Select Committee on Education and Skills Fifth Special Report


Appendix 3


Government's response to the Sixth Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2006-07

Continuing scrutiny of Ofsted

Recommendation 1[7]

The Committee, in its previous report on Ofsted, the Sixth Report of Session 2003-04: The Work of Ofsted, described its formalised arrangements for twice yearly sessions with Ofsted as resulting in "a sound and mutually beneficial system of scrutiny". We echo this view and warmly acknowledge both the central role the Committee has played in ensuring effective Parliamentary scrutiny for the former Ofsted and the Adult Learning Inspectorate, and the way in which it has conducted its responsibilities.

Decisions about the future scrutiny arrangements for Ofsted are a matter for Parliament. Whilst recent changes to the structure and remit of the former Department for Education and Skills have resulted in some policy responsibilities moving to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, we hope that the new committee structures will enable the continuation of the established arrangement whereby the work of Ofsted as a whole is scrutinised by a single committee.

The New Ofsted

Recommendations 2,3,4,5

The establishment, in April 2007, of new Ofsted as the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills puts into effect a key strand of the Government's strategy to reform public services inspection, to refocus inspection around the needs of users of those services, to rationalise and streamline inspection and to reduce the burdens associated with inspection.

In bringing together the former children's services remit of the Commission for Social Care Inspection; the inspection remit of the Adult Learning Inspectorate, the remit of HM Inspectorate of Courts Administration for the inspection of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and the former Ofsted's education and care remit into one inspectorate, we have, for the first time, a single coherent and authoritative voice speaking across the full range of services for children and learners.

New Ofsted's remit reflects changing patterns of local delivery, in which partners are increasingly working together to achieve better outcomes for users of public services. It enables the inspectorate to respond more effectively to developments brought about by, for example, the bringing together of the education and children's social care responsibilities of local authorities, the extended school agenda and changing patterns in post-14 provision. New Ofsted is well positioned to bridge the gap between education and social care and vocational and academic learning.

We note the Committee's concern about the increased complexity of the enlarged Ofsted's objectives and remit and agree that it faces substantial challenges. But there are very clear benefits in having a single inspectorate for children and learners.

We are aware that there has been a certain amount of concern in some quarters, particularly in the lead up to the establishment of the new organisation, about the creation of the new Ofsted and the possible lack of focus on key areas of work. We agree with the Committee that realising the full benefits of the single inspectorate will require careful management by Ofsted and a conscious recognition of the inherent differences in the sectors now within its remit. The fact that Ofsted now has a statutory duty to engage with service users and that the organisation has the benefit of the expertise built up by the former inspectorates will be very helpful in this respect.

Guided by principles articulated in The Government's Policy on Inspection of Public Services and Inspecting for Improvement (Office of Public Services Reform 2003) and given statutory expression in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, Ofsted is now in a strong position to reduce complexity, duplication and overlap, and promote co-ordination of inspection activity and wider identification and promulgation of best practice. It is also well placed to track the experience of users of services across service and institutional boundaries and to maximise its impact on service improvement, while at the same time delivering real value for money.

We introduced a statutory non-executive Board for Ofsted to provide modernised governance arrangements to coincide with the expansion of Ofsted's remit. The Chairman and Members were appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills following open competition and bring with them a breadth and depth of knowledge and experience from across the public, private and voluntary sectors. We are confident that they will play an important role in setting the strategic direction of the inspectorate and ensuring that it is effectively and efficiently governed. The work already undertaken by Board Members, during the transition to the new inspectorate and in the first few months of operation, has been extremely valuable.

We believe that the new Ofsted is well placed, in terms of clarity of purpose, expertise of staff and strength of strategic leadership, to realise the potential benefits that a single organisation focused on the interests of children and learners should bring. We have every confidence in the Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, and the Ofsted Board headed by Zenna Atkins in meeting the challenges and driving the important work of the new inspectorate forward to the benefit of both users and providers of services.

We welcome the positive findings of Ofsted's recent capability review, commissioned by the Chief Inspector and referred to in Ofsted's response to the Committee, but share the Committee's view that it will be important for the new Ofsted to have demonstrated within its first year of operation, the value that its creation has added. We shall be reviewing progress with the Chairman and the Chief Inspector during the coming year.

The Strategic Plan 2007-2010 and the work ahead

Recommendations 6 and 7

We agree with the Committee that consultation on Ofsted's Strategic Plan has provided Ofsted with an excellent opportunity to engage with service users and providers, and to act on those views. We believe that Ofsted has positively embraced this opportunity and has been able to attract a good spread of responses from a wide variety of stakeholders. Ofsted's Strategic Plan presents an opportunity to show how the new Ofsted will become a powerful force for improvement across the whole field of education, children's services and skills.

