UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 188-ii

HOUSE OF COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE

 

THE WORK OF OFSTED

 

CHRISTINE GILBERT, MICHAEL HART, VANESSA HOWLISON, MELANIE HUNT and MIRIAM ROSEN

 

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 93 - 214

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee

on Wednesday 14 May 2008

Members present:

Mr. Barry Sheerman, in the Chair

Annette Brooke

Mr. Douglas Carswell

Mr. David Chaytor

Paul Holmes

Fiona Mactaggart

Mr. Andy Slaughter

Mr. Graham Stuart

Lynda Waltho

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Christine Gilbert CBE, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills, Michael Hart, Director - Children, Vanessa Howlison, Director - Finance, Melanie Hunt, Director - Learning and Skills and Miriam Rosen, Director - Education, Ofsted, gave evidence.

 

Q<93> <Chairman:> I welcome the chief inspector and her team to our proceedings. As we all know, this is one of the two regular meetings we have every year with Ofsted. We see Ofsted for specific purposes when we conduct particular inquiries, but this is a very important session because it is fairly open-ended, so we can throw in everything, including the kitchen sink.

Chief inspector, there is a feeling in this Committee that it is about time that we looked at the pillars upon which our educational system has been built over the past 20 years. All the things that are central to that system came into being about 20 years ago, and Ofsted is one of them. Yesterday, we published a report on testing and assessment, and we have already started to look at the national curriculum. So the Committee would be interested to hear, in your opening remarks, whether Ofsted has served its purpose and whether we need it any more. It is this Committee's job to investigate whether Ofsted is a good use of taxpayers' money. Indeed, some people out there may be thinking, "Ofsted might have done a very good job, but do we really need it any more?"

<Christine Gilbert:> Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I welcome the opportunity to appear before the Committee. It is a privilege for me to account for the work of the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills. By way of introduction, I will make a few remarks about our first year of operation. I will pick up what you have asked me, then I will comment on our plans to develop how we work in the future, which links with your question.

Last November's annual report demonstrated the almost immediate benefits of joining up evidence information from across care, education and skills, and it showed that in doing so we retained both rigour and authority-our providers and users have told us that. Our departmental report, published tomorrow, will show that we have met our inspection regulatory targets across the whole of our remit in the first 12 months, which has been a real achievement for us in a time of great change.

We know, too, as you say, that inspection and regulation have to develop. As I told the Committee when I was last here, we are working to make our work more proportionate, much more user-focused and to have a greater impact not only on the institutions that we are inspecting, but on the wider system. That is a real focus for us as we set up this new organisation.

Those changes will be introduced in stages, but all our work will be informed by the same principles, because we believe that by integrating inspection and joining up the evidence that we collect, we will get an even better understanding of what things are like for children and learners and how they can be improved. For instance, we are introducing a new framework for the inspection of early years education in care this September, which will judge services for children under five in the same way regardless of whether they are provided by a school, a nursery or a childminder. We are working with the Audit Commission on the new comprehensive area assessment to begin in April 2009 which we expect to make a significant contribution to the improvement of public services in local areas.

Next week, we will start consulting on changes to school inspections from September 2009. As you know, we are unique in having the power to enter schools and classrooms, and I assure the Committee that any new arrangements will make the most of that, which is something that the Committee picked up in previous meetings. That will mean that inspectors spend more time in classrooms inspecting the quality of teaching and the impact that it has on the quality of lessons and, most importantly, on children's learning.

All this is being done while making significant savings. In 2003-04, which was the base year for better regulation, the total relevant expenditure of the inspectorates that now make up Ofsted was 266 million. Our expenditure budget last year was much smaller at 236 million, and our core expenditure this year was smaller still at 210 million, so there has been a reduction of 56 million over the past three years. That is, of course, a challenge, but it is one that we are working hard to meet while ensuring we continue to have a real and increasing impact on raising standards and improving lives.

My colleagues and I now look forward to questions on what I have said. If you want more detail on impact, I am happy to provide it.

 

Q<94> <Chairman:> There has been some criticism recently about what seems to be the thinness of the methodology. We are picking up that schools are saying that they do not feel that your lighter-touch inspection gets to the heart of what is going on in the school. There is much more reliance on examining data that anybody can look at.

What is the point of having an inspection, if it is so light-touch that head teachers and staff in the school do not think that the inspectors have been there sufficiently long or have enough detail to find out what really goes on in the school, apart from what everybody knows-the test results and perhaps the number of special educational needs pupils and the number with free school meals? What is the point of inspection if you very little further than that?

<Christine Gilbert:> We do not rely on just data. Indeed, the schools that have had a reduced-tariff inspection tell us overwhelmingly that it has been a very positive experience for them. We consider a range of data, but we also go into schools and test out that data. We talk to teachers and pupils, observe lessons, look at the school's own data, invite comments from parents and so on. We get a full impression of the school.

 

Q<95> <Chairman:> But, chief inspector, there has been criticism about light-touch inspection. We are all worried-I am certainly worried-about the Ofsted brand as you become bigger not in terms of your budget but in terms of your empire. You have absorbed the adult learning inspectorate, gone into early years and so on. I remember reading that when Richard Branson had the Virgin brand, it was one of the highest brands in the marketplace until he took over trains and the brand absolutely slumped-not because anything had gone wrong with the other bits of the empire, but because of one part of the brand.

Is there not a danger with early years of getting a bad name for Ofsted? There are all those settings and people say you do not visit them very often and do not stay very long-a sort of "never mind the quality, feel the width" sort of attitude. If you are doing a not very good job with early years, the word goes out that Ofsted really does not do a very efficient job across the board.

<Christine Gilbert:> I should say, Mr. Chairman, that the Virgin Trains service to Manchester is extremely good. In the new organisation, we are taking a proportionate approach to inspection, so what we are seeking to do across all our remits is to use inspection where we think the need is greatest. In testing the reduced tariff, we found that looking at a range of information that tells us something about the school and gives us a picture of the school has great links with what we see when we get to the school. We see about a 90% link between what we look at in terms of data and what we see when we inspect. We want to keep less of a focus on institutions and organisations that are good or better, although we still want to look at them. It is terribly important that we keep closely in our minds what "good" looks like, but we want to focus our efforts where inspection will generate the greatest improvement. We think that that involves satisfactory provision, but also, most importantly, inadequate and poor provision generally. We are using that as a policy right across Ofsted.

 

Q<96> <Chairman:> Have you seen our report on testing and assessment yet?

<Christine Gilbert:> I have not seen it. I heard about it yesterday-I heard the various reports, and I heard you, Mr. Chairman, on the radio yesterday morning.

 

Q<97> <Chairman:> One part of that was a plea that schools should be assessed holistically rather than on the raw data. We urge parents to look not only at the raw data of test scores, but at other things, including the Ofsted report. If that report does very little but show us what sort of test results a school is getting, it does not offer richness and diversity. You do not really seem to have answered my question. We want a lighter-touch inspection, but something that still has a qualitatively different feel to it than just repeating the scores of the school.

<Christine Gilbert:> Our reports do not just report scores. They give a very full picture-even the reduced tariff inspection reports-of the school. You get much more from reading one of our reports than you would from looking at a set of data-you get a much fuller impression of the school. You get a picture of leadership and management in the school and, often, in some very difficult schools, leadership and management is stronger than the overall provision in the school. You get something on leadership and management, achievement and standards more generally, pupils' well-being, wealth and so on. I am sure there is a list that Miriam would add to that. Reading any of those reports, you get a very full picture of the school. It does not need to be a lengthy picture, but you get more of a picture than you would if you just looked at narrow SATs results or GCSE results, so I fully support what was being said yesterday.

 

Q<98> <Chairman:> Let us say that a parent in my constituency reads a report on a local school. Would that parent pick up anything like a comment such as, "This school seems to be concentrating far too much on teaching to the test, squeezing access to the curriculum because getting good test results is the main thrust of the school's activity."? Is that the sort of thing an Ofsted report might say?

<Christine Gilbert:> Absolutely. A report could contain that sort of thing, and they do contain that sort of thing. I have never had a criticism about the content of a report from a parent. That is not quite true-an article in one of the Sunday papers about 18 months ago said that the reports are very similar. The reports that I read give a picture of the school. I read special measures reports every week, and even those give a full, detailed picture of the school. The thing that parents complain about is not having a current report. They might look on the web and find a report from four years ago, or whatever, in which case we need to do a section 5 inspection in that school. However, they would certainly get a picture such as that that you have described from reading our reports.

