House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TAKEN BEFORE the
Children, Schools and Families Committee
Wednesday 12 December 2007
CHRISTINE GILBERT, VANESSA HOWLISON, MIRIAM ROSEN, MICHAEL HART and MELANIE HUNT
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee
on Wednesday 12 December 2007
Mr. Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
Mr. John Heppell
Mr. Andy Slaughter
Mr. Graham Stuart
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Christine Gilbert CBE, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills, Michael Hart, Director - Children, and Melanie Hunt, Director - Learning and Skills, Vanessa Howlison, Director - Finance, and Miriam Rosen, Director - Education, Ofsted, gave evidence.
Q1 Chairman: I welcome the Chief Inspector and the Ofsted team. We were very keen, as you know, to have you in as soon as possible. This is a new Committee and we take our new focus very seriously indeed. We are not a reincarnation of the old Committee on the Department of Education and Skills, although it lived about three months longer than the Department, which was quite amusing. We wrapped up nearly all our inquiries, but we had one that we sent on to the new Committee, hoping that it would take it up. This new Committee has taken up the inquiry into testing, assessment and targets, so there will be some questions on that inquiry, but you will also know that we shall be moving on to examine the curriculum-the 20th anniversary of the national curriculum is coming up-the quality of teaching and the development of our teaching work force. A number of themes will therefore run through the coming year, and we hope to see you on the specific inquiries later. This is our first opportunity; we are seeing you today and Ken Boston and his team from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority next Monday. We thought that that would really get us working together as a team before the Christmas break. This is the second evidence session that we have had, but your first appearance before us as the new Children, Schools and Families Committee.
Chief Inspector, we normally give you the chance to say a few words to open up. If you would like that opportunity, please take it now.
Christine Gilbert: By way of introduction, I would just like to make a few remarks on the annual report that we published in October, before commenting on the development of the new Ofsted and our inspection and regulatory systems.
I am aware of the previous Committee's concerns about the effect of our new remit on the impact of Ofsted, but I hope that the annual report demonstrated the benefits of joined-up evidence and information from across children's services, education and skills. The breadth and depth of the evidence that we now hold means that, for the first time, we can look more holistically at cross-cutting issues relating to outcomes for children, young people and adult learners in England today. I hope that the report also showed that, in doing so, we have lost none of the vigour or authority associated with the strength of the former Ofsted brand.
We reported on standards in each of the sectors within our remit in the report. I was pleased to report that we found good or outstanding provision in the majority of settings. There has been progress in many areas, but there is still much to do to raise standards and to improve lives.
I hope that our strategic plan also underlined the potential of the new remit. Following consultations and comments from the former Committee, at our last meeting, we revised the plan and included challenging and specific targets for Ofsted to meet over the next three years.
As you would expect, our main concern in the first few months of operation-let us not forget that the new Ofsted is just eight months old-has been ensuring that we continue to deliver our inspection and regulation programme. That has not been a small achievement in a time of great change, yet we know inspection and regulation must develop as the context within which we work changes. We have therefore begun an inspection review, which is intended to do three things: to make inspection easier to understand and its outcomes more useful for users; to make inspection clearer and less burdensome for the provider, and to make inspection more effective and efficient.
High on our current agenda for change is planning for the new school inspection framework in 2009. We are therefore considering, for example, not just the weight of inspection but the interval between inspections. We are increasingly moving from a one-size-fits-all model to a more tailored approach. That requires a combination of increasingly sophisticated data, self-evaluation and local knowledge. It will also involve making better use of the views and experiences of our users, as well as the skilled assessment of risk.
We are also considering representations from parents and pupils that inspection should take place without prior notice. We will examine the practicalities of no-notice inspection as part of our planning for the new school inspection framework. I can also assure the Committee that the heart of any new arrangements will be the observation of teaching and learning by skilled and knowledgeable inspectors.
We are still at a relatively early stage in our thinking and all of this change is being carried out against a backdrop of significant reductions in our budget. Of course that is a challenge, but it is one that we are working hard to meet, while developing our regulatory and inspection frameworks and our organisation to ensure that they are as efficient and effective as possible, and I include cost-effectiveness in that.
My colleagues and I look forward now to taking your questions.
Q2 Chairman: Thank you, Chief Inspector. We had Professor Peter Tymms in front of the Committee on Monday, in our very first evidence session. We were talking about testing and assessment and one of the remarks that he made was to ask what research had been done to prove the value of the inspections system. He pointed to some research which, it seemed to him, showed that Ofsted inspection did not improve schools' performance. What do you say about that kind of view, which really goes to the heart of your work? Successive Governments seemed to think that a national curriculum, testing, assessment and inspection were a kind of holy grail that would sort out the problems of our schools. Do you think that the experiment with Ofsted has gone on long enough and have you now really finished your job?
Christine Gilbert: The new organisation has given impact a high priority; that is clear in our strategic plan. But the former Ofsted also devoted a lot of time and attention to this matter. Lots of things happened in the previous organisation, such as evaluating each inspection and asking the providers about the impact of the inspection on them. We got very positive feedback, to the extent that we thought that people would not believe what we were saying, so the National Foundation for Educational Research was commissioned to do an initial piece of work, followed by a longer one. Both of those appear on our website and both indicate that inspection has a beneficial effect on schools-the schools themselves tell us that.
The vast majority of schools, more than three quarters, said that inspection was significant in helping them to improve, and an even higher percentage said that it was useful in giving external recognition to things that they were doing already. So the work that we have done with providers tells us that inspection has an impact. The work that we have done and discussions I have had with users over the past year, while I have been in post, tell me that it has had an effect. In a MORI survey of parents, which I think I mentioned to the former Committee, only 4% of parents said that they did not think that inspection was a good thing.
The reports are used at different stages-for instance, they are used more at secondary school level than for early years and child care. However, schools see Ofsted's work as very important.
Q3 Chairman: But we had an inspection system before Ofsted. It is just that Ofsted is a particular form of inspection-and quite a heavy form. There was a tragedy recently when a head teacher in Peterborough committed suicide, and the coroner thought that a fear of Ofsted coming to his school was part of the reason for that great tragedy. Is Ofsted still seen a bit as the heavy pounding on the door at dawn, rather than something that will help the school improve?
Christine Gilbert: All the evidence that we have and anecdotes that I hear as I go up and down the country tell me that the new inspection framework is viewed far more positively than the previous one and does not engender the same degree of nervousness and tension. That also emerged in the NFER report. That said, inspection will always generate some degree of anxiety and tension, but because there is now only a few days' notice and because the inspectors are in for only a few days, it does not generate the same feeling as before. Even the National Union of Teachers survey showed that the vast majority of schools were far more positive about inspection in the new framework than previously.
Q4 Chairman: Since you have been in post, Chief Inspector, I have noticed the public perception that seems to come out of your enquiries and press conferences. When I read your reports, I get a feeling that there is a general improvement in schools, but the press certainly seems always to take up the negative things that you say, such as that there are still underperforming schools, and students from poor backgrounds who are not making the grade. It seems, as Professor Stephen Gorard said to us, that when you answer the press's questions, there is a lot of emphasis on looking at those people who are trying to improve standards in the most difficult schools, rather than on the positive. Is that just the wicked press, or are you emphasising the negative too much?
Christine Gilbert: If you look at my introductory remarks for the annual report, the speech I made a few weeks ago at the specialist schools conference, and so on, you will see that I do emphasise the positive in a lot of what I say about the system. That said, it is the job of Ofsted to point to areas where significant improvement is necessary. I understand, to some degree, why the press run with the negative. It is important that we are all made to feel uncomfortable about children and young people not getting the sort of deal that they should get in schools today.
Q5 Chairman: I recently attended a seminar on the work of Ofsted. A number of heads working in inner towns or inner cities, particularly in the primary sector, said that a slight change in the composition of the intake of students in one year could make the difference between a school being held as a good, improving school and being in special measures. As one head said to me, in this room, that would have been the end of his career. Do you think that, at primary level, there is this sensitivity-this balance-with people trying to do a good job in the inner city with a changing population, not knowing which children will be in the classroom from one week to the next? Do you think that bearing down too much on them can be quite a destructive influence?
Christine Gilbert: My experience this past year-looking at inspections, going on inspections and speaking to head teachers-does not mirror the example that you have given. I am not saying that it did not happen; we need to look at individual examples. One of the things that I stress when I speak to head teacher groups is that if they are unhappy with their inspection, they need to tell us. They need formally to complain, and there is a process for doing that. We welcome that as a tool for our own improvement. But it would be very rare, I think, for an inspector to go into a school and make a judgment on the narrow range of attainments that you describe.
We have data on a school's performance. We look at trends over time. We look at the school's own data. As I said, up and down the country, the inspector's judgment is key in deciding the category for a school, taking into account all the data available, all the discussions with pupils, teachers and so on, and all the classroom observation that they have had.
Q6 Chairman: When you go to a primary school in the inner city-perhaps a school down the road from here-are you there long enough to really get under the skin of the school? How long do you spend in the average primary school on regular inspections?
Christine Gilbert: It would depend on the size of the school, but it would be between one and two days in the school. Miriam would be able to give you a bit more detail.
