Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)

MR DAVID BELL, MRS MIRIAM ROSEN, MR ROBERT GREEN, MR MAURICE SMITH AND MS

9 NOVEMBER 2005

  Q60  Chairman: But you keep slipping away from children and the Early Years, and you are not letting Maurice say anything. This is a much more sensitive area.

  Mr Bell: Absolutely.

  Q61  Chairman: That is why this Committee is inquiring about it.

  Mr Bell: Chairman, if I might say, Maurice is leading our work in looking at CSCI so he is in the perfect position to comment on this one?

  Mr Smith: I think it is a very interesting point made about listening to children's voices and hearing what children say, and I think there are different methodologies for doing that. We have no history of taking children to the zoo or to the pizza house, but we do have a lengthy history, in my view, of listening to children's voices in schools or other institutions that we inspect and observing children, and I am sure in comprehensive school any inspection carried out by Ofsted you would see inspectors spending time in the classroom observing children and, indeed, tracking children and having meetings with groups of children. In the main that is how we extract children's voices. The second thing I would say is that I think the particular report you are referring to is from Roger Morgan, the Children's Rights Director. The Children's Rights Director has a particular role in relation to the Commission for Social Care and Inspection, and indeed it is an arm's length role from the Commission. The consultation document before the country at the moment is completely open-minded about the future place of the Children's Rights Director, but I think it would be important for us to comment that since the Children's Rights Director was established in law when CSCI was set up, of course we now have the Office of the Children's Commissioner, and so there is a debate going forward as to where the Children's Rights Director's role should sit in the new arrangements.

  Q62  Chairman: This Committee would ask you, with all this change, Chief Inspector, here is the Children's Commissioner, who we are going to meet in a few days time, and here he is having done some polling which shows that children still put bullying—endemic in schools, they say—and the need for security and safety in schools as their top priority. In a sense I admire the clear role of Ofsted that it has had traditionally, but it seems to me that the Commission for Social Care Inspection, its strapline is making social care better for people. That does not sound like an Ofsted type of thing to me. It is not criticising you for not doing it; it is saying there is a different role here.

  Mr Bell: Chairman, half a million children are now in schools that are better and that were previously in special measures as a result of Ofsted's work. That seems to me very much about making a difference to people's lives, and I think I would argue very strongly that where inspection works well it does bring about opportunities, whether it is a good quality children's home that has helped the young person flourish, whether it is the care of the local authority through to a really dynamic course in a further education college—I think we are all interested in that business—and the voices of children, as Maurice says, are terribly important. Chairman, can I just say, for the avoidance of doubt and for the record, as it were, we considered this issue of the Children's Rights Director in our submission back to the DfES. We think, on balance, it probably would make sense for that to go to the Office of the Children's Commissioner. However, I think I am right in saying, CSCI are saying that they think it should come to Ofsted. I have spoken to David Behan about that. We both think this is a finally balanced argument. In one sense it does not matter. What does matter is how you best get to the voices of children when you are inspecting settings: colleges, schools, children's homes and so on.

  Stephen Williams: Before we move on, I mention merger is going to be a painful experience, and takeovers are even more painful. You mentioned perhaps to Jeff's flippant question that you did not see any need to rename yourself. Often, though, that is a clear signal. If you are a new organisation you do need a new brand and a new name. I would not say Ofsted is a particularly well loved brand, is it?

  Chairman: Is that a question?

  Q63  Stephen Williams: Does he feel that there is a possibility for a new brand?

  Mr Bell: Ofsted is a well-known brand—it may not be a loved brand, but it is a well respected brand—and I do think it is very important, at a time when we want to provide good information to parents and to users and to employers, that we have a brand that is there. I think in one sense it can be a bit of a sideshow, but we do think it is quite important that that brand stays even though the remit of the new inspectorate would expand.