 

Q<99> <Chairman:> We have produced a thorough report on testing and assessment. A great deal of evidence suggests that the real problem in our schools is teaching to the test. Much too much time is spent drilling the children to pass the next hurdle. Is that something that your organisation has picked up, and where have you published that finding?

<Christine Gilbert:> We have picked it up, and I referred to it in my annual report last year. However-it is a big however, which I felt when I listened to the coverage yesterday-it is not inevitable that schools will teach to the test. There is no inevitability about it. We see very good schools where the focus is learning and there is no teaching to the test. They might do two weeks' practice so children know what a test looks and feels like, but there is no distortion of the curriculum. The focus is very much on the children's learning, and the test is a by-product of that. That was not captured in any of yesterday's press coverage.

<Chairman:> We will drill down on some of those things, chief inspector. Thank you for those opening remarks.

 

Q<100> <Mr. Carswell:> I have three questions for the chief inspector, but if anyone else wants to chip in, please do. The first question relates to accountability. Gordon Brown's paper on modernising the governance of Britain made the excellent suggestion that we should reform the current system to allow Parliament to have much greater say over the appointment of officials. Do you think that this Committee should be in a position to confirm-or not-the appointment of the head of Ofsted? Is that a development that you personally would welcome?

<Christine Gilbert:> It depends on what you mean by "confirm". I would have been very unlikely to have pursued an application for this post if I had had to be confirmed by the Committee looking at me and asking me questions.

 

Q<101><Mr. Carswell:> Why?

<Christine Gilbert:> Because there are issues of confidentiality when you apply for a post and all sorts of things related to that. That is a personal view, but I think it would be common across my profession.

<Mr. Carswell:> Okay.

<Christine Gilbert:> That is not the same as meeting the Chairman outside, or whatever, but there is an issue about public appointments.

 

Q<102> <Mr. Carswell:> So, before I move on to my next question, you would not welcome such a development.

<Christine Gilbert:> As I have said, the issue is the way in which such a process would happen. It was not clear to me, from reading the proposals several months ago, that it would be done in the way in which I have just suggested-that whoever was coming would sit here and be questioned by you and then you would or would not endorse the appointment afterwards. Nobody could tell me the answer to that.

 

Q<103> <Mr. Carswell:> Changing the subject slightly, we are doing a report and taking evidence about the independent sector. It is early days yet, but it seems to me there is a basic fault line among the witnesses between those who are hostile to the independent sector and want to set it new obligations of one kind or another and, on the other hand, those who take the view that the independent sector is excellent precisely because it is independent, and that we should therefore be making all schools more independent. What side of that fault line do you come down on?

<Christine Gilbert:> I do not want to come down on either side of that. We do our work fairly and openly with the independent schools, and we do what is asked of us. We monitor very good provision, and we see some good provision in the areas that we inspect ourselves. You have discussed the independent sector, which is a very wide group with a number of things inside it. The schools in the Independent Schools Council are generally very good schools.

 

Q<104> <Mr. Carswell:> At Ofsted, you obviously want to raise standards; we all want to. Politicians and officials have regulated for it; we have legislated for it; we have inspected for it; we have target-set for it; but all these top-down initiatives do not seem to be working.

Do you not think that there is another way? Do you not think that a Government could raise standards if they took a totally different approach? Rather than trying to inspect and target-set from the centre, could they not achieve higher standards by giving a legal right to every parent in the country to enable them to control their child's pot of local education authority funding? By doing so, you would allow choice, which at the moment only rich people have. You would allow best-practice to spread, not because someone said it should, but because schools were forced to emulate what worked. It would allow innovation. You and I would not be sitting here saying what is best for a school. Teachers would work that out, and it would raise standards. I want to get a sense of whether you think that perhaps the time has come to recognise that all this top-down target-setting and inspection has had its day; Governments of both parties have tried it; it is time for new approach.

<Christine Gilbert:> When I took this job, I said-and it is sometimes very difficult to do-that I would try to base what I say on our evidence. The distinctive thing about Ofsted is the richness of its evidence base, but I do not have an evidence base on which to answer your question.

When I look at our evidence base, it tells me that there have been considerable improvements over the past 10 years which, however, have generally stalled. I am a passionate believer in the use of targets-not too many but some-which concentrate effort and minds. If you look at the past few years, they have been effective. Whether we got the bottom-up part right is another issue. One of things that we are looking at in what we are saying about our new proposals for school inspections next week is trying to engage parents much more in decisions about whether a school needs an inspection now or whether it could wait another few years. The views of parents will be very important in helping us to make those decisions.

The evidence that we have shows that that is the case in all areas of our remit. Miriam and the Chairman mentioned food. When we first came in, our food report, which covered only a few schools-about 27 or 28-showed that there was a dip in the number of pupils taking school meals. Schools where the trend was reversed were those which engaged pupils in decisions about menus and about where they sat at lunchtime and so on. What we call in our jargon "user voice" or "user engagement" is fundamental to improving quality. Perhaps we have not concentrated enough on that in the past. Our evidence shows that where institutions do that, where the voice of individual children, looked-after children and so on is heard, they do better.

 

Q<105> <Annette Brooke:> What is the correlation between a school's test results and the overall grading that you give the school?

<Christine Gilbert:> I do not know if we have done any work. I will ask Miriam. I am not aware of any immediate work that has been done on it.

The introduction of contextual value-added in September 2005 with the new school inspection framework introduced a value-added element into the judgment in terms of looking at important school data. The focus on test results-where we began this morning-shifted quite considerably with the introduction of CVA, which tried to establish the added value that the school was making. I do not think you would find a straight line between test results and what we are saying about overall effectiveness. I am pretty certain you would not.

For instance, I was talking to somebody last week who is the governor of a school in Bristol. He told me that, until he saw the CVA results for his school, which had something like 70% five A to C grades, he thought he was a member of the governing body of a good school. The CVA results suggested he was not. Ofsted inspected that school two months ago and gave it a satisfactory rating overall, not just because of the CVA, although that is an important element in looking at a school. I cannot stress enough the fact that it is based on the inspectors' judgments about the data, about what they see in the school, the judgments they make on what they see and hear, and on progress, which, for me, is absolutely key. The inspectors are looking at progress and outcomes and making a judgment using a whole range of indicators.

 

Q<106> <Annette Brooke:> How common is it for a school to achieve a "good" grading when the test results are judged as satisfactory? I am not really getting any feel about that. It is just anecdotal: "Well, there are exceptions." I would like to know what percentage of schools can get out of this straitjacket of the straightforward comment on their results.

<Christine Gilbert:> We could do a piece of work and send it to you after the meeting. This came up at a previous meeting. Schools often say they cannot get "good" or "outstanding" because their attainment is only satisfactory, but that is not the case.

 

Q<107> <Annette Brooke:> I wanted to ask a very specific question, and that has led me into it. A school in my constituency was revisited a week before the next SATs results, about which it is quite confident, but there is a perception that it cannot get a good rating from the recent inspection, which is very demoralising for the school, and affects performance within the school.

I think that that is rather serious, and I do not know to what extent you have looked at this. If there are lots of schools that believe they are constrained by their test results, that increases dependence on a narrow range of results and the final outcome for the school, because the teachers then lose motivation as well. I think it is really a serious issue.

<Christine Gilbert:> I will ask Miriam in a second whether there is anything she is aware of that I am not. I speak almost weekly up and down the country, and I am often told about that. I always say, "Write to me with the example," and people often do so. However, I have not looked at a single example in the 18 months in which I have been in this post where it was true. It is absolutely not true, in all the cases that I have looked at.

<Miriam Rosen:> There is quite a high correlation between the progress that pupils make and the overall judgment on a school, but I would like to reaffirm that the judgment on progress is not just a judgment about test results. The inspectors take all available evidence into account when they are making that judgment on progress. They take the contextual value-added data into account, but also what they observe in lessons, the tracking the school can show of pupils' progress, scrutiny of pupils' work, and so on.

 

Q<108> <Paul Holmes:> As a quick follow-on, I have a slightly different take on what Annette was asking. In most years, there is an example in the press of a school that has received a good Ofsted report, which waxes enthusiastic about the fact that the kids are happy, there is great leadership from the head, a great ethos in the school, and great teaching. Then, when the GCSE results come out, because it is under whatever the threshold is that year-at the moment, 30% five A to Cs-it is put into special measures. If, Christine, you are going to send us some evidence about the issue Annette asked about, could you include any comparisons on that? How often do you give a good report on a school which is put in special measures year because of its exam results later the same year?