I read every single special measure report, and I have to say whether I think that the school should go into special measures. There are a handful-under five-where I have gone back and queried the information in the report. The report gives me enough information to allow me to make a judgment that the category the school is being placed in is correct. Even in those five cases, I got more detail and was reassured, and therefore agreed to place the schools in that category. I am sure that we get under the skin of the school.
The approach is very different from the formal approach. We try to look at what is described as the central nervous system of the school. In many ways, we are judging the senior management team's performance in the school-the extent to which they have got it right and their plans and the performance of the school. The key for us is pupil outcomes. Wherever the school is based geographically, whether in a leafy suburb or in the inner city, we want to ensure that the school is doing its best by the children.
Q7 Chairman: Miriam Rosen, do you recognise that description, which I had from a well-known head teacher? He has a high profile and a great reputation, yet he said that such a change resulting from the turnover of pupils could have put his school in special measures, and that he would have been unemployable if that happened. Is that something that can haunt the hard-working head and his team in an inner-city school?
Miriam Rosen: Our inspectors are knowledgeable and expert; they take the context of the school into account. They have a range of data, as Christine said; they have a range of discussions within the school, and they take into account the school's self-evaluation. It is not something that I recognise. The contextual value added data takes into account the context of the school and the nature of the intake. Our inspectors are taking all those things into account, and their judgments are rigorous.
Q8 Chairman: Thank you for that, Miriam. Yesterday the children's plan was published with a lot of attention. It was a little light on saying anything about the value of inspection for children. How can you reassure those who elect people such as us that if we got rid of Ofsted tomorrow, there would be a real worry about the quality of a child's life? Looking across the history of Ofsted, where it came from and why it was introduced, are you sure that it represents value for money? Is it doing anything to make the lives of children in our country better?
Christine Gilbert: I am absolutely sure of that. I have only been Chief Inspector for just over a year, so still remember the impact of Ofsted as a chief education officer in two London boroughs and certainly saw its impact on the schools in those boroughs. I am absolutely certain that the approach of the inspectorate led to better performances across the schools, and certainly across my last local authority. Since I have been chief inspector, however, the focus of the new Ofsted and the thing that will really mark us out in the future as different from the previous organisation is the focus on the user experience. I am using the term "users" as the Act defines it, as pupils and learners, parents and employers. In producing a strategic plan and in all sorts of consultation that we are doing, we have been very keen to engage users. The strongest voice in support of Ofsted is the pupil: the more vulnerable pupils, in particular, see Ofsted inspection as a key part of making their lives better.
Q9 Chairman: But yesterday the Opposition education spokesman immediately asked the Secretary of State, if what has been going on, including Ofsted, is all so wonderful, why is it that under PIRLS and PISA we have not done very well? Surely, if you were so successful, we would have seen a steady increase and improvement in standards in schools measured by these international comparisons.
Christine Gilbert: We have seen improvement in schools over the years and can point to better teaching and greater effectiveness in the schools and classrooms that we are inspecting, so we can use our evidence to say that. But, to go back to what I said at the beginning, we do think that there is still a great deal to be done and that there are serious issues to be addressed, not least the teaching of literacy, which I put above numeracy. In our primary schools, literacy and numeracy are still key, because if pupils cannot read by the time they go on to secondary school, it is very difficult to access the broader curriculum.
Chairman: Thank you, Chief Inspector. I will now pass the questioning on the annual report to Fiona Mactaggart.
Q10 Fiona Mactaggart: One of the really welcome things in the annual report is the focus on narrowing the gap between the most disadvantaged and the generality of pupils, which is a theme running throughout the report-you stressed it in your commentary at the beginning. What progress would you like to see on that by this time next year, and how do you think we are going to make real progress on narrowing that gap?
Christine Gilbert: The absolutely key thing for me is the focus on literacy, which also emerges from the report. I am very concerned that if children are not literate by the time they leave primary school, they lose motivation and play up and so on, so that is a key issue for us. As you know, we do school inspections, but we also do a number of surveys each year, a number of which focus on different aspects of that. For instance, at the moment there is a survey going on that looks at the training and induction of new teachers to see the degree to which they have been taught how to teach literacy and so on.
Early in the new year, we will do a small-scale survey with just a handful of schools, maybe 20 or so, to see whether they have made any use at all of the information and guidance on phonics teaching called "Letters and Sound" that the Government sent out about a year ago. We are using our surveys to pick up a number of those issues to see whether we can identify-we think we can identify-we think we can-those areas of good practice in the country that have something that others might learn from.
Q11 Mr. Slaughter: On the same subject, it is good that you make that the first of your key themes here. In terms of the evidence that the gap is narrowing, my evidence is anecdotal rather than statistical, but my perception is that the trend may well be the other way. Part of that may be a consequence of the diversity and choice in education now: academies are being set up; there is the possibility of parents setting up their own schools; and new schools are opening with a dedicated catchment area or for a specific purpose. Once there is the opportunity to manipulate or to change the way in which education in a particular LEA area is provided, there is more opportunity to have a stratification or segmentation of education, so that the number of failing schools increases and they contain a large concentration of children from deprived backgrounds which exacerbates the problem. You therefore get a type of segmentation that we have not seen before, except perhaps between the independent and the state sectors. Do you perceive that at all, and if so what would you do about it?
Christine Gilbert: We say in the annual report, and it would have been my second follow-up answer to Fiona, that there are still too many inadequate schools. Although the position this year is better than last year, it is still not good enough. Last year, 10% of our secondary schools were categorised as inadequate. I cannot tell whether it is for the reason that you have identified. All I can say is that there are still too many of them. Our experience of the academy programme is that the academies are doing well with children who have been categorised as difficult. Some of the schools were failing schools previously. The management and the leadership in those schools is generally good, although the performance is not necessarily reaching good or outstanding in the majority of cases. We still have a long way to go before we have the evidence to make the sort of judgments that answering your question requires.
Q12 Mr. Slaughter: I return to the Chairman's point about locking in improvements or small changes affecting the performance of the school. Do you not feel that you can get a vicious circle, particularly with community schools, where investment has gone in and improvements have been made, but they are not locked in, so if a school that was not full has to take a large intake in one year, it can alter the balance so there is not a level playing field? You are not just dealing with the inequality and disadvantage, which you can identify. In fact, the resources that are being put in are insufficient to concentrate on what is needed to improve schools over time-perhaps over five or 10 years-to ensure that they can compete with schools that have other more inherent or inbuilt advantages.
Christine Gilbert: Most schools that go into special measures come out and do not go in again, but some do. In some of the schools that you describe, progress is fragile. In some inner-city areas progress is fragile. You cannot assume that the thing is sorted and you do not need to keep a close eye on what is going on. Anecdotally, my impression from going up and down the country is that some of the collaborative work going on now between schools gives greater support to sustainability in some of those areas.
Q13 Fiona Mactaggart: One of the other things that you said in your introductory remarks was that, because of the range of things that Ofsted now covers, you can "join up" things more. I want to point to an issue of joined-upness. In the commentary on your report, you identify improved assessment as the key to narrowing the gap, and I absolutely agree with you, and you refer to Ofsted evidence that "assessment is the weakest component of teaching". I am therefore rather concerned that in the section of the report that relates to teacher education there is no reference to how assessment is taught in training teachers. Is that an opportunity missed to join things up?
Christine Gilbert: We clearly cannot put all aspects of the whole curriculum that those teachers experience into the report. The sort of assessment that I am talking about, which I highlighted in my commentary, is formative assessment, which I see as absolutely part of teaching and learning. I am talking about the sort of assessment that means you spot it as soon as a child is lost in a lesson. I was in a classroom in Cumbria about two months ago; the head and a person from the local authority clearly thought that it was an outstanding school and an outstanding teacher. I sat at the back of the room and I saw that, 10 minutes in, seven of the pupils were lost-it was a geography lesson, so I had some sympathy with them. They were not misbehaving, they just had that look on their faces that said, "Please don't ask me a question," and were shrinking back into themselves. The teacher was still teaching, vivaciously and brightly, and a lot of the class were with her. That is the sort of assessment I mean: pupils taking some ownership and some responsibility, and the teachers expecting that, so that children can say, "We're not following-you lost us two minutes ago." That is the sort of assessment that is a crucial part of teaching and learning. It might not always be pulled out as a separate strand, but it is important that it is pulled out, because Ofsted continues to identify it as the weakest part of teaching and learning.
Q14 Fiona Mactaggart: Is one of the reasons why it is not is that teachers believe that assessment is done by SATs and by key stage tests and think, "We don't have to do it, it's not part of our job."?
Christine Gilbert: I learned a lot about assessment when I was chairing the teaching and learning review-the personalisation review-and was heavily influenced by the work of Dylan William, who is now at the Institute of Education, who had done some detailed research into what teachers do in classrooms. Some research was quoted in which teachers were asked how long they let pupils keep their hands up when they had asked a question. Teachers thought that they waited quite a while-a minute or two minutes, for example-but in fact less than two seconds was the norm.
Teachers have a roomful of children and they are not always aware of the different processes happening in classrooms. What I would like to see more of is teachers looking at one another in classrooms, talking about the processes that are going on and just developing themselves as they go through their careers in that way, opening up classrooms and the processes of teaching and learning to that sort of debate.
Q15 Fiona Mactaggart: So would I, but I want to know what you are doing to make that happen, and I do not see that story in this report.