We understand that a revised version of the plan, informed by comments obtained through the consultation, is due to be published at the end of September.

We strongly welcome the continued scrutiny, through the committee process, of the performance of the Chief Inspector and Ofsted's Board in meeting the targets that will be set out in the forthcoming plan.

Inspection and Reporting

Recommendation 8

Like the Committee, we welcome the reduction in burdens associated with the new approach to school inspection, adopted in September 2005 as part of the New Relationship with Schools. The move to less intrusive, more outcome focused inspection is aimed at directing the energies of schools towards excellence and improvement rather than compliance and defensiveness. It is not intended however that reduced burdens should be achieved at the expense of inspection rigour. We share the Committee's view that inspection must remain robust and reliable. It should help to unlock the potential in schools to deliver high quality, user focused, education and care. Our view is that these aims can be realised through a school inspection system which places self-evaluation evidence at its core.

Self-evaluation is undoubtedly a key driver of school improvement—a school that knows its strengths and weaknesses is in a powerful position to achieve improved outcomes for its pupils. It is right therefore that a key aspect of an inspection should be the testing of the school's self-evaluation evidence.

In 2005-06, Ofsted judged self-evaluation to be good or outstanding in around two-thirds of the primary and secondary schools it inspected. This would seem to provide both the necessary assurance and the justification for using self-evaluation as an important part of the inspection evidence. But of course inspectors will also draw upon a range of other information including contextualised value-added and raw performance data, as well as first hand evidence such as analysis of pupils' work, observations of lessons, discussions with pupils and staff and parents' views, to help them reach sound and robust judgements.

The introduction of School Improvement Partners as a separate source of challenge and support to schools will help to ensure that schools' evaluation remains rigorous and that the quality of self evaluation continues to improve.

RECOMMENDATION 9

The introduction of inspection arrangements which vary the 'weight' of inspection according to the performance of schools is consistent with the Government's commitment to the principle that public sector inspection should be proportionate to risk.

Reduced tariff inspections (RTI) for high performing schools were introduced in September 2006 and the proportion of schools undergoing these inspections now stands at 30 per cent. Given that Section 5 inspections began only a year before, schools undergoing RTI are unlikely to have experienced a 'standard' Section 5. However such schools will have been inspected under the previous more detailed Section 10 arrangements.

Successful implementation of a proportionate approach in this context requires a robust risk assessment system which draws upon reliable information from a variety of sources, including performance data and local intelligence. It also requires an approach which is responsive to evidence of increased risk enabling, for example, reversion to the standard tariff where issues emerge immediately prior to or during the early stages of a school inspection.

We agree with the Committee that procedures for selecting schools which are to be subject to reduced tariff inspections should be transparent, and welcome Ofsted's decision, outlined in its response to the Committee, to publish a revised protocol on this matter.

Ofsted has been pro-active and thorough in ensuring that the impact of the school inspection arrangements introduced in September 2005 has been closely and independently monitored. We recognise, as does Ofsted, the continuing need to evaluate this impact as the system evolves to encompass new features such as RTI.

RECOMMENDATION 10

We welcome the Committee's support for the Chief Inspector's view that satisfactory schools should be encouraged to improve, and agree with the Committee that care should be taken to ensure that discussion on the quality of provision in schools is constructive.

In her 2005-06 annual report, the Chief Inspector reported that around six in 10 schools inspected during the reporting year were providing a good or outstanding education for their pupils. While this is encouraging, it is our ambition that every school should become a good school. That is not to say that schools judged satisfactory are failing—they are not. Rather, our ambition addresses the legitimate expectations of parents and pupils and the genuine aspirations of schools themselves.

We very much support the recent introduction by Ofsted of a monitoring visit for a proportion of schools judged to be satisfactory overall but with pockets of underachievement. Such activity focuses schools and the local challenge and support networks that surround them in driving forward improvement as well as reducing the risk of slippage. This targeted approach is an example of directing inspection resource to where it can have the most impact.

RECOMMENDATION 11

The arrangements for thematic subject inspections are consistent with a modernised risk-based accountability framework for schools. The programme of inspection, which involves at least 60 visits per subject per year, is designed to augment the evidence obtained through the routine cycle of Section 5 inspections. The inspections are conducted by HMI with specific expertise in the subjects they inspect and the evidence obtained is used in the context of other information, including evidence from Section 5 inspections and test and examination results, to identify strengths in the subject and barriers to improvement. A detailed assessment of each subject is published every three years.

