Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by Ofsted

  In the Education and Skills Select Committee on "The Work of Ofsted", David Chaytor MP asked Ofsted about the progress achieved on the 18 issues for consideration raised by the joint report between Ofsted and the Institute of Education, The Impact of Inspection. [2]Please find below a summary of the progress achieved to date on each one.

  1.  Ofsted and the Government need to consider the implications of an apparent tension between the purposes of inspection, established in statute and the Inspection Principles described by the Office for Public Service Reform, with particular reference to responsibility for the improvement of service providers (Chapter 1).


    Her Majesty's Chief Inspector (HMCI) remains of the view that during the process, the task of inspection should be kept separate from the task of improvement. However, the report on the impact of inspection states that there is a probable link between inspection and improvement in schools, and that frequency of follow-up is an important ingredient in securing improvement. The change from a six year cycle for the inspection of all schools in England to a three year cycle will therefore strengthen school improvement between inspections. Also, the intensity of scrutiny by Ofsted of schools that are judged to be inadequate will ensure that improvement is driven forward where it is most needed.

    In addition, Ofsted remains committed to evaluating the impact of inspection and the part that it plays in early years, school and college improvement.

    Ofsted is evaluating the impact of the new Section 5 school inspections by drawing upon a range of evidence:

    —  the views of head teachers and other school staff of the quality of the inspection process and of its helpfulness in setting an agenda for improvement, both at whole-school level and through feedback to individual teachers;

    —  scrutiny of reports and data from successive inspections to monitor the progress from one inspection to the next of schools nationally and of sampled case study schools;

    —  detailed information about the progress of schools causing concern from HMI monitoring letters. In schools made subject to a Notice to Improve rather than to special measures, an inspection judgement has been made that the leaders and managers have the capacity to bring about improvement. Such schools will be re-inspected after a year so that it will become apparent how many have improved significantly in the wake of their inspections and in relation to the issues identified;

    —  the progress made by successful schools in maintaining high standards and the effectiveness of inspection in identifying those aspects of their provision which are capable of improvement;

    —  the quality of written reports and of the agenda for improvement which they provide for schools; and

    —  the developing quality of schools' self-evaluation as it is reflected in the self-evaluation form and in the inspection judgements made on this aspect of leadership and management.

    In addition, Ofsted is canvassing the views of head teachers about the costs and burdens of Section 5 inspections in comparison with those associated with the Section 10 arrangements. Work is under way to elicit the views of parents, pupils and governors about the effects of Section 5 inspections in a sample of schools.

  2.  Ofsted should consider what more could be done to integrate inspections with other inspectorial visits in order to follow up the findings of inspection within the resources available and promote improvement through inspection more strongly (Chapter 2).


    The proposals to extend the work of Ofsted to include some of the work currently undertaken by the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Adult Learning Inspectorate will provide a more integrated approach to inspection.

    Also, substantial progress has been achieved through the development of Joint Area Reviews of Children's Services. These have integrated what were previously local education authority (LEA) inspections, children's services inspections, healthcare commission inspections of children's services and youth service inspections. The combination of inspection reporting and the work of the Children's Services Improvement Advisors is designed to promote improvement. In school inspections, guidance to inspectors emphasises the importance of feedback to teachers and through that contributes to their professional development.

  3.  Self-evaluation or assessment is a necessary part of the development planning and quality improvement of providers, not an end in itself. It can contribute usefully to planning an inspection and can act as an indicator of management competence. Too great a reliance on self-evaluation findings, however, can render inspection unreliable. For these reasons, therefore, inspection should continue to promote and provide training in self-evaluation and judge its quality, but not use validated self evaluation as a proxy for inspectors' judgements (Chapter 4).


    In March 2005 the DfES and Ofsted published guidance for schools[3] on the link between self evaluation and school improvement. This guidance also referred to how schools could use the self-evaluation form for their development and for the inspection process. The self-evaluation form is now in use by schools. There has been an increase in the proportion of schools that provide good or better self-evaluation and a decrease in those that are unsatisfactory in recent years.

    The new section 5 inspections for schools take account of the self-evaluation but also draw on inspectors' judgements on a range of areas to provide the final view of the quality of education for each school. Please refer to the note on paragraph 7 for comments on the integral role of objective performance data within the inspection process.

  4.  More should be done to inform users, particularly learners, about inspection findings. Ofsted should consider whether and how appropriate summaries of inspection reports could be provided to pupils of school age, and students in post-compulsory and teacher education as is already done by some institutions. Parents strongly favour inspections and many make use of inspection reports in selecting schools, but they would welcome more up-to-date reports on their schools, preferably annual reports (Chapter 7). Ofsted should also consider how socially and economically disadvantaged parents might become better informed about its work.