Christine Gilbert: At the moment, we are doing a survey on what we are describing as assessment for learning; I am not sure whether we will end up calling it that, because the way that we are describing assessment for learning is slightly different from the way that the Government are defining it. But we will define it in a particular way and we will be publishing a survey report on this in the new year, again giving examples of good practice, interesting practice and emerging practice that others might learn from.
One of the things that we are going to do-we are doing it already with some of the reports we are producing right across the piece, but in learning and skills in particular-is to give much more attention to how we disseminate those reports. For example, do we put it on the web and have discussions about it on the web, do we have conferences, how do we engage the profession in debate about some of the good practice that we are seeing to encourage them to do more? That said, I think the best staff development happens in schools. Our evidence shows that the most effective staff development is focused on the school and what is going on in the classroom and the school.
Q16 Fiona Mactaggart: One bit of folklore about assessment, as well as some of our research in another inquiry about assessment, says that secondary teachers do not take very much notice of assessments of children's attainments done in primary school. Is there a job for Ofsted in ensuring that instead of reinventing the wheel in terms of children's records, year 7 teachers respect previous records and use them to inform their teaching?
Christine Gilbert: Our evidence endorses just the point that you made-information is still not used sufficiently. However, when I started teaching, that would have been said. There is something very difficult that we need to get under to see why it is not being used more effectively. We think that it is a serious issue, and that there needs to be a focus on it. Again, we hope to focus on it, if not next year then the year after, in our survey work.
Q17 Chairman: Chief Inspector, when we looked forensically at Ofsted's track record in respect of teaching children to read-again, I am going beyond your period of office-why did we find that there was very little in the teacher training curriculum that took teaching children to read seriously? We found that any method worked if used systematically, but teachers were not exposed to them. What was Ofsted doing in not pointing that out to this Committee or anybody else? What is going on if there is no joined-upness in Ofsted's various roles?
Christine Gilbert: What I can tell you is that we are trying to join up now. The issue that you have raised is exactly why we are looking at the teaching and induction of new teachers. We get a sense that it is better, but we want to make sure that we have looked at the evidence to ensure that our anecdotal impressions are in fact real.
Q18 Chairman: But Chief Inspector, take Fiona's point about the primary school's relationship to the secondary school. You still do not do that, do you? You come in and do your inspection, and that is it. It is not an holistic look at the primary school and how it feeds into the secondary school. Even when you look at the secondary school, you do a discrete inquiry there. You do not look at the school in the context of its partners, do you?
Christine Gilbert: We certainly do school inspection and we would ask questions; I read numerous reports that highlight that as an issue. We do survey work and themed reports that might go across sectors. I have some recollection of an Ofsted report many years ago on the issue of transition. I do not know whether anybody else does-it might have been many moons ago-but I do remember something about that. The surveys that we do can look across. This year's annual report has tried to do that. Perhaps it is not perfect yet, but it has tried to ask three difficult questions about the system and to track across to see if there are issues across that would be helpful. I think that you will see more from us on that. At the moment, for instance, we are looking at 14 to 19 right across schools, colleges and the work of the Learning and Skills Council, Connexions and so on, to give a, holistic picture of what is going on there in preparation for the work on diplomas.
Q19 Chairman: Many of my constituents, and taxpayers in this country, would say that it was about time. It is nothing new; we all know that one of the problems in our educational system is transition, especially the transition from primary to secondary school. I know that it is an old question that I always ask you. You use the word, "holistic". Ofsted surely has the capacity to inspect three primaries, where they feed and the quality of transition. Those should be things that you are doing.
Christine Gilbert: I think that you will find that the way that we are approaching the new schools inspection framework, as well as new frameworks that will emerge in other areas, will allow us to do that in the next 18 months. It is difficult at the moment. We try to look at groups of schools and inspect them at the same time and so on, but because some have been done in a different cycle of years, it has been hard to do that.
We are also developing the comprehensive area assessment, which is a development from the comprehensive performance assessment and our assessment of children's services in that area. It will allow us to highlight key issues and look at them in greater depth. If that emerged as an issue, we could perhaps look at it in the development of the CAA.
Q20 Chairman: Who is your top expert in Ofsted on transition?
Christine Gilbert: An HMI on Miriam's team.
Miriam Rosen: May I say something about transition from primary to secondary? We have been looking at this for many years. In fact, there have been some improvements. When we first looked at it, data were not transferred across. We are now finding that they are transferred across, but use of them is patchy.
Q21 Chairman: Often disregarded, as Fiona says.
Miriam Rosen: Exactly. Sometimes they are used well, but too often they are not. Nevertheless, there has been improvement, and at least the data are getting across. We are continuing to press this. We have raised it in a number of reports over the years. We have also looked at the pastoral arrangements for children in transition, which are very much better. There are lots of ways in which schools try to ease transition. The situation is further complicated by the fact that some secondary schools take children from many starters-they do not take from just three primaries but from a wide range-and many primaries pass children on to a wide range of secondaries, particularly in inner cities. It is much easier in rural areas. We have tracked that over the years and will continue to do so.
Q22 Mr. Stuart: Can I take you back to an earlier central theme? We had 10 years of announcements saying that we were making progress: each year, we heard that there was still a lot to do, but that there had been real progress. Ten years of compounded progress should lead to a better outcome than we have today. Do you have a credibility gap? Can we have another 20 years of continual progress during which we appear to drop further down league tables and at the end of which there seem still to be huge numbers of children, particularly the disadvantaged, leaving primary school unable to read and write? Can you tackle the credibility gap problem, and do you think it undermines the opinion of Ofsted held by the public at large?
Christine Gilbert: Each time an inspection framework is reviewed, certainly in recent history, the bar is raised. Expectations of performance are higher than they were 10 years ago. If you look at schools over the period of a framework-say it is three, four or whatever number of years-they improve. They then appear to drop again when a new framework is introduced, and that is because the new framework demands higher standards of those schools. It is entirely appropriate that it does that, and we anticipate doing that again with the new framework that we will introduce in 2009.
Q23 Mr. Stuart: I am struggling to square the fact that there are so many children without basic literacy and numeracy skills at age 11 with 10 years of continuous compounding progress and frameworks causing apparent lowering each time, but only because the standard has been made even higher. By the sound of it, we have a transformed and fantastic education system, yet all the international comparison tables tell us another story altogether.
Fiona Mactaggart: We have not fallen back as far as we were when you lot were in charge.
Christine Gilbert: There have been improvements, and performance has been raised. That is not to say that the gap is not still too big, but there have been improvements. I noticed this week some figures from the authority where I was chief executive and previously director of education. Ten years ago, 35% of its children were at the expected level for key stage 2. Last week, it was 81%. That inner-city area of great deprivation is now above the national average in performance at that age. There have been significant improvements in different parts of the country.
Q24 Mr. Stuart: And you are confident that that level has remained consistent, dealing with public concern about any potential dilution of standards, and that it is genuinely the same standard that is being met?
Christine Gilbert: That question is probably better put to the QCA on Monday, but my impression is that the standards are better than they were, yes.
Chairman: We move on to the next section.
Q25 Stephen Williams: I would like to ask the Chief Inspector some questions about her introductory remarks to the annual report, starting off with the whole issue of those who are not in education, employment or training or NEETs. The Government have set a target of reducing the number of NEETs by 2%, from roughly 10.5% to 8.5% of the 16-to-18 age group. In your commentary on page 9, you say that "making inroads in the proportion of the age group in this category will take time". However, the Government say they will reduce it by 2% by 2010 and then, five years later-if the Education Bill that is coming to us in January takes effect-presumably to zero. Do you think that that is achievable?
Christine Gilbert: I think that the focus on this group of young people might well make it achievable. The focus has not been there as strongly as it has been in the last year to 18 months. I think that the range of initiatives being discussed at the moment should engage young people more than they have done in the past. There is more collaborative working across organisations and agencies than there has been in the past, so I am optimistic. People within individual institutions-schools, colleges, employers and so on-are more sensitive than they have been, both to this and to their responsibilities.
Q26 Stephen Williams: You also say that the proportion has been "fairly consistent" for the past decade. But are you more optimistic now that this area is getting a real focus?
Christine Gilbert: Generally, it has been my experience that if you shine a light on a particular area, there is improvement in that area, so I am hoping that that is what will happen here.
Q27 Stephen Williams: Obviously at the moment you, and the Adult Learning Inspectorate, which is now under your wing, inspect existing provision. What conclusions have you come to as to why 16-year-olds do not stay on, given the existing provision?
Christine Gilbert: There is a range of issues. Most of the problem is to do with motivation, but closely linked to that is their skills-or lack of skills-their dissatisfaction with school as an institution, and their desire to go off and do either something else or nothing else. There is a whole range of issues, and I think that what the 20% figure really means is that 20% of children not going on to secondary school fully fluent in literacy and numeracy is still too high a figure. A large number of those children are part of the 10% we are seeing at 16. The point that I am labouring about literacy is absolutely key: if children cannot read at 11, the secondary curriculum is not easily accessible to them.
A number of things are happening in secondary schools, and secondary schools are paying much more detailed attention to programmes of literacy than they have done in the past, and that might hold more of those children in. A range of things are happening in secondary schools, including things post-16 that Melanie might want to talk about, that will engage young people in courses, qualifications and so on, that are meaningful to them.
