Select Committee on Education and Skills Fifth Special Report


Appendix 4


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

Foreword

We are pleased to respond to the Education and Skills Committee's final report on the work of Ofsted. We welcome the Committee's recognition of the new Ofsted's potential to make a positive impact on the quality of services for children, young people and adult learners; and its endorsement, even at this early stage of the organisation's development, of the broad approach we have taken to drawing up our strategic plan and establishing strategic goals and targets.

The Committee's report followed two sessions of evidence from Ofsted. The first of these took place some months before the new Ofsted was established; the second just one month after it came into being. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Committee asked some questions about the development of the new inspectorate and its remit. We believe that Ofsted is in a very strong position to provide assurance on these questions, and the following response seeks to do so.

We look forward to further dialogue on these matters over the coming months with the Committee's successors.

Christine Gilbert

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills

Zenna Atkins

Chairman, Ofsted Board

Continuing scrutiny of Ofsted

Recommendation 1

We recommend that the scrutiny work that this Committee has carried out on Ofsted is continued by successor committees.

The Committee's recommendation that its scrutiny work should be continued by successor committees is of course a matter for the House of Commons. For both the former Ofsted and the Adult Learning Inspectorate, the Committee's challenging but constructive public scrutiny was the centrepiece of our accountability to Parliament. We look forward to building a similar relationship with successor committees across the entire education, children's services and skills remit of the new Ofsted.

The New Ofsted

Recommendation 2

This is a time of great change for Ofsted and whilst we are sensitive to the challenges that this brings we are still concerned at the complex set of objectives and sectors that Ofsted now spans and its capacity to fulfil its core mission.

RECOMMENDATION 3

We welcome the potential for the new Ofsted to take a more comprehensive and strategic view of the issues affecting children, young people and adult learners but we are concerned at the increasing complexity of this large bureaucracy and the ability of its new non-executive board to rapidly grasp this complexity.

RECOMMENDATION 5

The new Ofsted has been operating only since April 2007. We will be interested to see what will be achieved in the first twelve months of the new Ofsted and what value has been added by its creation. We cannot disguise our concern as to the fitness for purpose of the organisation at the present moment. We will return to this issue in future meetings with HMCI.

The core mission of the new Ofsted was well stated in the Government's consultation paper on its proposals for a single inspectorate for children and learners (DfES, 2005): a single inspectorate would reflect the Government's commitment to integrate services around the experiences of children, young people and learners of all ages. It would mirror developments locally, where partners were increasingly working together more effectively to achieve better outcomes for users of public services. The Government wanted to build on the valuable joint working by inspectorates across traditional boundaries and realise the benefits that a body with the sole interest of children and learners at its heart could bring.

We agree with the Committee that realising these benefits in full will require attention to the real and significant differences in the nature of the sectors within our remit. We are therefore building on the approaches to inspection and regulation in our predecessor inspectorates as we manage a careful transition to a greater coherence of approach in the new inspectorate. Some early examples of things we can and are doing differently include:

  •   Looking in the round at services from the perspective of users: For example, as a single inspectorate we are able to focus on the provision of both care and education services for looked-after children, and the relationship between standards of care and educational outcomes.
  •   Continuity of provision and progression across phase boundaries: The merged organisation gives us the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of work for different age ranges. For example, during this year we shall be surveying the quality of information, advice and guidance work at different stages, covering not just the services available to young people in schools and colleges but also the services on offer to adults through the learndirect helpline and nextstep. We shall look to see whether there is good practice at particular stages that can be transferred, and whether provision for different age groups builds effectively on what has gone before. 
  •   Simplification for providers: For settings with more than one type of provision (eg schools where there is childcare provision, or boarding schools) we have already begun to move to single inspection events—a unified inspection even where current legislation requires us to inspect under different regulatory frameworks.
  •   Better use of inspectors' skills: For example, schools and colleges work in partnership to offer 14-19 year olds a coherent curriculum for NVQ level 2 qualifications and above. In inspecting such provision we shall use the skills of inspectors of schools, colleges and work based learning.
  •   Making connections: One area of our work can shed light on another. For example, when we inspect work based learning where students are training to work in nurseries, we draw on our experience of what works in the early years settings we regulate.
  •   Efficiency and reduction in cost: For example, the administration and co-ordination of further education inspection now rests in one place, bringing both efficiency savings and increased coherence for the sector. 
  • Like those we inspect, we will also regularly evaluate our effectiveness and the value for money we provide and we will continuously strive to improve the way that we operate. Over time we expect to make further changes to the way we do things in order to respond more fully to what service users tell us, and to make a bigger impact on the improvement of services.

