Government's response to the Sixth Report from
the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2006-07
Continuing scrutiny of Ofsted
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
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
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
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
improvementa 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.
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
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
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
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 failingthey 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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