Q28 Stephen Williams: You say that from your existing inspections, it is hard to find encouragement that this proportion of NEETs is going to be reduced, but from what you are saying now, you appear to be more optimistic that this will change in the future.
Christine Gilbert: As I go round the country there are a number of things I ask people about, and that issue is high on the agenda of many local authorities. It is high on the Government's agenda, and it is high on our agenda, so I think it will be possible to find more examples of things to describe and share. One of the things that we have continued to do post-16 is to identify areas of good practice and ensure that they are available through the excellence gateway. That is about sharing examples of things that work in engaging students.
Chairman: Excuse me, can I just say to the school or college that has just come into the Public Gallery that you are very welcome to come in and learn about the Select Committee, but it does not help if you come in for only five minutes in a large body and then walk out again? You will learn very little about Select Committees in such a short time. This is a very important session and you will learn a lot if you stay for longer. However, you are very welcome.
Q29 Stephen Williams: Thank you, Chairman. I will move on to ask some questions about Ofsted itself. On page 9 of your introductory remarks in the annual report, your very last sentence, Chief Inspector, says: "Ofsted itself does not bring about improvement although it acts as a catalyst for improvement." That is either very modest or quite an admission. How do you assess Ofsted's impact on raising school standards? Would you say that there is a moral purpose for Ofsted?
Christine Gilbert: We ask schools and any settings that we regulate or inspect about the experience for them. We hear back from them that the impact on improvement has been significant. Where you can see the impact of Ofsted most clearly is in those settings that are poor or inadequate. The focused concentration in those places can bring about improvements in quite a short time. You see it in schools in special measures, but also in children's homes.
An inspector going back again quite soon to look at progress is a stimulus for improvement. In the analysis that I read on the impact of special measures on schools, head teachers identified the visit of the HMI as absolutely key in helping schools to move forward and understand how to evaluate their own progress more effectively.
Q30 Stephen Williams: So that is absolutely key. Where would you place an Ofsted inspection in a ranking of measures that could bring about a transformation in a school, compared with good leadership, good buildings or an exciting curriculum?
Christine Gilbert: We talk about the overall effectiveness of a school and we identify a number of areas that are key. I think that leadership and management are fundamental. It is hard to have a really good school with weak leadership and management. That is key, but so is the quality of teaching and learning, which are more effective if the leadership and management are effective. We assess a whole range of things in terms of achievements, standards and progress, and all of those things are key. A school has to know itself well. One of the things that we are told in the research that has been done in this area is that Ofsted has been very important in helping schools develop their own skills of self-evaluation.
Q31 Stephen Williams: The report this year is 120 pages long. This is not necessarily an invitation to make it even longer next year, but do you think that it would help if there was some critical self-assessment of Ofsted's role in education? At the moment, there is no particular section on how the impact of your own work is evaluated.
Christine Gilbert: We can certainly consider putting in a section on impact. When I arrived last year, I read a number of earlier reports and in one there was a section on impact. I am very happy to consider whether we might put that in.
Chairman: Professor Peter Tymms could help you.
Q32 Stephen Williams: I have one final question, about the word "satisfactory", in inverted commas.
Chairman: Hansard cannot see you doing those signals.
Stephen Williams: That is why I said it and did it and looked at the witnesses at the same time.
We asked you about this issue before when you first appeared before the Committee, and David Bell before you. Page 6 of your introduction deals with the question of schools that you judged to be satisfactory and states that, "progress in around nine out of 10 of these schools is at least satisfactory." So they started off as satisfactory and now in 90% of cases their progress or upward trajectory is "at least satisfactory." What does that mean? They are getting better, but are still not good?
Christine Gilbert: The category embraces a number of different schools. Some schools might be coasting, but we might consider them satisfactory overall. Others might be improving, but the balance of what is happening there means that their overall effectiveness is satisfactory. The term covers a large range.
Q33 Stephen Williams: After your last appearance before the Committee, and our subsequent report, your response said, "Ofsted would never suggest that schools found to be satisfactory overall were failing, but we would suggest that they could do better." In recent press statements that quoted you, however, you were reported as saying that "coasting at satisfactory is not acceptable". That seems to be a contradiction. Is "satisfactory" satisfactory, or is it an imperative that "satisfactory" improves to "good"?
Christine Gilbert: I generally say that satisfactory is not good enough. Most parents want their children to go to a school that is either good or outstanding, so we want satisfactory schools to be better. We want good schools to be better too, but we particularly want satisfactory schools to be better. Most of them actually want to be better themselves.
Q34 Stephen Williams: Do you think that parents who read in their local newspaper that the local school is satisfactory have a proper understanding of the term in that context? Would they understand that the school is definitely not failing?
Christine Gilbert: If they read the report on the school, they would understand that. I have said to a number of different groups that it is possible for many pupils to do extremely well at a school that is described as satisfactory.
Q35 Stephen Williams: With your indulgence, Chairman, I have one final question. My hobby-horse is bullying, so I welcome the last few remarks in the Chief Inspector's introduction that, "Every child has the right to feel safe in school." There have been many recent initiatives on bullying and angst, partly, I hope, as a result of the former Committee's excellent report-some of us were members of that Committee-and new policies on bullying were to be introduced by governing bodies.
How important do you think it is to measure the effectiveness of anti-bullying policies and to ensure that all schools follow the guidance,-whether on homophobic, race-related, cyber or other bullying? A plethora of guidance on bullying is currently emerging from the Government and from non-governmental organisations. How much will you focus on making sure that, as you say, every child has the right to learn in a safe environment?
Christine Gilbert: We think that every child has the right to attend school and to feel and secure both in that school and on the way to and from it. This academic year, we have focused on behaviour, and we have issued new guidance on behaviour to inspectors. There has always been a sub-grade in relation to behaviour, but we are focusing much more on it. We do not find a great deal of bullying in schools; we find that low-level disruption is the issue for many of our secondary schools in particular.
We look at a school and talk to pupils. I was on an inspection a week or two ago in which a number of parents had identified bullying as a problem on their questionnaires. The inspectors whom I was accompanying tracked that by talking to pupils and by looking at various school records. Inspectors take bullying very seriously and in their reports would draw attention to any indication of it. The special measures reports that I read often discuss behaviour issues, and they sometimes mention bullying. Bullying would be highlighted in any report.
Q36 Chairman: Last time we saw you, Chief Inspector, we were absolutely astounded to discover that there was bullying in Ofsted and that many of your staff felt bullied. What sort of example is it to the students up and down the country in real schools who put a great priority on the freedom to learn and work without fear of bullying that Ofsted reports a high degree of bullying within its organisation? Have you sorted that out?
Christine Gilbert: I should stress that just as you drew attention to the former Committee, it was the former Ofsted that did a survey of that issue. I arrived last October and I think that the report was out just before Christmas. The organisation-the former Ofsted-took the report seriously; it echoed issues that emerged in a previous survey.
We have taken the organisational development and health of the new Ofsted very seriously. We felt it was appropriate to have our work scrutinised and we devised and introduced a capability review for ourselves in the summer to ensure that a group of people from outside the organisation looked at what we had done and at our planning as an organisation. That group felt that we had made a good start and that we were on the right lines.
I feel confident that the way we have established ourselves means that if people feel that they are bullied within the organisation, there is space and structure for them to identify that and talk about it. We are confident that the organisation has been established in a way that would identify and allow us to deal with the problem early. It is clearly inappropriate for employees to feel that they work for an organisation that bullies them. However, as I said last time, sometimes there is a tension between pressure of work and asking people to do things and them feeling it is too much, which they then turn into bullying.
Chairman: I could not help thinking of the artist formerly known as Prince when you said the former Ofsted-or formerly known as Ofsted.
I shall turn to Annette to lead us through the strategic plan.
Q37 Annette Brooke: I understand that there was a great deal of consultation on the strategic plan, and I would like to start by looking at that. I think the consultation involved asking stakeholders about appropriate targets, whether they were stretching enough, and what sort of areas should be covered. As well as those specific points, I would like to know what the consultation revealed about the concerns of stakeholders, what were their priorities for where you need to improve, and whether you had any nasty surprises.
Christine Gilbert: The plan went through-this links back to the Chairman's question-a long gestation period within Ofsted itself. We felt it was very important that the staff coming from the former organisation felt it was their plan, that they owned it and so on.
The work of the capability review team evidenced that staff did feel involved and engaged. We then talked with stakeholders about the draft plan-we issued the draft plan just as the new organisation was being launched-and did a whole series of different things. We had a questionnaire online, engaged in focus groups, talked with young people at conferences that they were holding and so on. We went through a number of things and a number of comments were made.
People were generally very positive about the direction of the new organisation and felt that the focus on "raising standards, improving lives" was the right focus for the new organisation. They felt, as the former Committee did, that the targets needed to be more specific and we think that we have made them more specific in the redraft version. They felt that we needed to be clearer about how we were going to collaborate-that we needed to be more collaborative than the former Ofsted had been.
People wanted us to have a role in identifying good practice. We did not do that in the redraft of the strategic plan, but we have paid a great deal of attention to that in the way that we are organising ourselves, working with different organisations to share practice and to think in a more focused way about the work that we are doing. There is some really very valuable work that we are doing with our survey programmes and we should use that good practice and make sure that we share it. We have said that we will put something related to that on our website in this first year of the new organisation. I think that covers the major issues.
Q38 Annette Brooke: No nasty surprises?