<Christine Gilbert:> It is absolutely untrue to say that any school would be placed in special measures because of its exam results. Why would we bother to go in? This leads back to the first question. It is what we see when we go into the school that leads the inspector to make a judgment about performance.

 

Q<109> <Paul Holmes:> But surely that is not the impression the Secretary of State gives when he says, "All schools under 30% A to C will be put into special measures or closed unless they manage to hit the bar"?

<Christine Gilbert:> But all those schools were not in special measures. I think you must be referring to the 631-I think it has just gone up to 638. Those schools were not in special measures. In one particular year, 3% of those schools were outstanding. We made our own analysis of one year of those schools and saw that leadership and management was strong in a number of them, including a number of improving schools.

That said, at some point, schools have to make sure that their pupils achieve results. You cannot go on forever saying, "This school is a good school because the children are making progress." At some point they have to get results that will get them jobs to give them the sort of life chances we want them to have.

 

Q<110> <Paul Holmes:> But are you saying that the way the press reported what the Secretary of State said was wrong? That schools which are not achieving five A to C for 30% or above are not going to be put into special measures unless they manage to hit that bar?

<Christine Gilbert:> Well, yes. I think Mick Brookes, when talking to the Committee, used Ofsted as an example of how schools were not fairly judged in that way. We are going to address that in the proposals next week, and I think it is really important. Standards are important, and we want to improve them. One of the things I made a lot of in my annual report last year-both in the report itself and in the press comments-was the 20% who go on to our secondary schools not fully functional in literacy and numeracy. That percentage really has to change, and schools have got to be responsible in some way for reducing that percentage.

 

Q<111> <Paul Holmes:> Nobody would dispute that. The question I am asking is, have the Government misled people, has the press misled people, or have I just read all these reports wrongly? There is a strong suggestion that unless schools hit 30% five A to C or above, they will be closed or put into special measures.

<Christine Gilbert:> I think they were looking at different things. They were looking just at examination performance. Ofsted, as we have said, looks at a broader range of things and has a stronger evidence base. Exam performance is part of that. I really do not wish to leave Committee members thinking that we do not think performance at any of the key stage exams is important. It is important.

 

Q<112> <Paul Holmes:> I am still not clear what the answer to my question is. Have the Government said that any school that is getting below 30% five A to C is going to be closed or put into special measures, or not?

<Christine Gilbert:> As far as I understand it, that is what they have said, but I am not here to speak for the Government. We are an independent inspectorate, so I cannot comment in detail on that. My understanding is that that is what they have said.

 

Q<113> <Paul Holmes:> So Ofsted would feel that there are cases where a school is below the bar but, because of the head, the teachers, the ethos, and the progress that has been made, it should not be closed or put in special measures?

<Christine Gilbert:> We think that those are improving schools, and I would not presume to make a decision about whether a school should be closed or not with that sort of flimsy evidence, having once been a director in an authority where we made school closures. You have to think very hard about school closures. I will just reinforce the point we made. We found that leadership and management was very high in the year that we took. We looked at the judgments we have made on a year from those schools, and found that leadership and management in something like 23% of those schools was good or better, although we were classifying only 3% of them as outstanding. That was an issue, but they were improving schools-some of them, not all of them.

 

Q<114> <Chairman:> Chief inspector, before we move on to the next topic, you know that our report on testing and assessment came out yesterday. Has anyone giving evidence today read it, in the day you had to read it? Has none of your staff, in the full day you had before coming to this Committee, read our report on testing and assessment?

<Christine Gilbert:> I think we got a PDF copy yesterday evening at about 7 o'clock.

<Chairman:> It was available from early yesterday morning.

<Christine Gilbert:> We will read it, Mr. Chairman, and there are several references to Ofsted which we will look at in detail.

<Chairman:> Absolutely, but if the Committee is going to decide whether your organisation does a valuable job, it does worry us-and I share this view with Paul-that we are not really getting an answer back.

We took a great deal of evidence. I hope you will look at the evidence that was given to this Committee on testing assessment. Time and time again, people said that the real problem was teaching to the test in many schools. I am not saying that about the best schools-the high-achieving, well-led schools, as Paul said, with a good ethos. We are talking about the average school. The evidence that kept coming back to us was that there was a tremendous emphasis on teaching to the test which was not good for the students in terms of their access to the curriculum and a creative learning experience. If you have not picked this up, if this really does not worry you, there is a real disjuncture between your inspection process and the kind of evidence that we are given in this Committee.

<Christine Gilbert:> I am sorry if I have not been clear. I thought I had made it clear that we did pick this up. We picked it up in reports we published, we picked it up in school reports, and I mentioned it more than once in my annual report published last year. We talked about this very thing. The poetry report published a couple of months ago mentioned it. Mathematics was a major theme in the annual report where it is mentioned. We have picked it up. I could send you something after the meeting which shows you where and how we have picked it up.

 

Q<115> <Chairman:> But not prioritised?

<Christine Gilbert:> I identified it as an issue in the annual report last year. I do not see that it is inevitable.

<Chairman:> No one said it is inevitable. The poetry report marked it very low down. I was delighted when I got the report on poetry, but there was no mention of John Clare-that was a silly aside.

We want to move on to the 2009 inspection framework, and David Chaytor is to lead on this.

 

Q<116> <Mr. David Chaytor:> You are to consult shortly on the new framework for 2009. Would you tell us the key questions that you will be asking in that consultation?

<Christine Gilbert:> I do not feel it would be appropriate to go into detail, because we are not launching it until next week. The issue that I have been talking about this morning-proportionality; how we use our resources and so on-is a major strand. We are thinking about the regularity with which we inspect schools, the standards of schools and making more of a risk assessment of a school rather than just going in automatically to inspect that school.

 

Q<117> <Chairman:> So what does a risk assessment mean?

<Christine Gilbert:> We will look at a number of factors in a school. That is one of the things that we want to consult on-what those factors might be. We would look at test data, trends, at what the local authority thought about the school, and the link with what the ISC said about the school. We will talk to parents. One of the things that parents have said to me is that a change of head teacher is a risk factor. We would look at a range of things. One of the reasons you cannot rely on test data is that things change in a school, and they take a while to come through in the performance test data.

 

Q<118> <Mr. Chaytor:> In respect of the wider issues that have been raised as valid subjects for inspection, particularly the Every Child Matters outcomes, to what extent will those appear in the new inspection framework and to what extent should they have parity of consideration with the more traditional inspection criteria?

<Christine Gilbert:> They remain fundamental to the approach that we are taking. ECM indicators are very well established. As we try to look across our whole remit, we think that those five core elements have something important to say for every remit. We might phrase them differently for learning and skills and so on, but essentially they have something to say about every area that we inspect. However, the five indicators remain fundamental to the school inspection framework. They are there now in the framework.

 

Q<119> <Mr. Chaytor:> Do you envisage any extension of the inspection of children's well-being in the new framework, beyond the existing indicators?

<Christine Gilbert:> The children's plan, which was published last Christmas, said that the Department would want to work with Ofsted to look more closely at developing indicators for well-being. We are in some discussion with the Department about that, but we are nowhere near producing a set of proposals.

 

Q<120> <Mr. Chaytor:> So that set of proposals will not appear in the new consultation?

<Christine Gilbert:> No. There is passing reference to it, but we are nowhere near going out to consultation.

 

Q<121> <Mr. Chaytor:> So, the 2009 inspection framework will not take on board the issues that are raised in the children's plan?

<Christine Gilbert:> It will do so, but it will be a separate line of discussion. We make passing reference to the parallel piece of work that is going on. My guess is that we will not be there until about the end of July, probably, with a set of proposals. That is because there is not an obvious set of hard indicators that tell you about well-being. Again, we are looking at using surveys to tell us about pupil views of their own well-being, and so on, and what they might mean, so that it doe not become a vast bureaucratic exercise. We are looking at a range of things, and we are quite a way from being able to talk about that issue in detail.

 

Q<122> <Mr. Chaytor:> In the 2009 framework, what are the implications for the existing Ofsted work force, given that the inspection criteria are likely to be widened? Do you envisage a need to recruit a different type of inspector, or a need to have an in-house training programme for inspectors to take on this wider set of indicators?