    From September 2005 all school inspections are followed up with a letter to pupils outlining the main strengths and weaknesses of the school. Also, from the same month the Joint Area Reviews have produced summative reports for young people, alongside the main reports for the local authority being inspected. The new Section 5 inspections lead to reports that are written in a style that takes account of parents and their need for clear information.

    Work is still under way to elicit the views of parents about the Section 5 inspection arrangements but a small sample of parents interviewed during the pilot project for the new arrangements reported favourably on the accessibility and clarity of the new style of reports.

  5.  New models of inspection should continue to ensure that there are practical arrangements for involving learners and parents in the inspection process and seeking their views during the inspection visit (Chapter 6). Parents and learners should always have avenues for expressing their views and experiences to inspectors.


    In school inspections, parents now receive a letter informing them of the forthcoming inspection and asking them to complete a brief questionnaire. Also, parents are encouraged to meet with the inspector if they wish to express their views more fully. The views of pupils are sought both through the school self-evaluation and through direct conversations that inspectors have with pupils during the inspection visit. Since September 2003, inspectors have had to explicitly make a judgement about, and report on, pupils' views of schools. In Joint Area Reviews, inspectors meet with youth forums and other youth and children consultative organisations as part of the gathering of the views of the young people.

  6.  Ofsted, funding providers and responsible authorities should together seek to maximise the impact of all inspections, recognising that the main conditions or levers for implementation of inspection findings include (Chapters 2 and 3):

    —  competent and effective inspections;

    —  clearly reported findings and areas for improvement;

    —  understanding and acceptance of the findings by the provider;

    —  leadership that can generate and implement a strategy for implementing inspection outcomes, including effective action planning;

    —  identification of any resources and support needed to effect improvement;

    —  planned external follow-up to assess the progress made; and

    —  high stakes, where inspection has the potential to affect funding or public esteem for the provider.


    Quality assurance on inspections remains a strong feature of the work of Ofsted. The competence of inspectors has been assisted by a reduction from a large number to five regional inspection service providers and one national inspection service provider, allowing more consistency in communication and the maintenance of standards.

    The action of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) provides new improvement roles at school and local authority level. The work is closely linked to the outcomes of inspection and provides the main lever for the link between the inspection and subsequent improvement. Also, for schools that are in special measures, the expectations for significant improvement within the year following them being placed in that category increase the impact of inspection.

  7.  Improvement strategies should give greater priority to providers whose performance does not cause concern but is not judged as good or effective, and should focus on building the capacity to improve (Chapters 3 and 4).


    More work is needed to raise achievement in schools and colleges that are judged to be only satisfactory in their overall effectiveness. This has been a focus of the most recent report by HMCI.

    A key component in capacity building is the use of effective self-evaluation, so that the institution knows itself well. This has been referred to in the most recent HMCI Annual Report. Ofsted has been taking measures to ensure that institutions use the self-evaluation process intelligently, through guidance and emphasis of its importance for inspection.

    The new 2005 inspection schedule makes a close link between the pupils' achievement and progress and the judgements on leadership and the overall effectiveness of the school. The rigour of the inspection process has increased over time; performance which would have been considered good six years ago might now be evaluated as satisfactory on the four-point scale of judgements and may well emerge as an issue for the school to address in the wake of inspection. The guidance for inspectors makes it clear that no school can be judged to be good unless learners are judged to make good progress. Guidance on what constitutes inadequate progress is also sharply focused and requires inspectors to draw upon the powerful progress measures in the new contextual value added PANDAs. The criteria for judgements about progress make it clear that the key consideration is the progress made by pupils from their starting points and in relation to challenging targets.

    Ofsted attaches great importance to the use by schools of self-evaluation as the basis of improvement and, within the new Section 5 arrangements, as central to the inspection process. HMCI's annual report for 2003-04 noted both the need for improvement in the quality of secondary schools' self-evaluation and at the same time a fall in the proportion which was unsatisfactory, from 22% in 2000 to 11% in 2003-04. The corresponding reduction in primary phase was from 19% to 9%. No trend was shown for special schools but self-evaluation was unsatisfactory in one in eight inspections for the sector during 2003-04. It is too early to draw conclusions from the first tranche of inspections in the autumn term, 2005 but the early evidence indicates a continuation of the improving trend in schools' self-evaluation.

  8.  Ofsted should seek opportunities to reduce inspection reliance on the provision of documentary evidence in some sectors, particularly the inspection of local education authorities, or children's services provision in the future, in order to reduce the demands made on such providers (Chapter 6).


    The Annual Performance Assessment for each local authority requests very few documents other than the Children and Young People's Plan or its equivalent(s) and a self-assessment. If authorities wish to draw our attention to other papers they are asked to provide only the relevant extract or provide us with a hyperlink to a website copy. If we require other information, such as context, we use links with other websites to access published reports (ie the Audit Commission website to look at the latest Auditor's report on an authority).