Christine Gilbert: I suppose that because quite a few of us were engaged in the debate with stakeholders, we saw where they were coming from. There did not seem to be enormous surprises. Actually, there was a surprise, but that was in the debate, and I do not know whether it came through. A number of teachers who were not seen during the new section 5 inspection framework wanted to be observed. That was a surprise to us, given the fuss that had been made in previous years.
Q39 Annette Brooke: I am straying slightly, but I want ask about good practice. Clearly, you must go into schools that have cracked getting through the plateau of 10 to 11-year-olds. Is there no way in which you can positively spread that good practice in teaching methods and how it is identified? That may be almost a supplementary role, but you are in the unique position of having the information, and I am wondering whether it is fully utilised throughout the country.
Christine Gilbert: We do not think it is fully utilised. We have a rich evidence base, but we do not use it sufficiently. The new organisation wants to use our evidence in a more focused way, and we tried to do that in the way in which the annual report was presented this year, by asking questions of the evidence. Surprising things sometimes emerge from the evidence, so that is a major focus for us. The capability review identified that as an issue in coming years.
We hope that the new school inspection framework may allow us to pick up themes and issues rather than it being just the survey programme that we have at the moment. When school inspectors go into schools, they see some really good performance in some areas, but that does not always show in the short reports that we now do, and there is no time to explore it in greater detail. In the coming framework, we are thinking about how to link more with our survey work, and perhaps asking inspectors to have a particular theme, to look at what they are seeing, and so on, and perhaps to add more time so that we capture that. We think we need to be more systematic about capturing that, as you describe.
Q40 Annette Brooke: Thank you. In the process of the consultation, presumably you picked up a few grouses from stakeholders, and I assume that local authorities are major stakeholders. Will you comment on local authorities' unrest, which was reported in this week's edition of Children and Young People Now? Clearly, there is unrest about the basis on which inspections of local authority children's services have been carried out in terms of data consistency. Did anything arise in the earlier consultation, and was that unrest a surprise to you?
Christine Gilbert: I do not recall anything from the earlier consultation. What I remember from the earlier consultation with directors of children's services is some anxiety about whether the new organisation would give sufficient prominence to social care. That was a concern, but I am well aware of the recent unrest from letters and telephone calls. It stems from the judgments we made under the annual performance assessment, which contributes to the overall judgment of a local authority. We are coming up to the final year of that. We have one more year, and then it will transform into the comprehensive area assessment that I mentioned earlier. This year, we have been much more stringent in moderating judgments across the piece. We had some concern about the high number of authorities being judged good or outstanding, and we wanted to be absolutely sure that those judgments were right. In the early years of the assessments, a lot of faith was placed in process. You might have the processes in place to reduce smoking or obesity, but you cannot generally see outcomes in one or two years. We are now beginning to look at the outcomes of that in the assessments that we are making of children's services. The early promise that the processes would bring about change has not always been realised, so we have been tougher on grades in some areas than in previous years. It is still a high number-about 70% of authorities are coming out as good or outstanding-but that is what generated the unrest. It is lower than last year, because we have been tougher in how we are grading local authorities.
Q41 Chairman: Are you being consistent though, Chief Inspector? An article in Children and Young People Now published yesterday states that you are not comparing like with like, that you are using one year's statistics in one case and another year's in another. Apparently there is a great deal of grumbling from local authorities about the consistency of inspection. Is that a real problem?
Christine Gilbert: The grumbling has been a real problem that I have had to deal with. I am secure about-
Q42 Chairman: I thought that, as a regulator, you liked grumbling. You know what is going on if people grumble.
Christine Gilbert: I absolutely like to hear the grumbles-absolutely right. I have engaged with them in listening to their grumbles and debated them with them. However, I am absolutely secure about our processes. I was reassured at every stage, and I myself spent certainly nine or 10 hours involved in the final moderation process for some local authorities. We examined in great detail issues on which an authority was on the cusp between different grades, and I feel secure in the judgments that we have made. Miriam was involved personally too-actually more than I was at a number of stages-and we feel very secure about the judgments that we have made. We are currently doing an evaluation with the local authorities, and we shall be able to tell you about that in more detail next time.
I understand why there is great sensitivity about the matter, because directors of children's services often see their jobs on the line if the grade goes down or does not go up soon enough. However, we feel that the test is outcomes. Sometimes there might be very good processes, but if the outcomes are not coming through quickly enough-we are a now a stage where we should be seeing better outcomes in the reduction of teenage pregnancy and so on-we have scored down, or not as highly as some authorities would have wanted.
Q43 Annette Brooke: We will watch the progress of that one through the press, I guess.
On the strategic plan, may I ask about your targets for looked-after children? I think that you have set a target of a 10% increase in the number of looked-after children who tell you that their most recent change of home or school was in their best interests. Why did you include a percentage figure rather than an absolute figure, and is it stretching enough, given the ambitions in the Children and Young Persons Bill, which is currently being examined in the House of Lords? It seems to me that the reaction to the proposals from the voluntary sector has suggested that the Bill is going so far that there is a worry that children with disabilities, for example, will not get the best possible placement. That suggests that the Bill is intended to really minimise the number of placements. A 10% increase seems very modest.
Chairman: Perhaps we can bring Michael Hart in on that. I hate to see people not given an opportunity to speak to the Committee or answer questions, Michael. But, Chief Inspector, you first?
Christine Gilbert: I will just say two things. I have been concerned that ambitious targets for achievement be set for looked-after children, and the press had me commenting on the Government's proposals on that a few months ago. We should be setting ambitious targets for them in line with other those for other children and ensuring that they are achieved. I cannot remember the details of that particular target-Michael may be able to-but we lent heavily on the advice of the children's rights director and the children that he works with to come up with an indicator that was meaningful in terms of what we do and what Ofsted does. As you said, this is the first time that Ofsted has set numerical targets and we are not 100% certain of all of them. We are monitoring them closely and if at the end of one year they do not look sufficiently ambitious we will make them more ambitious for the following year.
Q44 Annette Brooke: My question is whether this is ambitious enough in relation to the White Paper and the Bill.
Chairman: Is it, Michael?
Michael Hart: My answer is exactly the one that the Chief Inspector gave. But we do need to review that in the light of the Bill, to see whether we need to be more ambitious. You have made a fair point.
Q45 Chairman: It is a fair point when we are only just starting to have another look at looked-after children. What has happened to looked-after children in this country is an absolute disgrace. We have just alluded to local authorities-it is the local authorities that seem to be at the bottom of the performance league in carrying through that responsibility. The private sector and the third sector have done better-the worst performer is this part of the public sector. It is a disgrace that only 1% of looked-after children ends up in higher education. Here we are, all in a sort of conspiracy in the education sector, all with the ability to do something about it, but we have not, have we?
Michael Hart: We completely agree on the issue of trying to raise the standards of education for children who are looked after, and we also recognise that a number of other factors are involved, such as the quality of provision made in the sort of setting in which they live. For example, in the annual report we have highlighted our initial findings of inspections of children's homes. We are particularly concerned about the number of children's homes that have come out as inadequate during the first period that Ofsted has been doing the inspections. In that section of the annual report we refer to 16% of children's homes as being inadequate during that first period. I am pleased to say that the more recent figure is more encouraging-over the first six months, something like 11% of children's homes were seen as inadequate. But that clearly is not good enough and that is one particular indicator that we will need to watch carefully.
All of that impacts on educational outcomes because everything is clearly joined up-the setting, the stability of children, and so on. I visited a children's home last week where the provision was particularly good and you could see the immediate impact on the children, their interest in what they were doing in school and their outcomes. The two are therefore very much related.
Annette Brooke: I would like come back later on nursery education if there is time, but I am happy to move on now.
Q46 Chairman: Of course. Before we move off the annual report and the strategic plan, I combed through it looking for anything about faith schools, but I could not find a word about them. I shall be appearing on a television programme later with Richard Dawkins talking about faith schools, so I suppose it is in my mind. When I go up and down the country visiting schools and talking to local authorities and local people they mention faith schools. Is this a no-go area: are you terrified to inspect them, report on them, or put them in your annual report or strategic plan? What is going on? Is it a conspiracy of silence, Chief Inspector?
Christine Gilbert: I cannot remember whether there is anything in the report about them-it is a while now since I have trawled through it, although I did go through it numerous times-but I can say that in previous years faith schools have appeared in a separate section. This year we were very keen to focus on the three themes and we therefore had to cut a lot out of the report. Faith schools are not a no-go area by any means. We have done various reports on faith schools and have looked at different aspects of them over the years.
Q47 Chairman: But should it not be a higher priority? I am getting reports from people in local government who find it difficult to inspect and to know what is going on in some faith schools-particularly Muslim faith schools-to get access and to learn about whatever practices are going on. There is real concern in local government about its ability to find out how well an important part of our community is being served by its education provision. If that is coming to me, as the Chairman of this Committee, it must be coming to you. Rather than repeating what happened with looked-after children, when we suddenly realised the neglect that this most vulnerable group of children had suffered over many years, will we find out in a short time that young people in certain kinds of faith school, and particularly young women, are not getting the provision or education that they deserve?
Christine Gilbert: But we inspect faith schools under the section 5 framework and we publish reports on them, as we do on other schools, Mr. Sheerman. In terms of local authorities' concerns, I regularly meet the directors of children's services, and I have twice met chief executives this past year, and this has not once been raised with me as an issue of concern.