<Christine Gilbert:> The key thing about next September is that the contract that we have with our regional inspection providers will finish; in fact, it will finish next August. So we will begin a new contract at the same time as the new school inspection framework is rolled out. We are saying and working out what that framework might be in the contract deliberations, as we enter a competitive dialogue with a number of providers who are showing interest. It will be their responsibility to ensure that their staff are trained to be able to do the job that we want them to do.

Regarding our own staff, we still believe that HMI will play a major role in many inspections, as part of the inspection teams but also having a role in the inspection process itself. We have an intensive training programme for all inspectors-all staff, actually-in Ofsted. That programme picks up the key issues. For instance, we have been inspecting well-being since September 2005, I think, and there is a training programme to address all these new things as they come on board.

 

Q<123> <Mr. Chaytor:> On the parents' perception and the public perception of the quality of the school, the fact remains-I think that most people would agree-that it is still dominated by the headline indicator of the SATs results or the GCSE score. In fact, in your earlier response to Paul Holmes, you made the point that standards remain important; we were talking about wider levels of achievement and you were focusing on standards as defined, to a certain extent, by GCSE score.

So my question is this: what more can you do to communicate the wider description of a school's achievement that is contained in the Ofsted report to counterbalance the simple attraction of a headline GCSE score?

<Christine Gilbert:> One of the things that parents tell me is that they do not just rely on examination performance and that they rely, particularly as the children get older, on Ofsted reports. For instance, I was talking just last week to a journalist who has a strong education interest. She told me that in choosing a school for her daughter she was not looking for the best-performing school in terms of SATs or GCSE results in that authority. Behaviour was her key focus and she could only find out about that by reading Ofsted reports. She said that she devoured all of them on the school in her area. Our evidence is that that is not common-Ofsted reports are used a lot for secondary schools, but not so much earlier in the system. Parents do not just go on exam performance.

That being said, I worry that we separate these things. We have five outcomes for Every Child Matters that are completely interdependent. If you focus on a child's well-being, the optimistic view is that that child's academic performance should improve too. There is an interplay between all those things-they are not just separate. It is important that a good school looks holistically at the child, just as in the new organisation that we are establishing we look holistically at the whole picture right across the piece.

 

Q<124> <Mr. Chaytor:> But does that point about the holistic approach not strengthen the argument that the key conclusions of the Ofsted report should be published simultaneously with the GSCE scores and that the performance tables should not just include information on examination results, but from the Ofsted report? I can see how those children with highly motivated parents who have access to broadband and who have probably been to university would take it as read that they would consult the Ofsted report. I have not been given any indication that the vast majority of non-graduate parents who do not have access to broadband study Ofsted reports in their spare time. Is the logic of your answer to my previous question not that the key indicators of the Ofsted report should be published as part of the performance tables?

<Christine Gilbert:> There would be no difficulty in publishing it-I know that that was one of the proposals made yesterday-but one of the other things that you commented on was the inaccessibility of the league tables now. It would be important that it was not just another piece of evidence that was difficult to access. It is important that the whole picture of the school is seen, and an Ofsted report does give that whole picture.

 

Q<125> <Mr. Chaytor:> Finally, coming back to the point about the 638 schools whose GCSE scores are under 30%, if 23% of them are good or better, what is your advice to the Secretary of State about what he should do with those schools?

<Christine Gilbert:> I need to be careful here. We looked at one year in detail.

 

Q<126> <Mr. Chaytor:> If 23% of them in one year are deemed to be good or better, what is your advice to the Secretary of State about whether he should close those schools?

<Christine Gilbert:> I would not presume to give him advise on closure or not. As I have said, closure is a complex thing and the consequences of that closure for the local area and so on need to be considered. I welcome the focus on higher expectations for all schools. Apparently, the vast majority of those schools have set themselves targets that they will have reached 30% by the end of the period in question. I am not sure about the detail of that.

Even in the schools that we look at, if they are improving, it will show at some point in the results. The issue is whether that will show quickly enough for the children in that school. I would ask the Secretary of State to look at our results, and for the Department to work to build on the progress that those schools are making. He should support the schools in making that progress.

 

Q<127> <Chairman:> Before we move on to the 2009 inspection framework, from what you said, you consult widely on that changing inspection framework and you listen to people. Have you talked to people who are concerned about the early-years foundation stage-the people involved with the Open EYE campaign. Have you had any representations from them-have you talked to them?

<Christine Gilbert:> The school inspection framework that we are producing next week will launch a three-month consultation period and different soundings will be taken beyond that period as proposals and suggestions come in. I imagine-Michael will not know either as he was not there-that there was a fairly intensive consultation period on the early-years foundation stage. Actually, I think that I remember it from the local authority perspective.

 

Q<128> <Chairman:> How do you react to the view that we are increasingly putting an onus on teachers to draw into education-formal education-much earlier than some of our European neighbours, for example? Standards are being set very early, with pupils learning to read and write and get skills which, in other countries like Denmark, they do not even start to do until the age of seven. We in this Committee are picking up this unhappiness-something that the early-years inquiry some years ago picked up-about pushing formal education to a lower age. Is that something you are picking up in inspections? Do you worry about it?

<Christine Gilbert:> We looked at this briefly, very soon after I was appointed to Ofsted, and the evidence we had was inconclusive. It was not clear that there was a strong argument-there was only "on the one hand this and on the other hand that." But we have not done a fundamental piece of work on it since then. We will be looking at and monitoring carefully the impact of the early-years foundation stage, which we start inspecting in September. About this time next year, we will be able to give you some feedback.

 

Q<129> <Chairman:> If your inspector went in and saw children of four sitting there being taught to learn to read and write in little rows, that would worry you, would it not, Miriam?

<Miriam Rosen:> Much of the good early-years work that goes on is not as formal as you just implied. I am not sure that that is implied within the new arrangements, but we will be in a much stronger position to report on that in a year's time.

 

Q<130> <Paul Holmes:> I asked about that point two or three years ago at a similar meeting. Some of the playgroups I visited in my constituency-a friend of mine used to run one-complained that when Ofsted first started to inspect them, the inspectors asked, "Where's the evidence of formal learning?" These were three and four-year-old kids, and Ofsted was asking about formal learning. You are saying that the requirement for formal learning is not there.

<Michael Hart:> Perhaps I can come in here. In our best provision, it will not be presented as formal learning. I have visited early-years settings where there was excellent learning going on, in a much more informal way through play activities-some of it structured, some of it informal play opportunities-which do work towards the early learning outcomes that we would expect and that are reflected in the early-years foundation stage. The best practice will not necessarily be a formal type of approach, which you just described.

 

Q<131> <Paul Holmes:> So Ofsted inspectors certainly should not be asking a playgroup where the evidence of formal learning is.

<Michael Hart:> They would be asking about where the learning opportunities were going on. I think that the word "formal" is a bit of an aside-it probably should not be in that question at all.

 

Q<132> <Chairman:> Why not, because people like Open EYE tell us that inspections push people to give more formal learning earlier? If you talk to some people in the Steiner movement, for example, they feel that you do not really approve of their less formal approach to early years. Is that right-that the inspectorate frowns on the Steiner approach?

<Michael Hart:> The Department has recently responded to Steiner and that did include reference to Ofsted at the time. We are clear that the early-years foundation stage outcomes can be delivered in a whole range of ways. One of them is through approaches adopted by the Steiner organisation. That has been reflected in responses that have been given by the Department.

<Christine Gilbert:> We did do some trialling fairly recently on aspects of the way in which we are going to inspect-whether we are going to make one judgment, four judgments and so on. The responses from those involved in the trial-it was more or less a random sample-were really very positive. My impression from reading the correspondence about Steiner is that it has a fixed view of the foundation stage, which is not right. It wrote to me maybe three weeks ago and I wrote back saying-

 

Q<133> <Chairman:> It is not right? In what sense?

<Christine Gilbert:> We are not going in looking for a particular form of teaching and learning. We are looking for effective development and learning, and we hope that what Steiner is doing is leading to good development and good learning.

 

Q<134> <Chairman:> Does it? What is your view?

<Christine Gilbert:> I have no idea yet. We have not inspected it. I do not know whether it has been involved in-

 

Q<135> <Chairman:> You have never inspected a Steiner school?

<Christine Gilbert:> I am sorry; I thought you meant in terms of the early years foundation stage.