    Ofsted has sought to reduce the burden of inspection on schools by limiting the quantity of documentation which head teachers are required to produce in advance of inspection. One of the themes emerging from a recent telephone survey of schools inspected in the last term of the Section 10 regime was the head teachers' perception that their need to reproduce documents for inspection purposes has reduced significantly since the last cycle. This was in part because the requirements were fewer but head teachers have also become increasingly aware that the focus of inspection is the pupils' achievement and the quality of the provision. As a result they are less inclined to generate superfluous paper.

  9.  There is a strong case for giving little or no notice of inspections, in order to reduce pre-inspection stress and increase the validity of inspection judgements that are based on observation of providers at work. This need not preclude the use of the development plan as a starting point, self-evaluation evidence nor opportunities for users to give their views. Such a strategy would also be ineffective if the interval between inspections is too predictable (Chapter 7).


    Significant progress had been achieved. The school inspection process now typically gives two days' notice to the school and reduces stress and preparation time, whilst giving a more realistic assessment of the school.

    The feedback from head teachers during the pilot phase of the new inspection arrangements indicated that most preferred the new system and that satisfaction levels increased during the lifetime of the pilot project. The burden on schools is likely to decrease as the writing of the self-evaluation form becomes absorbed within the regular annual cycle of self-review and improvement planning.

    In relation to our work in early years, Childcare Inspectors (CCIs) ring childminders the week before the planned inspection to check what days they will not be at home during the week identified for the visit. This reduces the number of wasted visits as childminders are often out during the day taking the children they mind to the park, zoo, shops and so on. These phone calls also allow inspectors to check that childminders will actually be taking care of children at the time of the planned visit, and that they have completed their self evaluation form. There has been no adverse reaction from childminders about these arrangements, and the National Childminders Association continues to fully support these arrangements which began in April 2005.

    As for day care settings such as nurseries and pre-schools which are usually open each working day, CCIs now normally arrive to carry out inspections without prior notice. Once again there has been little adverse reaction to this, with many providers and their representative organisations stating that they prefer these arrangements. They feel that there is now a more even playing field as providers are no longer able to put on a special show for the inspection visit. We are working with the representative organisations to tackle some of the inevitable teething problems, such as some smaller settings, such as playgroups, keeping their documentation "off site", and owners not being able to plan ahead to be on site to hear oral feedback from inspectors at the end of the inspection visit.

  10.  Stronger mechanisms including further research are needed to test regularly the reliability and consistency of inspectors' judgements so as to assure their accuracy, including (Chapters 4 and 5):

    —  judgements of the quality of teaching and learning;

    —  the "halo" effect of using self-evaluation or self-assessment evidence;

    —  judgements about curriculum leadership.


    New quality assurance systems for school inspections have been introduced from September 2005. The reliability and consistency of inspectors' judgements are evaluated and where necessary modified through a stepped approach to monitoring the inspections. All inspection reports are now read and checked for reliability and consistency by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors. Additionally, a sample of inspection visits is checked through a quality assurance mentor.

    The guidance for inspectors indicates that judgements about pupils' progress should be informed by the contextual value added data in the PANDA document. This ensures that each inspection of mainstream schools draws upon objective information which cannot be set aside without a convincing explanation, the evidence for which will be reviewed by quality assurance readers. Judgements about teaching, learning and the appropriateness of curricular provision must also take account of the quantitative evidence of the value added data.

  11.  Ofsted and the Department for Education and Skills should continue to promote national approaches to self-evaluation that are consistent with known characteristics of provider effectiveness and the criteria used by inspectors. These approaches should give priority to outcomes for learners, teaching and learning and inclusion, be evidence-based and be carefully focused so as to ensure that additional workload is kept to a minimum. (Chapter 4).


    As indicated in comments over issues 3 and 7, joint work by the DfES and Ofsted has ensured that there is a national reference point for effective self-evaluation. This provides a strong focus on outcomes for learners. The illustrations from schools demonstrate how evidence is needed to support any statements about outcomes.

    Ofsted is monitoring the quality of self-evaluation forms. An assessment of the forms used for the first tranche of Section 5 inspections is due at the end of November 2005.

  12.  Ofsted's evidence base has greater potential for use by external researchers but is not heavily used by them (Chapter 7). Ofsted should investigate ways to create stronger links with the most capable researchers in order to maximise the potential of their complementary data.


    There are specific examples of research being carried out by universities and the National College for School Leadership, where Ofsted data is shared. In addition, there has been active encouragement for universities and researchers to seek access to relevant data held by Ofsted. Comprehensive promotion of use of this data is being undertaken through networked parts of the research community such as the National Educational Research Forum.

  13.  Ofsted's technical and operational collaboration with other inspectorates, both in the UK and overseas, has been beneficial and should continue (Chapter 7). Ofsted has much expertise that may have wider applicability in the evaluation of public and private services or other quality improvement schemes (Chapter 4).