Q48 Chairman: I am very surprised about that. I will put you in touch with the local authority leadership who have been bringing their concerns to me-I will act as the intermediary, if you like. But you have no concerns about faith schools at all.
Christine Gilbert: I did not say that. I am saying that we inspect and report on them. Something that is of relevance here is the new duty on Ofsted to inspect community cohesion, and we will start to do that in September 2008. That will require each and every school to have a broad view of community cohesion and what it means for them.
Q49 Chairman: So your inspectors have no difficulty getting into any kind of faith school and getting any information they need from them?
Christine Gilbert: I am talking about maintained faith schools under the section 5 process. Are you thinking of independent schools?
Chairman: No, I am talking about both actually.
Christine Gilbert: Maintained schools are part of the ordinary programme and we inspect them in exactly the same way we inspect other schools. We report what we see fairly and honestly in our reports about them. As far as I am aware, there is no difficulty in getting into them.
Miriam Rosen: I have not heard of any problems with getting access to maintained faith schools. The results that we got from the maintained sector were not enormously different this year for faith schools and non-faith schools, which is another reason why the issue does not feature prominently in the annual report.
Q50 Chairman: How far do you inspect faith schools that hope to become part of the maintained sector? Do you do an evaluation that informs the Government before they are accepted as part of the maintained sector, Chief Inspector?
Christine Gilbert: We do. The Department currently registers independent schools, and it asks us to make an assessment of them. I think that Miriam will be able to give you a bit more detail, although I do know that we are involved in the process.
Q51 Chairman: Miriam, do you do a thorough inspection of a faith school applying to come into the maintained sector?
Miriam Rosen: I am not sure exactly what the process is at the moment for a faith school applying to get into the maintained sector.
Q52 Chairman: But the Government have great ambitions to increase the number, do they not?
Miriam Rosen: We will inspect them under the independent school framework, so they will all be subject to inspection under that framework. As for what then happens to allow them to get into the maintained sector, I am not quite sure. When a new maintained school opens, we have a protocol for when we inspect it: we would normally inspect it after one year, but before two years have elapsed.
Q53 Chairman: Are you saying that your inspection regime for schools in the independent sector is not very good? It is such a light inspection that no one knows about it?
Miriam Rosen: No, we do know about the schools while they are in the independent sector. We publish all our reports on schools in the independent sector.
Q54 Chairman: I must repeat this question, because the Chief Inspector said that with maintained schools there is no difficulty of access. Do you have any difficulty of access to evaluate the quality of education in some faith schools before they come into the maintained sector? That is a much larger number, is not it?
Miriam Rosen: I think that the problem is that we are talking about two different things. We do not have a problem with getting in to inspect schools in the independent sector; nor do we have a problem with getting in to inspect schools in the maintained sector. If a school sets up and enters the maintained sector, we do not inspect it at once. Normally, we inspect it after it has been formed for a year. We then go in when it has been between a year and two years in the maintained sector.
Q55 Chairman: It is, Chief Inspector, something that concerns me, as Chairman of the Committee, because of other information-obviously not information from Ofsted.
Before we move off the annual report, there is not much about students, is there? We heard about the children's plan yesterday and we have parent councils, but although there is a duty on schools to encourage student councils, there is no real pressure for students to be more involved in the running of the school. When we looked at citizenship, we saw very good examples of real empowerment of students in the running of the school. Is that something that interests Ofsted, or are students not much of an interest of yours?
Christine Gilbert: It is of interest to Ofsted, and, in fact, in the guidance that we provide for schools on completing their self-evaluation form, we ask them about the engagement of students in the school. It is clear from what inspectors see in schools day in, day out, that the engagement of pupils in school is a really important factor in making the school successful. That might be in terms of behaviour and engagement with the behaviour policy and practices of the school. A recent food report, which was a very small survey, showed that the areas where take-up was good were those where students were involved in choice of menus, how the dining facilities should be set out, and so on. We think that is very important, and we ask schools to consider it in completing their self-assessment.
Q56 Chairman: Why is Ofsted not doing the job that we have done? During our citizenship inquiry, we found exemplars like the Blue School in Wells, whose work so impressed members of the Committee that we helped it to secure funding to roll out the programme of the training of the students, so that its learning to lead programme could be brought to the attention of other schools. Surely Ofsted should be having that sort of impact on our system, picking up fantastic experience? Heads told us, "The school almost runs itself now, so energised and involved are the young people in this institution." Should that not be part of Ofsted's job-picking up good practice and spreading it, like that?
Christine Gilbert: We think that it is part of our work to identify good practice. The points that I made earlier to the Committee about more effective ways of disseminating that good practice are absolutely key. I give you as an example the speech I made to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust a few weeks ago. The first half, or maybe two thirds, was identifying five or six schools by name and describing the outstanding practice in some of those schools, including student engagement. However, I then went on to highlight three or four concerns I had about specialist schools, and that is what got reported. We need to find better ways of sharing that across the system.
Chairman: But I did not see much about students in the report.
Q57 Mr. Heppell: One thing I want to say before we move on from the strategic report is that I was fascinated to find that the percentage targets seem to be open to review. I was not quite sure how you established what the percentage was. One target is "making sure that 80% of service providers will report that inspections have had a positive impact." How useful is that sort of target? Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that schools do not see Ofsted in the way that they did in the past and that they much prefer the light touch. I am slightly worried that one of your targets is that people you inspect should, if you like, assess you. It might be that you get higher than 80% because your touch is too light and because you are not actually doing anything. You were talking about bullying; it might be that you are not stretching anybody or putting pressure on them to aspire to something better. Do you not see the difficulty there?
Christine Gilbert: That was part of our debate on establishing the targets in the first place. It was a real concern for us. We could at a stroke reduce the number of schools in special measures just by making it easier for them not to be in that category. However, we do not want that and I do not think that you would want us to either. We looked at that target and it was one of the few for which we had evidence that we could call on. We think that there will always be a percentage who will not think that we have taken a positive approach. However, even institutions that have not been keen on Ofsted do reflect and think about whether it had an impact on improvement in the organisation. We thought, therefore, that that one was fairly secure.
I would stress, however, that the review of the targets will only be one way. If we set them as we might have done with the previous question, and if it is too easy, we will set them higher. We will not do it the other way around. If we are not achieving the targets, we will not just drop them. The plan is focused on performance over three years. We will revise it at the end of the first year and, around May, we will say what we have achieved, in what is traditionally called a departmental report, but which will encompass our review of the strategic plan. It will be different from the Chief Inspector's annual report on the quality of education, care and skills in the country. However, at that stage, we will look at whether we need to toughen up any of the targets.
Chairman: We have rightly spent a lot of time on the annual report and the strategic review, but I want to move on. We have four sections to get through, so we want some rapid-fire questions and answers. We shall start with Stephen, who wants to ask you about resources, Vanessa. Stand by your post, though, Melanie, because we will be coming to you. I do not want anybody to sulk because they are not asked questions.
Q58 Stephen Williams: In 2003-04, Ofsted was set a target to reduce its annual budget from £266 million to £186 million. A reduction of £80 million is quite sharp-it is roughly a third of the base budget. This year, with one year to go before that target needs to be met, your budget is £236 million. You have gone down by £30 million, but you have another £50 million to go to meet that target. Does that imply that there is slash and burn on the horizon?
Vanessa Howlison: It is a very challenging target. As you say, we have reduced our budget significantly already. About £9 million of transitional costs, relating to the merger, have been included in our budget this year, so in fact our journey for 2008-09 is less than it might appear. However, we have gone through a rigorous process to identify areas where we can save money and still deliver our strategic priorities. A lot of those savings proposals will come into play during 2008-09, and some of them are around the timing of the introduction of the new frameworks. You are quite right to say that there is a time imperative, but our planning for the 2008-09 budget has reduced the costs of a lot of our back office and support functions. Another one of our strategic priorities is to ensure that we direct more of our resources to the front line. However, as you say, there is a large reduction to be made in 2008-09, and we are gearing ourselves up to deliver that.
Q59 Stephen Williams: Even allowing for the £9 million transitional cost that is not apparent in the base figures that we have been given, that still leaves £41 million with one year to go. Is that right?
Vanessa Howlison: Yes, that is right.
Q60 Stephen Williams: It is quite a tall order, considering that over four years, you have made a reduction of only £30 million. Are you confident that it will be achieved?
Vanessa Howlison: We are. To a degree, we are underspending the 2007-08 budget, because we are gearing ourselves up for the savings that will be delivered in 2008-09. As I say, we have identified sufficient savings schemes so that we will be able to live within our reduced financial envelope in future years.
Q61 Stephen Williams: The Chairman is sometimes sceptical about the Public Accounts Committee, which is one of the other scrutiny Committees in Parliament. Are you confident that if you are hauled up before that Committee next year, you will have achieved your rather tough savings target?
Vanessa Howlison: Yes, and I know that there is some discussion about how certain organisations have achieved their Gershon savings, but we are clear that Ofsted's past savings are-it is a horrible term-cashable. They are real savings, and our money-our funding-has reduced. We can evidence it.
Q62 Stephen Williams: If the Chief Inspector follows the career path of her predecessor, she will have to go around cashable and non-cashable savings, which we have had some fun with before.