    The complexity of our remit is significant, but should not be overstated. Ofsted is medium sized in terms of government bodies; it is smaller than the local authorities we inspect, for example, and has a much more focused remit. In inspecting early years provision, children's social care, education in schools and colleges and work-based learning, Ofsted has four main areas of activity (many of them linked in our inspection of local authority children's services). Though there is a range of provision within each sector, and important differences between them, our basic responsibilities are clearly delineated.

    In addition to staff from the former Ofsted and the relevant inspectors from HMI Court Administration (HMICA), 269 inspectors and inspector managers, together with 12 other professional staff, transferred from the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI); and 116 inspectors and inspector managers, together with 19 other professional staff, transferred from the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI). The new Ofsted has in effect the same resource in terms of inspectors with relevant expertise as that deployed by our predecessor inspectorates for the work within our remit.

    The appointments made by the Secretary of State have provided the Board with a high calibre membership. Members have had senior responsibility in major public, private and voluntary sector organisations, with directly relevant professional experience. Most have had close familiarity with one or more of our predecessor inspectorates. The Board has already made important contributions to the inspectorate, through the development of our strategic plan and by further strengthening our corporate governance arrangements. The organisation has as a consequence a good deal of confidence in the Board's strategic guidance.

    Like any new organisation, the new Ofsted faces challenges. We do not underestimate these. But we are in no doubt that the organisation is well prepared both for its present role and for the future: it has a clear remit, the professional staff and other resources it needs, and robust leadership and governance.

    This has been confirmed by a capability review of Ofsted, commissioned by HMCI and conducted in July 2007. The report of this review, carried out by an independent team with wide experience at senior level in public and private sector organisations, will be available in October. Not surprisingly, it identifies some areas in which further development work is required in the new organisation. But overall its conclusion is that Ofsted is 'in a good place' to deliver on the new Ofsted promise: Raising Standards, Improving Lives. We believe that to commission an independent scrutiny of this kind is both a demonstration of confidence in the new Ofsted, and a tangible commitment to our continuous improvement as an organisation.

    We agree with the Committee that it will be important for the new Ofsted to have demonstrated in its first 12 months the value that has been added by its creation. We look forward to reporting to the Committee's successors on this in 2008.

    There are two matters of detail in the Committee's report which merit comment.

    Paragraph 8 states that the 'Local Authority inspection function' has been transferred from the Commission for Social Care Inspection to Ofsted. The former Ofsted previously, and now the new Ofsted, have been responsible for coordinating inspection of local authority services through the programme of Annual Performance Assessments (APA) and Joint Area Reviews (JAR). CSCI, ALI and HMICA have contributed to APAs and JARs previously. The functions of these inspectorates are now of course unified within the new Ofsted, although it remains the case that Ofsted continues to coordinate input from other inspectorates as part of the current programme of APAs and JARs.

    Paragraphs 16 and 17 of the Report comment on the transfer of inspectors from the ALI to the new Ofsted. As the Committee notes, all of the former ALI's permanent inspectors (other than five who retired) have transferred to the new Ofsted. It is our understanding that when the then Chief Inspector of the ALI referred to 'ALI inspectors' who had not gone to Ofsted, he had in mind a group of inspectors who were not full-time employees of the ALI, but were employed to supplement the ALI's permanent workforce. In fact, the great majority—some 430 of the pool of 500 of these 'associate inspectors'—have confirmed that they are available to work for the new Ofsted, and many of them have already been deployed by the new inspectorate.

    RECOMMENDATION 4

    However, a number of sectors which are now under the remit of Ofsted had expressed concern about the effect that the creation of the new Ofsted would have on them. It is clear that some of these reservations are still present. Ofsted have already expressed a desire to engage service users and providers from all of the sectors they are responsible for. This is essential if Ofsted is to fulfil its potential and we encourage Ofsted to intensify their work in this area.