We appreciate that these arrangements are very different to those which preceded them, particularly in terms of the sample size involved. However, we believe that the current arrangements are generally sufficient to provide Ofsted with the evidence it needs to produce reliable and helpful reports while keeping cost and burden of inspection at appropriate levels.

We agree that the Section 5 process should encompass an appropriate focus across the range of core and non-core subjects and are satisfied that the current arrangements achieve this. For example, the structure of the self-evaluation form encourages schools to think broadly about the curriculum offer for pupils and the inspection itself requires inspectors to evaluate the extent to which the curriculum meets external requirements and the needs of learners. The quality of teaching remains a central focus for inspection. The coverage of specific subject areas will be determined by the evidence and intelligence which the inspectors consider in preparation for and during each inspection.

RECOMMENDATION 12

Part of the rationale for creating a single inspectorate for children's services was to obtain a consistent picture about the performance of these services in relation to the Every Child Matters (ECM) outcomes. We are now in a position where a single Chief Inspector can report on how the range of different services for children contributes to those outcomes.

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has made clear that his department is the 'Every Child Matters Department'. We see Ofsted as the 'Every Child Matters' inspectorate, with its responsibility for inspecting the contribution made to ECM outcomes at both institutional and area levels.

In relation to the specific observations made by the Committee about the inspection of the contribution of schools to ECM, whilst we believe that the outcomes are properly reflected, we recognise that the contribution that a school makes will vary across the outcomes. Ensuring that pupils are safe and that they enjoy and achieve have always been core to school life and remain so. But these cannot be achieved in isolation from other aspects of children's wellbeing. Good schools recognise this interdependency and reflect this in how they meet the needs of pupils.

With 7,000 schools now offering extended service provision, many are well placed to demonstrate how the five outcomes support each other in meeting the needs of the 'whole' child.

A strong focus on behaviour contributes across the range of ECM outcomes which is why we have asked Ofsted to raise the bar in terms of its expectations of schools on behaviour.

We will continue to work with Ofsted in determining where to supplement core institutional and area inspection findings with targeted survey work to drill down into specific aspects of children's well-being.

RECOMMENDATION 13

Service improvement is one of the fundamental purposes of a public service inspection and regulation system. The Education and Inspections Act 2006, which established new Ofsted, made explicit for the first time in statute that its work should contribute to improvement within the services it inspects and regulates.

The contribution it makes however should be appropriate to its role as an independent inspectorate and regulator. Its improvement activity must not compromise its impartiality. For this reason, we believe it is important to maintain a separation between inspection and ongoing advice.

Ofsted's contribution to improvement manifests itself in a number of ways, some more tangible than others. This includes the fostering of high expectations and a culture of self-evaluation, the professional dialogue and feedback which occurs during inspection and the recommendations which follow, and through the identification and dissemination of good practice examples. It is perhaps most obvious in the impact that monitoring inspection visits have on underperforming providers.

Responsibility for ongoing support, challenge and advice lies with other agencies. For example, School Improvement Partners and the Quality Improvement Agency provide ongoing advice, support and challenge to schools and adult learning provision respectively. And Children's Services Advisers within Government Offices support the effective local delivery of the children's services.

We agree, and Ofsted acknowledges, that there is scope to make clearer the roles of Ofsted and other bodies in contributing to service improvement and we will work with Ofsted and other bodies to secure this.

RECOMMENDATION 14

Ofsted inspects each individual school within a "cluster" area. Where there is underperformance in a small cluster, but this is isolated within a local authority in which schools are generally performing well, any good local authority should have capacity to advise on improvement. Through the School Improvement Partners and the school improvement service, the local authority should be well placed to both pick up and act upon these areas of underperformance.

As Ofsted has indicated in its response, local managing inspectors monitor the performance of schools in a local area and will be engaging with the local authority to discuss both individual and systemic issues.

 Ofsted also assesses school performance at local authority level, through its annual performance assessments (APAs) of children's services and, where these or other information indicate the need, within risk-based multi-inspectorate joint area reviews (JARs) of children's services. Systemic issues should emerge through these processes. APAs result in published letters identifying strengths and weaknesses, and JARs result in published reports with specific recommendations for improvement. They will identify instances of systemic underperformance across a local authority area. In any such cases, advice and support is available co-ordinated by the regional Government Office.

 The October 2006 Local Government White Paper "Strong and prosperous communities" states that, from 2009-10, JARs and APAs will be replaced by a new inspection regime, the Comprehensive Area Assessment. It will be led by the Audit Commission, with the full involvement of Ofsted and other inspectorates. The inspectorates plan to consult in late 2007 on the new arrangements.


7   This is the text of the Government's response printed as received. The full text of the Committee's conclusions and recommendations can be found from page 30 onwards as part of Ofsted's response. Back


 
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