  Q64  Mr Marsden: Briefly back on the concerns about the absorption of ALI: the range of responses that we have seen on this Committee from an organisation that is as diverse as NIACE, the Open University, the Association of Colleges and the Institute of Directors, all have severe doubts about the absorption of ALI into a larger Ofsted, and I think that relates to the issues. It is taken as a given that the personnel by and large will transfer, but the big ethos of that personnel will transfer as well, and I want to pick you up on the point that you have just made very strongly about the separation between inspection and advisory function which is included in your evidence to the DfES. Surely one of the key ways in which ALI have been successful is that they have been able to establish, as David Sherlock said to us, Chinese walls within the organisation to keep those functions separate but that having them within the same organisation would give added value. Do you not see that might be a benefit in the future?

  Mr Bell: We remain of the view that it is better to have those functions, the improvement functions, outside the organisation, the inspectorate, and in some ways it perhaps is a matter of opinion. David Sherlock takes the view that he can keep that within his own organisation; I believe that it is better elsewhere. The quality improvement world is rather crowded in further education, and I would be surprised if Sir Andrew Foster comments on this. There are lot of folk out there, there is also an issue, and I would not in any sense cast aspersions on what the ALI does, but I think, despite your best efforts, as it were, to have a support function and despite what I quoted from being very clear about that separation, personally I just feel more comfortable that a quality improvement function is delivered from elsewhere and is not part of the inspectorate's work. I think that leaves no room then for misunderstanding.

  Q65  Mr Marsden: Can we move then from comfort and subjectivity to hard finances? The fact of the matter is that at the moment ALI have a lot of contracts with business which are not directly related to the core inspection process. ALI have said to us, indeed directors have said in their submissions, that they think most of that work would go elsewhere. Are you not missing a trick?

  Mr Bell: The work might go elsewhere, but, Chairman, I should say quite strongly I do not think the ALI should have, and does not have, and would not want to have a monopoly. There are plenty of other providers out there, both state and private providers, providing quality issues. I do not think it would be a loss. I think there is quite a thriving market, and the ALI obviously have argued too that there would also be a possibility of that function being separate from the inspectorial function and then perhaps being offered directly, and that would be a matter for the Government to decide.

  Q66  Mr Marsden: Let me bring you back to the absolute core function, which is inspection. The Association of Colleges have said that they have particular concerns about the suggestion that Nord Anglia would be contracted out to deliver inspections, and they want to be reassured about their ability to deliver a proper inspection of adult work-based learning. What guarantees can you give this Committee that if that contracting out takes place the standard of inspection of adult learning will remain constant?

  Mr Bell: I will give you the absolute guarantee that I gave in relation to further education colleges, that we would have members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, or, as is the case with an Adult Learning Inspectorate, leading inspections, but Nord Anglia, who are our provider of support services, including the provision of inspectors, would help to supplement the teams.

  Q67  Mr Marsden: So you will be in the driving seat?

  Mr Bell: We are in the driving seat. In relation to Nord Anglia we do not contract out, in that sense, the inspection of colleges, we use Nord Anglia to help us provide inspectors on inspections that we lead, and that is the principle. I think I need to say the Association of Colleges have not quite represented the current position as accurately as they might. Ofsted leads that programme. In law Ofsted leads that programme.

  Chairman: As long as we have that assurance. We now must move on. Rob is going to lead us on new school inspections.

  Q68  Mr Wilson: You mentioned in your earlier comments that you first started the new school inspection systems in September. I think you said you had inspected about 900?

  Mr Bell: By half-term, yes.

  Q69  Mr Wilson: So you should have a reasonable body of evidence that you are building up. I think in your opening comments you suggested that feedback from teachers has been very positive so far?

  Mr Bell: Broadly positive, yes.

  Q70 Mr Wilson: I am not going to focus too much on that. What I would like to look at is the possible problems that may come out of the new system. We have had some submissions from a number organisations about these possible problems, one of which was from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers who are concerned that head teachers now, with these short notice inspections which you are going to do which were intended to reduce the burden of inspection on teachers, might be in a state of constant over-preparedness which will lead to imposing an "onerous lesson observation regime and extra work loads". Are you going to give some guidance to schools on good practice for preparing for these inspections?