 

Q<136> <Chairman:> People who come before the Committee, people who talk to us and people whom we meet on visits-I visited a Steiner school in Blackheath very recently-say that the Ofsted influence is driving an approach to early years that is more formal than they think desirable. You are not living in a bubble, chief inspector. I am not an advocate for Open EYE-I have severe reservations about some of the things that it has said-but you said that you started early years inspections in 2004.

<Christine Gilbert:> You mean the whole approach for 2002, when early years child care came over to Ofsted?

 

Q<137> <Chairman:> Yes. You must have some view on the big debate. Are we pushing children into too-formal learning too early?

<Christine Gilbert:> We are not pushing them. The inspectorate does not push a particular model. It goes in and sees, looks at children's needs, assesses the progress they make and reaches a particular judgment. Steiner schools are independent schools and, as far as I am aware, perform well. The provision that we inspected in early years-Michael might be able to give you more detail-does not stand out as an area of concern, and it had not written to me about previous inspections. It wrote to me about their concerns about what is being introduced from next September and, as far as we are aware, there is sufficient flexibility. The issues include not only the inspection framework, but the regulations and the way in which we are going to inspect them. We have written back fairly positively, and the Department has written an even more positive letter about how the future will be for them.

 

Q<138> <Paul Holmes:> I was interested in your comment that you do not have a particular model and that you just want effective outcomes. Let me move the argument on from Steiner to an older age group. I cannot resist it: Summerhill school, of course, had a long-running battle with Ofsted. We had one Ofsted session in which its pupils were at the back of the Room and were lobbying Ofsted out in the Corridor. The school took you to court and won the case, and it was not closed down, although Ofsted wanted to close it down. Have you moved on from having one particular model whereby you wanted to close Summerhill?

<Christine Gilbert:> Summerhill was before my time. I did hear just this morning that the pupils used to come regularly to this Committee; it was not just once.

<Chairman:> We miss them. At least there were some young people here.

<Miriam Rosen:> That was a very long time ago. Summerhill has been reinspected since then, and the school was found to be satisfactory. We look at effectiveness and, for independent schools, we look at whether they are meeting the regulations.

 

Q<139> <Paul Holmes:> Between the two inspections-following one, you said that Summerhill should be closed down, and following the other, you said that it was satisfactory-who changed, Summerhill or Ofsted?

<Miriam Rosen:> It was not us who said the school should be closed down. The Department makes those decisions, not us. We were looking at the school's performance against the regulations, and we looked at that again. In the meantime, it had, as you say, won the battle for us to be looking slightly differently at how it meets the regulations. In the second, most recent inspection, it was found to be satisfactory.

 

Q<140> <Chairman:> Good bedtime reading, chief inspector, includes not only our report that came out yesterday but the one that a previous Committee wrote on early years about five years ago-one of the first reports under my chairmanship. I am just a little bit worried that a discussion is going on out there about early years-about formal versus informal and whether Ofsted is driving the process-and you do not seem to know much about it.

<Christine Gilbert:> I am sorry that we have given that impression. It is a major theme of our work at the moment. We are training all our inspectors in how to inspect the early years foundation stage. That is a major thrust across two directorates, so it is a major issue for us. What I am saying is that we do not advocate a particular model of learning. We look at effectiveness when we go into different organisations and institutions. Learning by play is a major strand of good practice. That said, I have also seen very formal work with four-year-olds that was inspirational. So it is looking and seeing, and looking at the needs of the pupils and the progress that they are making.

<Miriam Rosen:> May I add that if you look at our reports on maintained schools, under section 5 you will often find that the foundation stage is an area of strength?

 

Q<141> <Chairman:> But Miriam, as Chairman I worry a great deal about the quality of the care and stimulation in early years, and I do that because early-years employees are still the lowest paid and least trained section of the education work force. You know that and the Committee knows that. I am surprised that when Ofsted inspects early years, it never seems to say anything about that. Everybody knows that people are on minimum wage-plus in that area, that there are not enough graduate teachers and that the whole area is under-resourced. I hear that you do the inspections, but I do not hear your voice criticising anything.

<Miriam Rosen:> Are you talking about a particular sector?

<Chairman:> I am talking about the whole of the early-years field, which you now are responsible for inspecting, and about which you seem to be mute.

<Miriam Rosen:> I am not aware that in the foundation stage in schools there is a particular problem. Our school inspection reports often identify it as an area of strength within a primary school. Perhaps Michael wants to respond?

<Michael Hart:> May I comment on what was shown by the data that we published last year in "Getting on Well"-the data that we looked at recently continue to support this point? "Getting on Well" was a publication that looked at a full year of inspection, and 96% of inspections of early years and child care came out as satisfactory or better, while some 57% came out as good or outstanding. So, overall, parents should be very encouraged by the available provision, from the perspective of what we found in our inspections. Perhaps equally encouragingly, when you look at the other 4%-the 4% that we found inadequate-we always went back into those settings to see whether there had been improvement over the following year. The picture was that 94% of that 4% had improved in that period, and had become at least satisfactory. The picture overall is very encouraging, and more than 20% of those schools have gone to being good from previously being inadequate.

That goes back a little to your first question about showing the impact of inspectors, who have made a real difference. I met yesterday with representatives of one of the major national organisations for child minding, who was very supportive about work in inspecting child minders. They constantly say to us how much child minders value the inspection and what it does for them in terms of being able to promote their work in their neighbourhood.

<Chairman:> That leads us into our third section of child and welfare issues.

 

Q<142> <Annette Brooke:> Is there always an early-years specialist on an inspection team that goes into an early-years setting?

<Michael Hart:> If you are asking about all the private and voluntary settings that we go into, it will always be one of our early-years inspectors. We have a team of around 700 early-years and child care inspectors, who transferred from local authorities with that experience. They are the inspectors who go into the early-years and child-care settings.

 

Q<143> <Annette Brooke:> And into other settings? On an inspection team for early years, is there always an early-years specialist?

<Michael Hart:> Miriam will speak about what goes on when we go into schools, but in all other settings it will always be an early-years inspector.

 

Q<144> <Annette Brooke:> May I follow up on that? So, it would be incomprehensible that any inspection team would recommend a nursery to use more worksheets. Is that a fair statement?

<Michael Hart:> It sounds very unlikely to me that any of our early-years or child care inspectors would recommend that in a playgroup or nursery, or with a child minder or out-of-school club. I covered that area in what I was just talking about. I am sure that Miriam will want to say something about school settings.

<Miriam Rosen:> First, with regard to the inspectors, all those whom we send into schools are fully trained. In primary schools, you will find that the appropriate inspectors are sent in.

 

Q<145> <Annette Brooke:> With respect, being a trained inspector is not the same as having a background and professional qualification in early years.

<Miriam Rosen:> If you are talking about a small primary school with one inspector, that inspector may be somebody who is primary trained rather than specifically early-years trained, but we still consider that to be appropriate. They will have had appropriate training.

 

Q<146> <Annette Brooke:> Moving on, you previously expressed a great deal of satisfaction with Ofsted inspections, and yet a recent BBC programme gave a rather different picture. What is your response to the allegations in that programme that Ofsted inspectors are being urged to keep up with targets for the number of child care facilities inspected, rather than checking thoroughly on each inspection that the facilities are appropriate? How did you react to that programme? What was your immediate response?

<Michael Hart:> We took the programme very seriously, because it raised important issues. I will pick up the issue of targets, which you have just mentioned. In the past, there was some variation in the amount of work activity that some of our inspectors carried out. Quite reasonably, a year or so ago my predecessor wanted to look at the amount of output and the number of inspections carried out by different inspectors. The inspectors worked towards what they thought was a reasonable amount of work for each person to carry out. Some inspectors found that process quite difficult, and a small proportion perhaps felt that they were being a bit pressured. However, all we were doing was looking for a reasonable amount of work from each of our inspectors.

 

Q<147> <Annette Brooke:> Did that cause you to look back at some of the reports that had come out during that time period to ensure that the majority of them were thorough?

<Michael Hart:> We always look back at our reports. There is a quality assurance process that goes on where all reports are read before they get sent out, and quality assurance is carried out for a proportion of them to ensure that the evidence that we found marries up with what goes into the report. That is an ongoing process that takes place all the time. Certainly, we looked back at the settings that were on that programme, and it is worth saying that it featured only two settings. We understand that the BBC had some difficulty finding other settings-it managed to identify only two. Importantly, I stress that out of those two settings, in one of them Ofsted had been going back on a regular basis for just over a year because of some concerns. Eventually it reached a decision that that setting was inadequate, which subsequently led the owners to decide to close it down. That showed the impact of our inspection during a period of just over a year.