    Engaging with service users is central to the statutory remit and the approach of the new Ofsted. We have therefore put users at the heart of work in the first four months of the new Ofsted to seek views on our strategic plan and to develop our engagement with stakeholders more broadly.

    We know that some organisations had expressed concerns in advance of the establishment of the new Ofsted, as reported by the Committee. We recognise that there may be more to do to reassure the full range of our stakeholders. Nonetheless, we are very encouraged by the response we have received to the consultation on our strategic plan. For example, a major business organisation, while making clear that there remained some issues on which there was further to go, said in its response to the consultation that it was encouraged at the way the new Ofsted was responding to its initial concerns.

    More generally, the independent capability review of the new Ofsted referred to above spoke to some 50 external stakeholder organisations and individuals, representing all the sectors within the new Ofsted's remit. Their conclusion was that the level of engagement between Ofsted and its stakeholders, and the positive response of the latter to this engagement, was exceptionally strong.

    The Strategic Plan 2007-2010 and the work ahead

    Recommendation 6

    We welcome the work that Ofsted is doing to ensure that the targets it will be judged against are appropriate and await those targets with interest. Consultation on the Strategic Plan is an excellent opportunity for Ofsted to hear and act on the concerns of service users and service providers. We urge Ofsted to use the information gathered from the consultation to identify areas of good practice within the organisation and also identify areas that need improvement.

    RECOMMENDATION 7

    We will return to this issue in future meetings with HMCI to see both the progress that Ofsted is making towards the targets and priorities and also how successful the non-executive Board has been.

    We agree with the Committee that consultation on Ofsted's Strategic Plan has been an excellent opportunity to hear and act on the views of service users and service providers. Consultation has taken place through formal written submission, web-based questionnaires (including two specifically addressed to children and young people), and through focus groups of users. In the course of this process we have had input from over 400 individuals and organisations, ranging from children in social care through youth parliaments to adult learners, parents and employers, as well as from institutional providers, local authorities and national bodies. Most responses welcomed our initial strategic plan; and a great many thoughtful contributions have been received, making important and helpful suggestions for ways in which the strategic plan—and Ofsted's performance of its duties—could be improved. Many of those commenting sought even greater emphasis on the voice of users. The comments received will be taken into account in a revised version of the strategic plan to be published at the beginning of October.

    An important focus of the consultation process, and of continuing work within Ofsted, has been to refine the targets initially proposed. More sharply focussed targets will therefore be included in the revised strategic plan. HMCI and Ofsted's Board stand ready to be held accountable for the performance of the organisation against these targets, and we look forward to discussing our progress with the Committee's successors.

    Inspection and Reporting

    Recommendation 8

    We welcome moves that reduce the burden of inspection on service providers but changes to the inspection system must ensure that a rigorous inspection framework that can identify under-performing schools is maintained. We recognise that self-evaluative work can be beneficial for schools, highlighting areas for improvement but we urge Ofsted to ensure that self-evaluations are of sufficient quality and accuracy to be relied on as part of an inspection.

    In Ofsted's experience, the ability of service providers to evaluate dispassionately their strengths and weaknesses, and put in place action that will develop the strengths and improve the weaknesses, is one of the most powerful drivers of improvement in all areas of our remit. For that reason, rigorous testing of the quality and accuracy of self-evaluation is a core part of our inspection strategy.

    For both standard and reduced tariff section 5 school inspections, inspectors use the school's self-evaluation form (SEF), along with other evidence such as the RAISEonline data report and parental questionnaires, to focus the inspection on areas of importance. These initial hypotheses are followed up and tested through discussion with learners, scrutiny of their work, first hand observations of the quality of the school's provision, and discussion with school leaders, teachers and support staff.

    The evaluation of the school's capacity to judge itself and to put in place action which leads to improved outcomes for learners is a crucial factor in the inspection judgement on leadership and management and also in judging the school's capacity to improve. Where the judgements in the SEF appear to be too generous, the inspection team will question the school leadership's own knowledge of their school and consequently their ability to bring about further improvement. A recent report by the National Foundation for Educational Research—Evaluation of the impact of Section 5 inspections (NFER, 2007)—highlighted the work Ofsted has undertaken to develop self evaluation as an important driver of school improvement. Our evidence from inspection indicates that this is an aspect of the work of schools which is improving.