    Ofsted continues to be an active partner in contact with other inspectorates. Within the United Kingdom, regular contact is held at Chief Inspector level across the four regions over educational issues. Ofsted maintains regular contact with the other statutory inspectorates for England. International collaboration continues through participation with the Standing International Conference of Inspectorates. Also, in close collaboration with the British Council, Ofsted engages in development and improvement work for inspectorates directly with countries that request it and where it is a recognised priority.

  14.  Subject to statutory constraints, Ofsted should take greater steps to tailor inspections to the needs of institutions and their users, through regular risk assessment, leading to proportionate inspection. Ofsted should also be mindful of the need to safeguard individual entitlement and equity through an inspection process that is sufficient to do justice to diversity issues and inclusion (Chapters 5 and 9).


  Work is underway to plan more proportional inspections for schools. These will be based on risk assessment and will give "light touch" inspections for very effective schools, and more substantial inspection to schools that are less effective. The design of the Joint Area Reviews also includes a risk assessment so that there is a focus of the review on key areas of risk. All inspections continue to take careful account of issues of diversity and inclusion.

  15.  Ofsted should seek opportunities to ensure greater cohesion between its inspection regimes, not only through continuing the development of common frameworks, but also through ensuring that institutional inspections and thematic inspection visits complement, reinforce and inform each other (Chapter 9).


    Procedures for routine school inspections now have much in common with those associated with monitoring visits to schools causing concern. Both types of inspection take place at short notice and typically involve two-day visits by small teams. The evidence gathered during SCC visits can readily be used as the basis of a Section 5 report, where it is appropriate to remove a school from a category of concern or to make it subject to one.

    A common grading scale is used for evaluating the aspects of provision and of pupil achievement from Foundation Stage to post-16 provision. While specific guidance is provided for inspectors in assessing provision for learners of different ages and levels of need, in essentials the inspection schedule is common to all phases and to the evaluation of provision in special education. The 2005 Framework for the inspection of schools makes explicit a common set of characteristics to inspection in schools and other post-16 provision from early childhood to the age of 19. Integral to this common approach is evaluation of schools' provision and performance in relation to the Every Child Matters outcomes. The deployment of HMI to lead a high proportion of school inspections makes for further cohesion within the school inspection system.

  16.  Ofsted should continue to speak and report frankly about issues in education and care on behalf and in the interests of those who use and rely on this provision, while giving the best possible quality assessment to those who provide it (Chapter 8).


    Ofsted continues to provide a wide range of publications. From the time of the publication of the report on the impact of inspection through to the Education Select Committee hearing, 15 subject survey reports and 56 thematic reports (covering cross curricular themes) were published. In addition Ofsted provides a termly newsletter to schools called Ofsted Direct, which keeps schools up-to-date on new developments. All publications follow a very high standard of quality assurance and many of the thematic publications provide descriptions of excellent or outstanding practice.

  17.  When evaluating government policy initiatives, Ofsted needs to be on its guard to ensure that its closeness to policy development does not render subsequent evaluation of the implementation of policy either partial or circular in the sense that it provides a justification of the policy (Chapters 1 and 7).


    Over the years this has been a great strength of Ofsted. Successive HMCI's have always stated with confidence that they report with "neither fear nor favour" and that position continues. Today it is clear from the Annual Reports, HMCI speeches and thematic reports, that there is no risk of compromising independent and robust inspection judgements they remain well separated from policy making.

  18.  A future evaluation of this type should focus more on the impact of inspections on sectors that have yet to enter a second cycle, and quality improvement in the early years and provision for diverse needs. It should also focus more on the impact of inspection on special schools and pupil referral units, which have not been covered in detail here.


    The most recent HMCI Annual Report dedicated one of the three sections to reviewing the impact of inspection. It covers early years work and also a study of schools visited by HMI, including special schools. It also comments on the analysis of post-inspection questionnaires, which include pupil referral units. In addition, Ofsted is considering how it can best undertake a future review of its impact. Any future reviews will consider the impact of the recent changes to the framework for inspection.

    Ofsted's strategies for evaluating the impact of the new school inspection arrangements do not rely on the analysis of performance in national tests and examinations and are therefore as applicable to special schools and to pupil referral units as to mainstream provision. The focus is on the progress made by institutions from one inspection to the next and on head teachers' perceptions of the usefulness of inspection in contributing to the agenda for improvement. For sampling purposes, the Research Analysis and International Division within Ofsted is asked to supply details of a range of schools by type, age range and geographical location.

November 2005

2   Improvement through inspection-an evaluation of the impact of Ofsted's work: HMI publication 2244 July 2004. Back

3   A New Relationship with Schools: Improving Performance Through School Self-Evaluation. March 2004. DfES-1290-2005DOC-EN. Back

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