  Mr Bell: You will not, I am sure, have an ounce of sympathy if I say we are damned if we do, we are damned if we do not, because people argue very strongly the old system of school inspection putting enormous pressure on teachers with a huge lead-in time, and we responded very much to that by short notice, and I think generally that has been welcomed. What the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) has highlighted is not something that is in a sense in our direct gift. We cannot force head teachers to do more or less of something. However, we can encourage head teachers not to create the industry of self-evaluation that I touched on in my response to Mr Marsden earlier. We want to do that because we know that school self-evaluation in lots of schools is done in a very light-touch way—it is not too paper based, but it is done properly—and I think it is also important to make the point that head teachers should be observing their teachers work. That is part of the business of a head teaching, assuring themselves of the quality of what is going on in the classroom. I would not be advocating that head teachers spend every hour of the day in every classroom in the school. Nobody would argue that. I think this is about head teachers being sensible and sensitive, and I have to say, we have given a lot of encouragement to head teachers to be sensitive to the system if school self-evaluation is set up and not to make it over-burdensome.

  Q71  Mr Wilson: You are right. You are damned if you do, you are damned if you do not. That leads me on to the next group of submissions we had, which were about the brevity of the new inspections. Again we have the Association of Lay Inspectors who said that, "The broad range and middle range of schools tends to be too difficult to assess thoroughly in the time available." We also had a submission from the Rural Society of Chemistry who is worried about the year-on-year ability to compare the standards of work. What measures are you taking to reassure all these organisations?

  Mr Bell: I was always very clear when we brought forward these new arrangements that there were some trade-offs. If you wanted a sharper, shorter focus on what I would describe as the central nervous system of the school, you would not necessarily get the subject-by-subject report for every school you go to; so there is a trade-off there. In relation to the subjects—like chemistry, history, science, and so on—we are moving from reporting in a very detailed way annually to reporting on a state-of-the-nation basis once every three years. We think that makes sense, because often trying to track movement from year to year is not always straightforward, whereas a slightly longer period of time allows us to do that. Therefore, members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate will carry out a programme of subject-related visits—for example, chemistry, sciences—we will look in a number of schools across the country at what is going on and then a rolling cycle inspection will comment on the state of chemistry or the state of history or geography, or whatever. I think we will continue to do that, but it will be different to what happened under the old system.

  Q72  Mr Wilson: Those middle range performers; do you think you are giving them a fair assessment, a thorough assessment?

  Mr Bell: Chairman, I think it has been rather interesting, and we will probably say more about this as more evidence is generated from the inspectorate, I think we are really getting to the heart of what is going on in some schools. It is interesting that we are able to use the evidence that the school generates itself through self-evaluation, and that is why it is a very powerful argument. The idea that somehow this is going to be easier or simpler or there will not be a rigorous inspection is just not true. What is beginning to emerge is some schools that I think are complacent and caustic, but we are really getting at this in these new school inspection arrangements, and that was always one of our ambitions that a school that appeared to be doing quite well but actually was just drifting along we are able to identify I think much more clearly now.

  Q73  Mr Wilson: Moving on, Chairman, another possible problem area that has been highlighted to us in the new inspection system is the letters that are being sent home to pupils as summarising inspector's findings. Some of the letters sent out perhaps were not quite appropriate. I wonder what you are doing to monitor them?

  Mr Bell: I think that takes us all the way back to the questions about children's voices. In the report that Mr Chaytor cited one of the criticisms made by students was that they did not always know what the outcomes of the inspections were. One student was memorably quoted as saying, "We knew the inspectors were coming because there were flowers in the toilet, but we did not know what the outcome of the inspection was", hence the letters. Those letters can be difficult to write. If a school is identified as requiring special measures, that is a hard letter to write, but is it not right that in some schools where the behaviour of students and pupils is seriously impacting on the learning of others that we write a letter to the students saying, "You are going to have to behave better"? "If this school is going to do better you have to behave better."

  Q74  Mr Wilson: Can I give you an example of something that might be considered inappropriate. I am not saying whether I consider it appropriate or not. It has been given to us by the ATL, and I quote from the letter: "We do not think your teachers set you challenging enough work and when this happens you do not learn as much you could." Do you think that is appropriate to send?

  Mr Bell: Absolutely, yes. What is the point of doing school inspection if you do not say the work that is set for these youngsters is not good enough? We have to say the truth. You can bet, I am sure, Mr Wilson, that even if we did not say it the students are saying it and the students are thinking it, so I think it is really important about capturing the voices of students in our inspection and feeding back to them what it is that we have found.