    RECOMMENDATION 9

    We are concerned that some schools could be eligible for reduced tariff inspections without undergoing a full Section 5 inspection. Ofsted should clarify whether schools are identified as 'high performing' on the basis of previous inspection, data such as exam results or a combination of the two. We urge Ofsted to monitor how successful reduced-tariff inspections are at identifying falling standards in schools. It is important that previously good schools which are either coasting or no longer performing at such a high level are identified early.

    A reduced tariff inspection (RTI) of a high performing school is a section 5 inspection, using the same methodology but focusing more closely on specific elements of the school's self evaluation. Schools undergoing an RTI will normally have been inspected at least three times previously. As we are only just reaching the end of the second year of section 5 inspections, all schools that have been inspected recently have previously been inspected under the more extensive section 10 arrangements that came to an end in July 2005.

    Schools are selected for an RTI following a detailed risk analysis which draws on a range of data summarising past performance in national tests and examinations as well as previous inspection reports and local intelligence. The precise range of data used is currently being reviewed, particularly in relation to schools which do not have national test or examination data. Where the risk analysis indicates that standards are falling or there are concerns about aspects of the work of the school, the inspection tariff is adjusted to take account of this. This approach is in line with the way risk assessment is used to determine the weight of inspection, not only in other Ofsted inspections but by inspectors and regulators more widely.

    To respond to the important points made by the Committee, and to ensure that the selection process is transparent, Ofsted's revised protocol for selecting schools for an RTI will be published on our website.

    In addition to the data, Ofsted's procedures include a further review of the risk of each inspection. In a small number of cases a school may appear to be performing well, only to become a concern when the inspector starts to review the school's self-evaluation form as part of the pre-inspection work before making a site visit. In a case such as this the inspection time is increased to take account of the circumstances.

    A new judgement on using challenging targets to raise standards, being introduced this term, will also require schools to demonstrate that they are successfully continuing to raise attainment for all groups of learners.

    Continuing external scrutiny of school inspection is being planned to follow up the NFER report referred to above. This will include all section 5 inspections, including those tailored to meet the needs of the best schools.

    RECOMMENDATION 10

    We fully support HMCI's view that satisfactory schools should be encouraged to improve and that a good school is preferable to a satisfactory one. However, statements suggesting that a satisfactory grading is in some way a failure are unhelpful. We urge Ofsted to ensure that they are clear that satisfactory schools are not failing. Care needs to be taken that the discussion on the quality of provision is constructive rather than accusatory.

    We agree with the Committee that discussion on quality of provision should be constructive: our aim is to promote improvement in the interests of pupils. Ofsted would never suggest that schools found to be satisfactory overall were failing, but we would suggest that they could do better. Our aim is for all satisfactory schools to improve and be judged as either 'good' or 'outstanding in their next inspection.

    It is however the case that the satisfactory category of schools covers a wide range. Some are schools that were previously inadequate but are now improving rapidly, and show every prospect of progress to a good or outstanding standard: reports will celebrate this. Others offer a satisfactory standard of education but have not been able to raise overall achievement to a good level. Regrettably, some may be schools which have not maintained a previously good standard.

    In the period September 2006 to March 2007, 416 schools (7% of those inspected) were found to be satisfactory overall but with one or more significant areas of weakness. In contrast, 790 schools (14% of those inspected) were graded satisfactory but had their capacity to improve graded as good or outstanding.

    In order to give practical expression to constructive dialogue with schools, we have introduced a programme of monitoring designed to help some which are identified as satisfactory overall, but which have an area of weakness. By definition, these are schools whose provision for their pupils is patchy, with some aspects not coming up to the standard the school has shown it can achieve elsewhere.

    The starting point is for any weakness and area for improvement to be clearly identified in the inspection report. A light touch monitoring visit will take place, usually by one inspector, to review whether the school is making progress in this area. We consider it important that schools do not deteriorate and ultimately fall into a category of concern at their next inspection. The evidence we have from these monitoring visits, and from the schools themselves, is that this process is supportive and helps the school to move forward by setting a clear agenda for continued improvement.