May I ask one question on this year's budget, Chairman, as I suspect you then want to move on? There is quite a big switch in the 2007-08 budget from learning and skills, which is Melanie Hunt's area, to children, which is Michael Hart's area. Learning and skills, which I guess is the old adult learning area, has gone down by £8 million, and most of that-£6 million-has gone to children. The impact in percentage terms is that almost one quarter of the learning and skills budget has been removed, whereas the increase for children, which has a much larger budget, is only about 6% Does that imply that the adult learning and skills side of the new Ofsted-or the bigger Ofsted, however you want to describe it-has become less of a priority, certainly in budgetary terms?
Melanie Hunt: I am happy to answer that.
Q63 Chairman: You are ditching further education. You could not care about it, so you are not respecting it.
Melanie Hunt: No, that is certainly not the case. The figures that you identify are related to the bringing together of Ofsted and the adult learning inspectorate, as a result of which there were some significant savings. That is what you see there. Neither our intensity nor our focus has diminished.
Q64 Stephen Williams: So, they were a bit fat when they came over?
Melanie Hunt: It is more to do with the back office functions, as Vanessa said-the duplication of human resources, finance, premises, facilities and so on, which we have been able to bring in line.
Q65 Stephen Williams: So, in the current financial year, £26 million is allocated in your budget to look at learning and skills. Given the tough reductions that are needed over the next financial year, what do you think you will be left with?
Melanie Hunt: We have been set a budget envelope to work within, and we are projecting savings of almost £1 million next year, part of which has been a result of reviewing our inspection activities, but as Vanessa said, much of it relates to the introduction of new inspection cycles and frameworks from 2009, when both the college cycle and the work-based cycle, which are significant parts of my directorate's inspection work, will be reformed and reviewed. We will consider different ways of working.
Q66 Stephen Williams: Finally, going back to my previous questions about NEETs and the imperative of expanding provision for 16 to 18-year-olds, in particular, and other adults beyond that, I wonder whether you are confident that you will be able to inspect adequately the revolution in NEETs and diplomas, given that that area of education will grow but your budget will shrink.
Melanie Hunt: It is a serious concern to us, and we have raised with the Department for Children, Schools and Families the questions that arise from raising the participation age, because there is likely to be a wider range of settings and types of learning, such as mixed learning between employment and formal learning, which will result in different inspection demands. We have flagged them up early with the Department, because the changes will not come through until 2013 to 2015, which is when we will see the significant change. We are alert to that, and we are looking as well at maximising our inspection activity where we work with large providers. Do not forget that many of those that we inspect are national organisations offering apprenticeships across all our nine regions.
Chairman: Good. Let us move on to monitoring race and equality.
Q67 Fiona Mactaggart: Is that an important part of your job?
Christine Gilbert: It is an absolutely crucial part of my job and that of everybody sitting at this table and in Ofsted. We have taken it very seriously. It is one of our core values. I personally chair the equalities group meetings every month-I am missing it to be here this morning. We are launching an equalities standard. It has been a major part of our work and focus as an organisation.
Q68 Fiona Mactaggart: Specifically on race equality, in looking through your report-I might have missed some references-there is little reference to any ethnic analysis of children's achievement or consequences for children. There is a reference to the fact that African-Caribbean children are more likely to be excluded, as are those of mixed heritage including African-Caribbean descent, but there is no clear analysis of what works best for children of different ethnic heritages. Do you think that that is something you ought to have done under the race equality duty?
Christine Gilbert: The way that we would do that is through the survey reports. We have done a couple of survey reports that have been picked up in the annual report for the year that feeds into that, and we have others planned. We have given a lot of thought to how we should be progressing our responsibilities under the duty, and we have looked at several ways. We have looked at what more we should be doing with school inspections, because there has been some tension about whether we are a compliance checker of whether schools have a policy and so on. We thought that our focus should be on outcomes-whether groups in schools are performing differentially, whether there are things that the schools should be doing that they are not, and so on.
We have moved some way on that. We have now said that we expect each setting or organisation that completes the self-evaluation to address the matter in the self-evaluation. We will then check randomly whether it is actually happening across the system and report on it. If the self-evaluation or our look at the data for a school suggests that there are issues relating to race of the sort that you gave as an example, we will pursue it in the inspection. We do that now, actually, but it only emerges in the written report on the school and does not necessarily find its way into the annual report. I think that you will find that next year's annual report-although there are some references in this year's, as you say-will make more explicit reference to issues of equality, and we will systematically pick up across the system more general issues that we think the system needs to address and improvements that need to be made, as well as good practice in certain areas.
Q69 Fiona Mactaggart: This positive response from you seems to conflict with the Commission for Racial Equality's assessment that you were the worst performing regulatory authority and that legal action should be taken against you.
Christine Gilbert: I think that it said that we were the most difficult one to deal with in the past two years. We did not know where that came from. I arrived last October, wrote to CRE several times to try to talk about different things and never had any response. That is not to say that we did not take its criticisms seriously; we thought that its criticisms in many areas were well made, and we have taken them very seriously in what we have done and are doing. We have reworked all our schemes and are reworking the race scheme to send to the new organisation by the end of December.
To pick up some of the issues that I have mentioned this morning, we spent a long time debating what exactly our role should be. We have only a limited amount of time, and the expectation is that the organisation itself should discharge its duties, but we are trying to be more explicit about what the link between the two should be. Again, I have written to the new organisation, hoping to meet with it about our work. We want our work in that area to be not just adequate or satisfactory but good or outstanding. It is a major focus for us.
The meeting I am missing this morning is a discussion with Edge Hill to establish a standard for across central Government perhaps, if it works out that way, built on the model of local government, which we could use and trial in Ofsted and then perhaps roll out across the system.
Q70 Fiona Mactaggart: What proportion of your inspectorate team have ethnic minority heritage?
Christine Gilbert: Different inspectorates vary. Generally, across the piece, I think it is about 5%, but they are different in different areas.
Miriam Rosen: For HMI, it is 6%. I think it is more for the inspectors who work in child care.
Michael Hart: It is a little higher, but it is not high enough. It is something that I have been raising with managers as a priority that we need to address.
Q71 Fiona Mactaggart: How are you addressing it? You say you are raising it in an area where the figure is higher than it is in the rest of the organisation. How are you addressing it? You have a reasonable vacancy level. Have you set targets?
Christine Gilbert: We are monitoring performance in each of the areas. We now have regular monitoring in this area, which we did not have before. We have not gone down the road of establishing particular targets in different areas. We have given ourselves a target overall for Ofsted for inspection and across the piece, but we have not set specific ones in education and so on. Whether that has been translated within the directorates, I do not know. Then we will build up as the year goes on. We have taken every area of our work and are examining it, which is what the link is with the equalities standard, to make sure that in recruiting, retaining, letting contracts and all those sorts of things, we are demonstrating best practice as an employer.
Q72 Fiona Mactaggart: But you had a very welcome emphasis in your original remarks about the customer for your service, stressing that that is very often the student, the young person in care or whatever. A much higher proportion than 4% or 5% of those customers is derived from our ethnic minorities. I am of course not saying that only people from ethnic minorities can have a full understanding, but if the people who are leading your inspection teams do not have a full understanding of the range of experiences that those children have, can they do their jobs properly?
Christine Gilbert: This was before the most recent focus on this area. Inspectors are all trained in equalities. In fact, at the HMI conference-the education conference I attended in January-equalities was the focus throughout the day, with training for every inspector, so we do give training a high priority.
Q73 Fiona Mactaggart: But, with respect, your boards-there were recent minutes that said the vacancy level within the organisation meant that there was scope to take positive action to address under-representation and to commit to firm targets. You are saying to me, "We can do it without committing to firm targets." Every other public organisation I know that does not commit to firm targets does not change. Why are you different?
Christine Gilbert: We have committed to targets overall. I am saying that we have decided not to go down the road of team by team, as we did in my previous employment. In my previous employment, you could have pointed to a particular directorate and said, "We want x per cent. in that area." We have decided not to do that because of the shape of the organisation, which is unlikely to be the same in a year's time. We are looking at developing inspection, as I said in my introductory remarks, and in terms of the shape of the organisation, the look of the organisation, we may not even sit before you as separate directorates in a year's time, so it did not seem sensible to go down that road.
Q74 Fiona Mactaggart: So what is your overall target, then?
Christine Gilbert: I cannot remember. We are above the civil service performance overall and we have set ourselves-I think it is 2% higher than that.
Q75 Chairman: What does surprise me is this. The artist formerly known as Trevor Phillips is still performing under that name in an expanded organisation. You are the artist formerly known as Christine Gilbert, and you are performing in front of this Committee today. A lot of people in my constituency would say, "Why can't the two of them talk about this?" Here is a very penetrating and acerbic criticism, and you are saying you have not had a chance to talk to Trevor Phillips and say, "Where does this come from and what can we do about it to change your perception of us?"
Christine Gilbert: I need to be clear that it was the former Commission for Racial Equality that made the criticism. We have had similar criticisms from a disability rights organisation. I went to see it and talked through what those issues were, but we were not able to make the same sort of contact-
Chairman: With the CRE?
Christine Gilbert: Yes. We got some very useful advice from the discussions about disability and so on, which we built in to the revisions of our scheme. We were not engaging, for example, external disability organisations enough in our thinking and planning. We have done that in our revisions to the scheme. I have written to the new organisation too and, to be fair, I think that it is just establishing itself. We hope to see it soon.