 

Q<148> <Annette Brooke:> Another comment on the programme was that nursery inspections should take place every three years but, perhaps because of the amount of work you have to do, there could be up to four and a half years between inspections. Obviously, that would be a very long time in a nursery setting.

<Michael Hart:> Yes, that was hard for us to explain when we sent the information back to the BBC. We work on a cycle of three years for inspections, but we do not automatically say that the inspection will take place exactly three years to the day after the previous inspections. That obviously makes sense because if a setting knows that it is going to be inspected more or less exactly three years after the previous inspection, it will be prepared. We want to conduct unannounced inspections, so that they do not know and they cannot be prepared. In fact, what happens is that sometimes inspections take place earlier in the course of a three-year programme, and sometimes they take place rather later. There will be variation. What is important is that the settings are constantly kept on their toes, not knowing when the inspector will arrive.

 

Q<149> <Annette Brooke:> But four and a half years is rather a long gap, is it not?

<Michael Hart:> There will not be many like that. On the whole, we are looking for something nearer to three years, but there may be some that are rather longer or rather shorter.

 

Q<150> <Annette Brooke:> Finally, do inspectors always check whether Criminal Records Bureau checks have been carried out on any of the staff or any of the people who might be visiting the playgroup or nursery setting?

<Michael Hart:> There are two aspects to CRB checks. We have responsibility for some checks. We are responsible for making sure that the manager has had a CRB check, and we are responsible for making sure that those who have overall responsibility for running the playgroup have had their CRB check. As far as the employees of a nursery are concerned, it is down to the nursery manager and their management team to ensure that the CRB checks have been carried out. We check that they are doing that when we do our inspection. That would be sampled and checked on each of our inspection visits.

 

Q<151> <Annette Brooke:> Does the four and a half year gap mean that there is a similar gap in checking whether the relevant people have had CRB checks?

<Michael Hart:> We would do that when we carry out our inspection. The other thing is that if we receive any information, such as a complaint or a comment from a parent or member of the public that such checks have not been carried out, we would immediately investigate.

 

Q<152> <Annette Brooke:> After the event. I will let that lead into the next set of questions.

 

Q<153> <Fiona Mactaggart:> Does Ofsted always consider issues of child protection when it inspects a school?

<Christine Gilbert:> Yes it does.

 

Q<154> <Fiona Mactaggart:> What happens when those who are responsible for child protection in a particular area have raised concerns about an institution? I am thinking of Caldicott, a private preparatory school in Farnham Royal, which was recently inspected. Buckinghamshire county council and the local safeguarding children board had had a series of meetings about historical abuse issues at that institution and had given assurances to concerned members of the public that those matters would be considered in an Ofsted report. Yet I have read the report, and I can see no consideration of them at all.

<Christine Gilbert:> Michael has been involved in detailed discussions about that school.

<Michael Hart:> We would have taken it into account. That does not necessarily mean that that would be reported in the final report that you have seen.

 

Q<155> <Fiona Mactaggart:> The report mentions that vitamin pill bottles did not have their lids on, yet it makes no reference to the policies that relate to child abuse in an institution about which there has been widespread public concern-legal action has also been taken against someone involved, and specific commitments have been given to people by the LSCB.

<Michael Hart:> That was quite a while ago, was it not? It is quite historical.

 

Q<156> <Fiona Mactaggart:> The meeting of Buckinghamshire county council and the LSCB took place in July last year.

<Michael Hart:> I would need to look in more detail into the particular points that you are raising about the latest report.

 

Q<157> <Fiona Mactaggart:> The issue is largely an historical one. However, my impression from reading the report is that where concerns about sexual abuse have been raised there is a reticence-that is the politest way of saying it-or a reluctance to mention that in the report. This is something that is in the public domain, where there clearly is a real level of concern about an institution. I accept that much of that concern is historical, but there are continuing issues of concern. The only mechanism for informing parents about whether there is a concern is your report, yet your report does not even refer to the issue. I do not understand why.

<Michael Hart:> We would have commented only if we were saying that there was some continuing concern.

<Christine Gilbert:> The other thing is that it is an independent school, is it not?

<Fiona Mactaggart:> It is.

<Christine Gilbert:> I would emphasise that nobody has to wait for an inspection if a concern has been raised. That is why I checked whether it was an independent school. Independent schools are registered by the Department, and the Department would handle the complaint. If the Department felt that the complaint was sufficiently serious for us to go in immediately, we would go in and inspect immediately. In this particular case, it cannot have done so. We will look at it and get back to you on that particular case.

 

Q<158> <Fiona Mactaggart:> Thank you. It is important. As far as I can see, although I have not written to you about it or anything like that, there is clear evidence that the local safeguarding children board and the local authority felt after the police investigation, part of which was resolved and part of which was not, that there were continuing issues that needed to be looked at, but they said that a massive investigation was not appropriate, as much of it was an historical case. People in the area have talked about it a lot, so rumour, school-gate gossip and all that sort of stuff is going on, but the authorities pointed out that an inspection report was coming up that would consider those issues. I do not know whether it did, but whether it did or did not, there was not a word about it in the report, which might give people profound concerns.

It is not as though you did not need to mention it because there was no worry; there is a worry. The local authority and the safeguarding board made that clear through meetings with the police and abused people. They said that they expected the inspection report to deal with it. As I understand it, Ofsted is responsible for boarding inspection. I am never quite sure who owns what bit of the inspection in independent schools, but nevertheless, the word is not even said. How can we, or parents, have confidence? I am not sure that parents can have confidence in those circumstances, in which case they will turn to school-gate gossip.

<Christine Gilbert:> It would be a false expectation to expect the Ofsted report to address all those concerns, but I absolutely agree that if concerns are being voiced in the school by parents and so on, the report should have addressed those concerns. We will look at that particular case and see why those concerns did not emerge, or whether there is a group talking about something that happened, very tragically, a number of years ago, but that is no longer going on in the school and does not affect the groups in the school. We will look at the matter and get back to you.

 

Q<159> <Fiona Mactaggart:> Can I ask a specific question about the new framework, which relates to that issue? The new inspection framework will include a specific responsibility for investigating child well-being. I would hope that if issues are raised before an inspection-I accept that if no concerns are raised about child abuse in an institution, making a report to say that no concerns have been raised is probably not a sensible thing to do-parents could expect your report on child well-being to address those issues.

<Christine Gilbert:> Miriam may want to add to this. If such issues were raised during an inspection, I would expect them to feature in some way in the report. For instance, one of the things that I see now and again is parents complaining about behaviour. Even when the inspectors did not find a behaviour problem, they would address it in their report. They would refer to the parents, show that a number of parents have cited it and say something about it; I would expect that.

I want to clarify that the new proposals for school inspection are about maintained schools. The school that you are describing is an independent school, so that involves another set of regulations. We need to go back and look at the particular case to see whether the concerns that you are raising can be addressed. The proposals that we are launching next week would not make any difference to the case that you gave us a few minutes ago.

 

Q<160> <Fiona Mactaggart:> This is not the only concern about the independent schools inspectorate to have been presented to the Committee. I hope that you will look at the issue in general.

 

Q<161> <Mr. Slaughter:> This is almost the opposite end from what Fiona was asking. A lot of the questions that you are being asked this morning are about well-being, child welfare and even child safety. Clearly, those are important matters per se, which could affect the ability of children to learn. However, do you feel that too much emphasis is being put on those issues as far as Ofsted is concerned? Most parents would probably still think that Ofsted is concerned with educational standards and with seeing that the quality of education in schools and in early years is the best that it could be. Do you feel that your purpose is being diluted or that you are being overloaded in some way by these other responsibilities?

<Christine Gilbert:> Absolutely not. Last April, we formally took on responsibility for children's social care and adult learners. Even before last year, however, I would always have argued that if you were concerned about the educational development of a child, you would need to look at the whole child and at their well-being to ensure that their educational performance is as strong as possible. The focus on learning in a school is still absolutely central to that school, but a healthy child is likely to learn more effectively, and we want to make our children more healthy. The five outcomes capture the whole child, and they have been there since September 2005.