    RECOMMENDATION 11

    We are concerned that, while thematic subject reports may identify general issues in subjects they will not provide a reliable picture of the standard of teaching in that subject. We are also concerned that the lack of subject focus in school inspections will lead some schools to neglect non-core subjects in order to improve their grading. We urge Ofsted to review the size of the sample used to produce subject reviews. We also urge Ofsted to ensure that some observation of non-core subjects is included in all inspections.

    Ofsted reports on teaching in each curriculum subject every three years. These reports provide high profile evidence, convey important messages about each subject and contribute to improvement nationally. Teachers tell us that they value and make practical use of these reports. In many cases—the recent report History in the Balance (Ofsted, 2007) is a good example—they stimulate significant national debate.

    These reports are compiled on the basis of detailed visits by the relevant specialist inspectors to 60 schools (30 primary schools and 30 secondary schools) each year for most subjects. We believe that this provides a secure evidence base, and do not see a case for extending the sample size for subject surveys as a general rule. Moreover the reports are written by subject specialist HMI who are national experts in their field, and are able to draw in depth on professional familiarity with the subject in the curriculum and in the classroom.

    Many aspects of the ongoing section 5 inspections of schools are specifically designed to ensure an appropriate focus on the curriculum and the subjects within it. This starts with the self evaluation form, which requires the school to evaluate its curriculum. In the inspection itself, inspectors evaluate how far the curriculum, including subject provision, meets external requirements and the needs of learners; and how well teaching and resources across the range of the curriculum promote learning, enjoyment and achievement.

    Lesson observation is central to this evaluation: inspectors aim for a good coverage during the inspection of core subjects and a proportionate sample of non-core lessons. But it is not the only technique deployed. For example, inspectors will also speak to pupils about their experience of subjects, including non-core subjects, and may scrutinise pupils' work in a range of subjects.

    RECOMMENDATION 12

    We urge Ofsted, when looking at the operation of the new, larger organisation, to explore ways to strengthen their monitoring of the five Every Child Matters outcomes.

    Ofsted regards the Every Child Matters (ECM) outcomes as fundamental. All inspections of settings, institutions or providers, except those making provision solely for adults, are inspected using frameworks that have ECM outcomes at their core. These inspections currently contribute to the joint area reviews of local services and will in future contribute to the risk assessment within the proposed new comprehensive area assessment.

    All provision for children's social care and early education and care is regulated against national minimum standards. The standards underpin the framework for inspection across these two sectors of our work. The standards are brigaded under the ECM outcomes so that inspectors make and report explicit judgements about the outcomes whenever they inspect. In the early years the evidence for economic well being relates to the amount of day care provision available to allow parents to return to work, but there is some reference to the early stages of children's development in this area. Evidence for staying safe is particular strong in these two sectors as safeguarding young and vulnerable children is a key priority. In the inspection of Cafcass the ECM agenda is now much stronger and inspectors' judgements take account of the five outcomes.

    We have conducted detailed surveys on individual ECM outcomes, resulting in reports on: staying safe (Safe and sound, Ofsted 2006), being healthy (Food for thought, Ofsted 2006), enjoying and achieving and making a positive contribution (Getting on well, Ofsted 2007). In 2008 Ofsted will publish the third Chief Inspectors' cross-inspectorate report on safeguarding.

    Schools and colleges are inspected using a common inspection framework. Inspectors have to report explicitly on the achievement and standards of learners in the five ECM outcomes and on the quality of provision within the institution within which they are being educated.

    In schools, the evidence available both to inspectors and schools is strong for some outcomes, such as those related to economic well-being; for others, such as "being healthy", it is relatively more limited. Inspectors nonetheless can, and do, provide an evaluation of what schools contribute to these outcomes through the Care, guidance and support section of the inspection report. Inspection briefings, provided for inspectors to help them judge the achievement of learners and the quality of provision in the five outcomes, are published through the Inspection Matters series, and may help schools and other providers to develop their understanding.

    In further education inspections, the five ECM outcomes are formally monitored as part of the overall evaluation of the institution. All inspectors collect evidence for the delivery of the themes. This is assimilated on a record of inspection findings (RoIF); each outcome is separately graded followed by explanatory text to support the judgement. The completed RoIF is shared with the college to inform its quality improvement agenda. Ofsted will consider publishing an annual summary of ECM outcomes for FE colleges in order to improve the identification and dissemination of best practice.