Q76 Chairman: So, we can look forward to that.
Christine Gilbert: Absolutely.
Q77 Mr. Heppell: I have three quick questions, the first of which touches on Fiona's point. The London School of Islamics states that Ofsted simply is not suitable for inspecting Muslim schools. What is your response to that? Do you think there is a role for specialist inspectors who have the same faith or language as the people in those schools?
Christine Gilbert: We think that we can inspect those schools, and that they have a role over and above, along with a number of organisations-the Catholic, Church of England and Jewish organisations-which we work well with. I think that Miriam is going to say something about them.
Miriam Rosen: In our independent school inspections, we use additional inspectors as well as HMIs, a number of whom are from a Muslim background, so we are often able to supply inspectors with a degree of specialism.
Q78 Mr. Heppell: We wonder why the criticism then, if that is the case. You say that you are sometimes able to able to do that, but they seem to be saying that that does not happen-that they get people who do not understand their faith and do not speak the language and there is not a proper inspection as a result.
Miriam Rosen: I would say that it is normal for us to have people in the independent sector inspecting for us who are able to do so and understand the background very well.
Q79 Fiona Mactaggart: There is a kind of contrary criticism about the inspection of academies-that the relationship can be too cosy and that the Vardy academies, which have rather controversial views on creationism, have the same inspector all the time. What do you say to that?
Miriam Rosen: When we first started inspecting academies, we were using HMIs from the then school improvement division. We used them because the academies often came from a background of being failing schools or schools in challenging circumstances. That group of inspectors has now widened and we are using quite a large group of HMIs to lead those inspections, but we inspect without fear or favour. We have put two academies into categories-they have now managed to make progress and come out-so there is absolutely nothing cosy about it.
Q80 Fiona Mactaggart: Do the Vardy academies get inspected by teams led by more than one person?
Miriam Rosen: I am not quite sure which academies you are talking about. We have carried out section 5 inspections of 19 academies so far, two of which were placed either in special measures or notice to improve categories, or in their predecessor categories. We are inspecting them in the same way as we inspect other maintained schools, because they are maintained independent schools, so I do not see a problem of cosiness.
Christine Gilbert: And they would all have a substantial size; they would always be in a team.
Miriam Rosen: Yes, there is always a team of inspectors going in, because the schools are secondary schools, which are largish.
Chairman: If, on reflection, you want to write to the Committee about anything regarding Fiona's question, we would be grateful.
Q81 Mr. Heppell: That was one of my questions, but I have one left. You said recently that specialist schools do not achieve any better than normal schools and that if you take the money and discount out, there is little difference. Do you have any concerns about specialist schools? If so, how do you intend to address them?
Christine Gilbert: What I actually said was that the money itself does not necessarily lead to improvement, but we have seen some excellent practice in some specialist schools which the first half of the speech dealt with, and we identified a number of schools where extraordinarily good or interesting practice was going on. I then highlighted some concerns-for instance, the one that was most important to me was that it did not necessarily lead to better teaching and if there is no better teaching going on, the learning is not necessarily effective.
Another one that we have touched on in this Committee this morning is that some excellent work was often going on between the specialist school and primary schools, in terms of workshops and so on, but that did not necessarily lead to deeper work with regard to transitional change. They did not know the pupils any better moving on to secondary schools than if that work had not gone on, so the partnership was interesting but did not necessarily sustain improvement across the system.
The other one that struck me was not using the person leading the specialism more broadly to influence teaching and learning across the school or the community. It was generally a senior manager who might take that on, so those were the sorts of criticisms that I was making, but we also said that we saw some interesting practice because we did a survey of the practice in some of them.
Q82 Chairman: May I pin you down on one thing that you said during the first question? Are you and Miriam Rosen saying that you only send Catholics into Catholic schools, Anglicans into Anglican schools, Jews into Jewish schools and Muslims into Muslim schools? Is that what you are saying is the practice of the inspectorate?
Christine Gilbert: Absolutely not.
Miriam Rosen: No, that is not what we are saying, but for the independent faith schools we do have a pool of additional inspectors who come from different faiths and backgrounds so we can try to send people in, particularly when we need people to be able to speak the language.
Q83 Chairman: I would be quite concerned if there was a rule that you only got inspected by people of your own faith.
Miriam Rosen: There is not. Our inspectors are broadly trained and are able to go into a range of schools and make judgments.
Chairman: Right. Chief Inspector, Graham Stuart has been enormously patient and wants to ask you questions about the regulation of independent schools.
Q84 Mr. Stuart: The former Committee said that it was concerned about the complex set of objectives and sectors that Ofsted now spans and its capability to fulfil its core mission. On top of that concern and coupled with the major reductions in budget that we have talked about, can it be right for Ofsted to take on the regulation of independent schools from the Secretary of State?
Christine Gilbert: We did not ask to take this responsibility on: the Department asked us to.
Q85 Mr. Stuart: No representations were made by anyone in Ofsted to take this on and it was entirely the Department's idea, is that right?
Christine Gilbert: It was absolutely the Department's idea. To be fair, I think they saw it as a way of eliminating bureaucracy.
Chairman: That is a first for any Department.
Christine Gilbert: A school would apply for registration and generally the Department would then ask Ofsted to say whether it was fit to be registered, so that would cut out the middle person. Therefore, we agreed to do it because we did not think it would require a great deal of additional time for us and would be done by administrators in Ofsted.
Q86 Mr. Stuart: Why should the Secretary of State be the regulator of the maintained sector and not of the independent sector? Is it not bizarre to have 7% regulated by Ofsted and 93% by the Secretary of State when he is-should be-responsible to Parliament? It would make more sense for him to be the regulator of all the problems in all the schools.
Christine Gilbert: I am not sure that I understand the question, because Ofsted is a regulator and an inspection organisation.
Q87 Mr. Stuart: But the Secretary of State is responsible to Parliament for the regulation of the maintained sector, and that would be changed by the handover from the Secretary of State to Ofsted.
Christine Gilbert: I am not aware of any change in maintained schools-are you?
Miriam Rosen: No. We were asked to take this on-
Christine Gilbert: Independent schools.
Miriam Rosen: Yes, the independent school registration. I think that, as Christine says, this was seen as a way of reducing bureaucracy, because when a school applies for registration we would inspect it and then advise the Department on whether it should be registered or not. We were asked, back in 2005, if we would take on this extra duty and we said that we would, because we regulate other settings, and it has taken until now for it to come to fruition in clauses in the current Bill. We do not see this as a very big addition to our work load. Quite a small team will be carrying out this work.
Q88 Mr. Stuart: How do you explain the independent sector's alarm and fairly overwhelming opposition to the proposed change?
Miriam Rosen: I think we are surprised by it. I am not quite sure what it thinks we are going to do.
Q89 Mr. Stuart: It thinks you are very bureaucratic and tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach, and that such an approach would threaten the only world-class elements in British education, which are independent schools, and the only world-class universities we have that rank in the top 50, which are those predominantly supplied by independent schools.
Chairman: I do not think that other Committee members would agree with that.
Mr. Stuart: Chairman, I do not feel it necessary to correct other Committee members every time I disagree with them.
Chairman: It was a pretty outrageous statement, though, Graham. But carry on the questioning.
Christine Gilbert: I do not think we can speak about why the independent schools think this. We were simply asked to take it on. We thought it would be a fairly small task and that is why we agreed to do it.
Q90 Mr. Stuart: Can you give reassurance, then, because the innovation and independence of independent schools has led to their being regarded, according to independent measures, as world class, just as there is a small number of universities that are also regarded as world class? The two things seem to have a great connection, particularly as an increasing percentage of science, maths and languages students seem to be coming from independent schools rather than the maintained sector. Can you reassure the sector that that extremely valuable quality, which is of great importance to the UK economy, is not going to be threatened by one-size-fits-all regulation by Ofsted?
Christine Gilbert: It is really difficult to see how that links with the registration issue. The process of and arrangements for inspection are not, as far as I am aware, going to change; they will remain as now.
Miriam Rosen: That's right. You may not know that those independent schools that do not belong to an association are inspected by Ofsted, but those that belong to the Independent Schools Council are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Q91 Mr. Stuart: They account for more than 80% of pupils in that sector, do they not?
Miriam Rosen: But they are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, not by Ofsted. However, we monitor those inspections to assure that they are suitable; we publish a report on that and have been doing that for several years. So there is absolutely no change there.
Q92 Chairman: Is it important to look at the independent sector? Is it an unnecessary burden on you? After all, it has no poor students, no looked-after students and hardly any SEN students. It must be so easy to be world class if you do not have any of those problems. Why do you inspect them? They are bound to be all right, are they not?
Christine Gilbert: Some of the independent schools, particularly those that we inspect that do not belong to the other organisation mentioned, do contain children with special needs and those who have been placed there by local authorities, and so on, so it is important that we assure the quality of education there. I think the way that the thing is organised now has the right balance. We quality assure, we check and annually I write a letter about the quality of the inspectorate doing the inspections in those sectors. That is not too draining on our time.
Chairman: Chief Inspector, we have had a good and quite a long sitting. You have been asked a range of questions from the team here and we have managed to elicit answers from all your team. Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to do business with you and see you again in your new guise.