 

Q<162> <Mr. Slaughter:> I understand that and I understand why it is important. I also agree with Fiona that these things should not be ignored, but you are primarily educationalists, not social workers or policemen. To play devil's advocate, you have been accused, if that is not too strong a word, of two things this morning. One relates to an excess of formal teaching to four and five-year-olds; the other, which comes out of this week's report, is turning a blind eye to widespread teaching to the test and to a narrowing of the curriculum, with a focus on a few subjects-principally those to do with literacy, numeracy and so forth. Yet, the most telling comment that you have made to me this morning is that 20 per cent. of children at age 11 have some form of functional illiteracy. That does not square with me. If there is distortion in the system-I am not sure whether you are admitting that there is one or whose fault it is-that puts a great focus on learning to read and write at an early age and on constant testing, why do we have a rather scandalous situation in which there is that degree of illiteracy?

 

<Christine Gilbert:> It is not an either/or. Children and their parents have a right to know that they can feel safe and protected when they go to school. That is an absolute precursor to effective learning. That said, we need to do more to improve academic performance in schools. We also need to do a number of things right across the five outcomes to improve children's well-being more generally. I really do not see them as opposing and contradictory.

 

Q<163> <Mr. Slaughter:> You think that you can cope with that degree of work within your resources and improve the educational outcomes?

<Christine Gilbert:> Absolutely. We can.

 

Q<164> <Mr. Slaughter:> So it does not matter how much wider the brief becomes? It is certainly wide. Ten or 20 years ago, people would not have said that the focus of an education inspectorate was on whether children were being molested or fed. I am not saying that those are the only important things.

<Christine Gilbert:> The issue of child protection, for instance, was part of the section 5 school inspection reports introduced in September 2005, which was before we took over formal responsibility for children's social care. I cannot believe that we would try to run schools in which that was not of absolutely paramount importance. Children have to feel safe and protected in school, and their parents have to feel that they are.

That will not take a great deal of time once the system and processes are in place, and the Ofsted inspectors check that when they go in. They do check it sufficiently, too. I think that there has been an example this year of a school going into special measures because those systems and processes were not in place. It was a maintained school, not an independent school.

<Miriam Rosen:> We have taken safeguarding extremely seriously, and it has been specifically looked at under the section 5 inspection arrangements from 2005. I would say that schools also take it seriously, but if we found that they did not, we would put them into a category of concern.

<Christine Gilbert:> Inspectors have been trained in that. In fact, I was in a meeting yesterday at which they were saying that they were trained 18 months ago and needed refreshment in looking at safeguarding. Inspectors do feel that it is a very important part of their job. They are in no way resistant to doing it.

 

Q<165> <Chairman:> But you can see Andy's point. It seems that the inspectorate is getting a broader and broader remit. To train people up to be responsible for inspecting well-being covers a multitude of aspects of life. We have discussed bullying when you have been in front of the Committee before, and you know that we said in our report on bullying that there should be a register of incidents of bullying. That has been resisted. In your view, will that be part of the system? Will you be demanding that there should be a clear indication of how much bullying takes place in a school?

<Christine Gilbert:> Last September, I think, we strengthened the element of the school inspection reports that looks at behaviour. That was an initiative from the new Prime Minister when he came into office. We looked at what we were doing and tightened up how judgments were made to give more advice on the matter. We do give a clear steer on that. We look at what is going on in a school, ask the pupils and so on, and take notice of what the parents say during an inspection. Bullying is an issue that is dealt with-

 

Q<166> <Chairman:> Recording incidents of bullying-that is what I asked you about, chief inspector. Do you believe that schools should record incidents of bullying?

<Christine Gilbert:> I think that they should record serious incidents, but I worry about the central imposition on schools of what they should do. Our evidence shows that schools that have good behaviour policies-what they decide to do within those policies is up to them, although the Department offers guidance and so on-do extremely well and improve behaviour in a relatively short time by following a consistent policy whereby teachers and other adults working in the school behave in a particular way.

<Chairman:> We will come back to that later. Now we will consider looked-after children.

 

Q<167> <Paul Holmes:> The Committee is in the middle of an inquiry into looked-after children-fostering, adoption and children in care. That is quite a new area for the Committee, since the changes last year. It is also a new area for Ofsted. You took over responsibility for inspecting care homes from April last year. One thing that has come out of our inquiry so far from children is that they want some stability, whether it is fostering or residential homes. They have come from difficult circumstances and want stability in their relationships where they live, with adults including social workers. In the first 10 months since you took over inspections last April, 143 residential children's homes closed. Can you see any pattern in why they are closing? Is it good or bad that they are closing?

<Christine Gilbert:> I will ask Michael to deal with the detail. We looked at information on children's homes from April to the end of last year, and found that a high number-10%-were described as "inadequate". We went back in to inspect very soon afterwards, and there was very rapid improvement in those homes. Almost 80% had improved. I am not clear whether the 143 that you mention came out of that because they were not going to improve and took that decision themselves. I do not know whether Michael is able to throw any light on that. I have the same figure for the number of homes that closed in that year.

<Michael Hart:> To pick up the point raised by Christine, about 10% were found to be inadequate. You are probably aware that we have an inspection programme of going twice a year into every children's home. We do a full formal inspection of every children's home, and we also go back and do a follow-up, focusing on particular areas of the Every Child Matters outcomes. We are in the position of being able to look second-time-round at whether there has been improvement. It is encouraging that, when we went back to the 10% that were "inadequate", the great majority had moved on to be "satisfactory". Encouragingly, about 28% had moved on by that stage to being "good". That seemed to show that the Ofsted inspection had made some difference over that period.

Picking up the rest of your question about the children's homes closing, one of the things I have become aware of over the last year is that quite a number of children's homes have no children on their roll. There seems to be an overall over-provision of places. Quite a number of homes simply do not have children for a period of time, and that is behind some of the closures.

We began having a preliminary look at whether there was any difference between children's homes that were run by local authorities and those that were run by private equity companies. Overall, we found that there was not a large difference. If anything, the judgments from Ofsted were rather better for those from the private sector than for those that were run by a local authority. This is only the first phase of Ofsted inspecting children's homes, but our initial look seemed to suggest that, if anything, the private sector was somewhat better.

We were aware of one significant group that closed in the autumn. You will probably be aware of the Sedgemoor group. Clearly, we had great concerns and a lot of involvement at the time to make sure that the interests of individual children were protected. That was our absolute priority: to make sure that children were protected and, in particular, when many of the homes were taken over by new organisations, that the new registrations were done as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

 

Q<168> <Paul Holmes:> Sedgemoor had 45 homes. They were owned by a private equity firm and went into administration. What happens then? If a factory that makes jeans or widgets closes down, it closes down. If 45 children's care homes are closed down, what do you do with those vulnerable children?

<Michael Hart:> In the first instance, it was not our direct responsibility to decide what happened, but we showed a very keen interest in what was happening, both because we were concerned about the individual children and to make sure that we could respond as quickly as possible to any new arrangements that were put in place, because we would need to register any new provision. A significant number of them were taken over by new companies and continued to operate. There were some children who had to move from one children's home to another, and clearly it was the responsibility of the local authority that was placing them to make sure that those children's needs were met as quickly as possible.

One of the things that children themselves say is reflected in reports from children's rights director Roger Morgan, who works with us. Children in care are very concerned that there should be back-up plans for them. They have said to us that local authorities may go down the path of making arrangements for them but that things sometimes do not work out and that other arrangements should be made that can be put in place relatively quickly.

 

Q<169> <Paul Holmes:> It is obviously early days for you, but private equity firms are controversial from some points of view. They are sometimes accused of asset stripping-borrowing, doing up a company and then selling it on, leaving it lumbered with debt. There are accusations that while the economy was booming private equity firms could do a lot of cheap borrowing, but what happens now that the economy is hitting problems? As I say, if it hits a factory, it hits a factory; but if it hits a whole string of children's homes-the private equity sector also controls 30 per cent. of private independent fostering-it would have much worse implications for children who were already in difficult circumstances. I assume that you are giving that careful consideration. You have that responsibility not only in this first year but in the years to come. That is self-evident. Why do you think private homes tend to do better than local authority ones on your initial inspections?

<Michael Hart:> We have not reached a theory on that. We wanted to check whether there was any apparent difference. I am not in a position to say one way or the other. I do not know whether anyone else has a view on that.