  Chairman: We are briefly going to look at the SEN, because we have a couple of other sections to get through, but you will be coming back during our inquiry on special education, so if you would put that into context.

  Q75  Jeff Ennis: David, Ofsted has stated that inclusion of children with SEN is "a significant challenge for many schools". At the same time Ofsted's statistics show that only 2% of primary level SEN provision and 9% of secondary provision is considered "unsatisfactory". Is this a significant challenge that is being dealt with successfully by schools, or are there many that are struggling to cope?

  Mr Bell: Are you happy if I ask Miriam to begin the answer?

  Q76  Chairman: We would be delighted.

  Mrs Rosen: If you look at the annual report you will that see that special schools by and large are doing well, and, indeed, in mainstream we have seen some encouraging progress in the way that special educational needs children are dealt with. Nevertheless, we do think that there are further improvements that can be made. We have identified barriers to the further progress of the children. For example, the outreach support which is given by special schools to mainstream schools, although it is good in some cases, is not always well enough organised. We have also seen that in some schools, in both special schools and mainstream schools, there is quite an emphasis on the paperwork needed to decide whether the children need statements or not, and this can distract attention from giving the right provision and making sure that pupils make sufficient progress. Over the system as a whole, we have not got excellent measures for working out exactly how well children are achieving and we need and the Department needs to be working on that so that we can measure whether children actually are achieving their potential and whether the provision is giving value for money; and we think that this should be a focus in the future. If we know exactly how well children are doing, then we are in a better position to know whether we are giving them exactly the right provision.

  Q77  Jeff Ennis: It appears that SEN provision is much more successfully provided in the primary sector than the secondary sector at the present time. Are there any transferable lessons that secondary schools can learn from primary schools, for example?

  Mrs Rosen: If you look at the schools where it is going well, they always have the provision of good leadership, good curricula provision that is well integrated across the whole piece, good teaching, skilled teachers and attention to the needs of the child. It could be that in primary schools, where the children are dealt with by fewer teachers, there is greater knowledge of the individual child, and so that is being dealt with better.

  Q78  Jeff Ennis: So it is the setting really that is giving the difference in percentages?

  Mrs Rosen: We are not sure of the impact of the setting at the moment. One of the things we are doing is a survey, which is being carried out now, which is looking at children in different settings but with similar starting points, and we are trying to trace how well they achieve so that we can say something a little bit more definitive about exactly what it is which will contribute to good outcomes, because we do not believe it is just setting. Setting is also impacted on by the quality of the leadership of that particular institution.

  Q79  Jeff Ennis: Looking at teacher preparedness, a recent Times survey has shown that over a third of teachers have received no preparation during their initial teacher training courses and 23% said they had done no more than one day's training; 12% of heads and 36% of teachers said their school had adequate resources to include children with special needs and over half of secondary school teachers said they taught at least one pupil who would be better off in a special school. Given that bleak background, shall we say, what are the measures and techniques that schools need to adopt to have a successful transition and inclusion policy?

  Mr Bell: I think one of the successful characteristics of schools that do well with pupils with special educational needs is intelligent use of a range of support staff, so as well as teaching staff and doing what they are doing, actually using other adults to support what the children actually do. That goes all the way from a child that may have moderate learning difficulties to a child that has got physical disabilities where you have para-professionals in the school to help that child access the curriculum. I cannot help, however, coming back to Miriam's point about the leadership, in a sense the really strong sense of purpose that head teachers have when they believe that including as many young people as possible is the right thing to do, and it often comes across as a moral purpose when you talk to those heads. That is not to say other heads do not have that, but some schools do have a greater sense of wanting to be as inclusive as possible. Moving back to what we have said in other contexts, some schools can say, "We do not have enough money. We cannot do it." Other schools might say, "We have got what we got. We think these children should be educated in a local school." I was at a primary school in Southport recently with a local MP looking at a school where there was a huge range of children, almost every conceivable need, but, my goodness, you heard this head teacher talk about how important it was, not just for those children but for the rest of the school community, that these children had a good opportunity to learn alongside their peers.


 
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