes.

  Q56  Stephen Williams: That is a world away from evaluating a history lesson in a Bristol school, is it not? Are there not quite different organisations with quite different remits?

  Mr Bell: I noticed the Chief Inspector's evidence, I read it very carefully, and I noted that point. I think it is an important point to make right away that we have been working very closely with the Adult Learning Inspectorate for the past four years in the inspection of colleges, which, of course, do include both 16-19-year-old students and adults. Together we often draw upon the same inspectors, the part-time inspectors. We have a common core of people that we draw upon. There are people within Ofsted that have experience of work-based learning as you describe. I just reiterate the point: nobody is suggesting that all of that expertise and all of that experience that the ALI has built up would be lost and we would not use it. Nobody is suggesting that at all. The very same people that carried out that work in work-based learning providers, including the MoD, would be folk who would come over and work for Ofsted. I would do that work with the people in Ofsted that already have that expertise. This is not in any sense about just getting rid of all that expertise that the ALI has, but, to be fair, I would not overstate that difference about the culture between the ALI and Ofsted, because we have been working really closely in the inspection of FE colleges and not once has it ever been put to us by either a college or the ALI that there is some incompatibility in cultures between the two organisations.

  Q57  Stephen Williams: Finally, the Commission for Social Care did an inspection as well and they have given us a report which we have only just had this morning, so I have only glanced at it while listening to your earlier answers—it is over 100 paragraphs long—but there seems to be a different ethos as well between the two organisations. One of the reports that they have given us is called "Sorting out inspection for the use of children and young people". I just picked out this particular entry, that they took some children out for a pizza evening in Newcastle, they took some others to a zoo in the Cotswold Wildlife Park, and they asked the children to fill in questionnaires about what they thought about their experiences. Correct me if I am wrong, I do not think Ofsted does anything like this with children in the classroom?

  Mr Bell: Chairman, I would be all for taking people out to pizza restaurants in Newcastle, particularly in Newcastle, it has to be said. We use young people already in inspection, or we have used them in the Connexion service inspections. We draw very heavily on what young people think in youth service inspections and we actually are debating at the moment the role of young people in the inspection of children's services. We do, as you know, draw upon the views of children and young people. In fact, the report that Mr Chaytor described earlier in looking at our effectiveness drew very heavily on interviews with young people. I think there is a case to be made there, particularly when you look at some of what the CSCI does. If you are inspecting children's homes, you need to understand what the children think about the quality of their experience. Absolutely right.

  Q58  Chairman: But it is not just that. The point that Stephen is making is the point that ALI made to us, that your role has always been going in, inspecting, making your report and walking away. ALI clearly said they stay on and try and help the college or the institution improve. That has never been your role, in fact you have defended not having that role, and Stephen is making the point with these children's services it is a much more, not just an inspectorate role but a supporting role as well. You do not do that that. That is not your expertise.

  Mr Bell: Chairman, on ALI's own website talking about this work it says the following: "The ALI maintains a clear separation between inspection and support activities, thus avoiding any conflict of interest. The improvement work of ALI cannot guarantee satisfactory grades at re-inspection, nor can it predict the grades a provider will achieve." Actually that would seem to me to be precisely the position that Ofsted takes, that inspection contributes to improvement by all the sorts of mechanisms I have described earlier, but the actual process of improvement is separate from inspection, and I continue to defend that line quite vigorously. We want the people who run institutions and organisations to be clear that the responsibility for driving improvement is theirs. If you mix up the role of the inspector with the management and leadership in an institution, actually you do not leave it clear about where responsibility lies. I think there is a danger of overstating the bit about what other inspectorates do as opposed to what Ofsted does. I think all the inspectorates recognise that they need to do more to help to contribute to improvement, but the notion that somehow Ofsted inspects, walks away, whereas all those other nice, cuddly inspectorates stay around and help institutions to improve day by day, it is just not the case.

  Q59  Chairman: It is easy to stereotype it by saying "nice, cuddly", but it is supportive, it is a different job, and it is a different role.

  Mr Bell: Support to an institution is a different role to inspecting an institution. I think the ALI's own data makes that point.

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