Select Committee on Education and Skills Sixth Report



The new Ofsted is responsible for a wide range of services. Prior to April 2007 Ofsted was responsible for the inspection of child-care providers, maintained schools, non-association independent schools following the Education Act 2002, further education colleges, provision for children and young people in secure settings and services for children and young people. From 1 April 2007 Ofsted has been the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills. This new remit covers the inspection functions previously carried out by the Adult Learning Inspectorate, inspection of Children and Family Court Advisory Service functions in England, the inspection of secure training centres and the registration of children's homes, residential family centres, fostering agencies, voluntary adoption agencies and adoption support agencies. The role of the Children's Rights Director and Local Authority inspection function have been transferred from the Commission for Social Care Inspection to Ofsted.

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.

A number of sectors which are now under the remit of Ofsted have 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 has 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 its work in this area.

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 ask our successors to return to this issue in future meetings with HMCI.

'Light touch' inspections

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.

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. Ofsted needs to ensure that inspectors do have a proper opportunity to test self evaluation against what is happening in schools. We recommend that light touch inspections are properly evaluated after two years in operation, as we are not fully convinced of their effectiveness.

Subject reports

Some outside bodies have argued that the sample of schools Ofsted uses in its thematic or subject reports is too small. 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.

Inspection and improvement

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. 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.

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Prepared 12 July 2007