    In all phases inspectors have received training to ensure that they are clear about the ECM outcomes areas and how they relate to the criteria and standards against which provision is judged. Further work is currently taking place to ensure that the new Ofsted has as far as possible a consistent approach to inspecting and reporting the five outcomes across all our inspection regimes.

    Inspection and improvement

    Recommendation 13

    While schools, in general, seem satisfied with Ofsted's role—assessing quality but not working with schools on the improvement process—other sectors are used to an inspection service that also does active improvement work. It is important that Ofsted clearly communicates to all service users what it does and does not do. It is also vital that Ofsted continues to pass examples of good practice to improvement agencies to ensure that they provide the best help possible for service providers.

    We agree that it is important for us to communicate clearly to service providers and users on what they can expect from Ofsted, and to share good practice.

    The Education and Inspections Act 2006 requires Ofsted to promote improvement in the services within our remit, reflecting the Government's principles of inspection, set out in Inspecting for Improvement (OPSR, 2003):

    There should be an explicit concern on the part of inspectors to contribute to the improvement of the service being inspected. This should guide the focus, method, reporting and follow-up of inspection. In framing recommendations, an inspector should recognise good performance and address any failure appropriately. Inspections should aim to generate data and intelligence that enable departments to calibrate the progress of reform in their sectors and make appropriate adjustments.

    Ofsted therefore has an important role in the improvement of services it inspects; there is no doubt that the process of inspection can help those inspected to improve. Our evidence on improvement in schools, for example, indicates that the professional dialogue which takes place during the inspection between inspectors and those being inspected, detailed feedback and high quality recommendations all make a substantial impact on school improvement. This has been brought into sharp relief through the methodology being used in section 5 inspections, based as it is on a challenging professional dialogue throughout the inspection. The NFER report mentioned above highlights all these areas, along with the development of self evaluation, as important ways in which Ofsted had helped schools to improve

    As an inspectorate and regulator, Ofsted's contribution to improvement is naturally different from that of the agencies given specific responsibility by the Government for ongoing improvement and consultancy activity with service providers: School Improvement Partners, the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA), Government Offices and others. But there is an equally clear need for a good working relationship between Ofsted and these partners: we share the goal of improvement in the interest of service users. The Committee rightly identifies the provision of good practice case material based on inspection findings as one element of this relationship. For this reason, building on the work of the ALI, we have agreed to identify and prepare case studies of good practice in post-16 and skills provision, and make these available to the QIA for dissemination. At the same time, in other areas, we will also be disseminating good and interesting practice.

    We agree with the Committee that, for some sectors, it would be helpful to clarify the different contributions to improvement made by the various Government bodies and agents of government. We shall work with our partners to do so. Ofsted's revised strategic plan (referred to above) will reflect the priority we give to partnership with agencies engaged in direct improvement activity.

    RECOMMENDATION 14

    It still appears that Ofsted has no capacity to give advice when a cluster of local schools suffer from systemic underperformance. This continues to be a weakness in the inspection system.

    We agree with the Committee about the importance of local systemic issues. To some extent these are addressed through existing arrangements; but we will keep these under review in order to see how they might be further strengthened.

    Within Ofsted's regional structure, each local authority area is allocated a 'local managing inspector' with responsibility for maintaining an overview of educational provision across the area by monitoring inspection reports and area-wide data. This information forms the basis of regular meetings with the local authority, in the course of which systemic issues will be discussed. It is also used to inform annual performance assessments and joint area reviews of local authorities.

    This local approach is complemented at national level, where there are also regular meetings for example between school improvement HMI and staff of the DCSF; these meetings consider issues of systemic failure in particular areas—or, indeed, systemic recovery.

    Nonetheless, we accept the implication of the Committee's recommendation: the impact of the former Ofsted on local systemic issues was not always as strong as it could have been. Returning to a point made earlier in this response, we believe that the remit of the new Ofsted, alongside developments such as the comprehensive area assessment, provide significant opportunities to explore and encourage improvement in the provision within a geographical location. We propose to seize these opportunities, not just in relation to schools, but across the full range of services providing care, education and skills for children, young people and adult learners.


     
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