<Christine Gilbert:> We see a similar pattern with fostering services. About 76 per cent. from private providers, and 55 per cent. from local authorities, are "good" or better; but the figure for "inadequate" is still far too high-7 per cent. for private and 10 per cent. for local authorities. We are concerned about that, and we are looking hard at it. I spoke recently at the Independent Children's Homes Association, and we talked about that in questions afterwards. The response to our reaction to the closure was positive, but we do not have a formal role in that regard. In most instances, the children involved are the most vulnerable.

 

Q<170> <Paul Holmes:> One of the things that you consider when inspecting care homes is their financial viability. That will obviously be a factor this year, next year and the year after that. You have that responsibility. You will inspect them and say, "Is this care home company financially viable?".

<Christine Gilbert:> It is my understanding that we inspect against the national minimum standards; we do not look at that aspect in depth.

<Michael Hart:> We look at it at the level described, but we cannot pretend that our social care inspectors are financial experts able to predict what the movements might be of a particular company.

 

Q<171> <Paul Holmes:> I understood that it was a specific responsibility of the Commission for Social Care Inspection to consider the financial viability of care homes, and that you have taken over.

<Michael Hart:> We can only consider it at a very general level. I do not think that I could assure the Committee that our inspectors, who have a social care background, would put themselves up as accountants or financial experts, able to predict the detailed movements of a particular company and the sort of decisions that it might make.

 

Q<172> <Paul Holmes:> This matter is crucial if more than half of care homes are now in the private sector. A local authority will not go bust, but care homes, especially those run by private equity firms, can go bust very quickly. Surely that is a major factor, given that one of our inquiry's key findings was that vulnerable children being taken into care want stability and assurance.

<Michael Hart:> I agree that it is an area of concern. I agree that we need all our antennae out in order to spot anything suggesting that a company is likely to go under. As we have done in other areas, we are beginning to look at the head offices of major companies to see whether there are policies in place; we would also look at overall financial viability. However, I could not sit here and say that our inspectors, who come from a social care background and who previously worked for CSCI, could predict when the next Sedgemoor would happen. I would be giving you an unfair assurance if I said that.

 

Q<173> <Lynda Waltho:> Ofsted has said that the gap in educational attainment between looked-after children and their peers is narrowing. The Association of Directors of Children's Services told us in evidence that Ofsted should strengthen the way that it inspects schools for the quality of support that they provide for children in care. Other than looking at attainment, in what ways does the quality of support given to looked-after children feature in inspections?

<Christine Gilbert:> Before we come to the specific points about inspections, I will say that the new organisation should be able to give the issue of looked-after children a much more coherent focus than it has ever had before. In the past year there have been improvements because of the stability of placements, and although there are still issues, there is more provision and stability of placements than there was.

However, issues of attainment and attendance are still not making the move forward that they should, because those children's problems are deeply entrenched. They are the most vulnerable children that the system deals with, and our evidence shows that every part of the provision must work well, not just the school. The schools aspect has to work well, but you must have really good performance against the minimum standards that I have just mentioned. You must have a really close focus on the assessment of that child, with different agencies working and communicating together properly about that child. You must have a decent care plan, health plan and education plan, and they must all work really well. At the moment, all of those things are working well in only a few places. We are seeing real improvements up and down the country, but it is not enough and there is still too much inconsistency.

We saw in schools-I recently read a survey report on this-that there are a whole number of issues that need to be working. Schools, however, are just part of the whole picture, and the numbers in most schools are very small indeed, so it is a bit disingenuous of the director to suggest that the focus needs to be on schools. It is much broader than that. In school, it seems to work well to have really high expectations for those children, engage them fully in the school and in after-school activities and have a really tight but unobtrusive focus on their performance right across the piece-I do not mean just academic performance. That should be unobtrusive because those children do not want to be picked out as different when they are in school. All those sorts of things need to be happening and operating in schools.

Most schools have made progress and have a designated teacher, and that is really important. Carers are generally more engaged than they were before, but that is still not enough. Attendance is still dire for many of those children, and that is obviously coming through in their performance. We are seeing some improvements at GCSE, but not enough.

 

Q<174> <Lynda Waltho:> Where and how does the quality of that support feature within the inspection report?

<Miriam Rosen:> Our main focus on looked-after children is in the joint area reviews. Since last April, all of the joint area reviews focus on looked-after children, because they are such a vulnerable group. You will find a detailed report for each of the local authorities that we have inspected. We consider looked-after children in school inspections as well, because we consider the needs of all children, but you would be very unlikely to see that mentioned in the report, as there are probably only one or two such children in the school. I would like to re-emphasise Christine's point that every aspect of the care of those children needs to be in place for them to do well. For example, if they do not have placement stability, they might move too quickly from one school to another. That relates not so much to what the individual school is doing, but to the whole package of support around them.

<Lynda Waltho:> Ofsted judged 76% of independent fostering services and 55% of local authority fostering services to be good or better. Why is the quality of fostering services more inconsistent in the local authority sector than the independent sector?

<Michael Hart:> It is too early for us to distinguish between one and the other. At the moment, we have just gathered the information. We are now looking at what is behind your question. We now have a year's worth of information. I have some colleagues who are reviewing all of the inspections that have taken place in the first year to see what sort of patterns there are within the inspections. Your question is the right one. We want to look at that, but we do not have the answer at the moment. We are doing some internal reviews of our social care inspection reports to look at what is behind the children's homes and fostering judgments and what sort of summaries and conclusions we can reach. We could not do that earlier, because the number of reports was relatively small.

 

Q<175> <Lynda Waltho:> When might you come to your conclusions?

<Michael Hart:> We have colleagues working on that at the moment. I guess that some of our conclusions will be published in the annual report.

<Christine Gilbert:> Those authorities that take an equivalent parenting role very seriously are doing well in fostering services. Often, authorities do well in corporate parenting, but forget the children that are fostered. They engage with the children in children's homes. Our evidence is that, where local authorities place this at the top of their work, there is real improvement.

<Chairman:> We are going to move into a more rapid session of broader issues led by Graham. I am conscious that we must not let Melanie or Vanessa get away with saying nothing. With these more rapid-fire questions, I am sure that we will be able to ensure that your journey has not been unnecessary.

 

Q<176> <Mr. Stuart:> Before we move on from the last topic, I want to mention a young man who had a fight with his family the other day in one of the seaside towns in my constituency. Before I intervened, he was about to be sent to a hostel a long way away in another town, which would entirely have disrupted his education by removing him from school. Very few people in that position would know to contact a Member of Parliament to intervene. It made me wonder how widespread the disruption of someone's life by the corporate parent in such circumstances could be.

<Christine Gilbert:> It is massively disruptive, which is why the focus on the stability of placement has been an issue. It is not just stability that is important, but placement near the original place of residence. Young people have told us that they do not want to be brought back from a placement that is working, just so that they are nearer to home. It is not easy for local authorities always to find local placements for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the improvement that we have seen over the past couple of years is to be welcomed. We want to see that sort of improvement across the board.

 

Q<177> <Mr. Stuart:> Unease about standards has not reduced since your last visit to us. In your estimate, chief inspector, what percentage of children leave primary school without the literacy and numeracy skills that they require to prosper at secondary level?

<Christine Gilbert:> Today is halfway between the two annual reports. The figure that I would still use is that which I quoted in the annual report at the end of last year, when I said that 20% of pupils move on to secondary school not fully functional in literacy and numeracy. For me, literacy is the most important of those because if it is lacking, children do not have access to a range of other subjects.

 

Q<178> <Mr. Stuart:> That is one in five children leaving primary school. Clearly that is not acceptable. I was going to ask whether you thought that it was acceptable, but I would not insult you by doing so. It is not acceptable. We are discussing the effectiveness of Ofsted, and you said that you would concentrate on impact when you last came to us. How can Ofsted be doing its job properly if one in five of our children are in that position?

<Christine Gilbert:> We have a key role to play. In the time since I last saw the Committee, I have received two surveys that I can remember on literacy in schools. The first looked at letters and sounds to see whether the programme introduced by the Government last year was having an impact. It is having an impact. I also asked for a piece of work to be done on secondary schools, because I wanted to see whether secondary schools were really making a difference with children coming to them unable to read fluently, as I would describe it. We have looked at a number and identified some key issues that might be of value to other schools and what they are doing. It is a constant focus for us and is a key priority.

 

Q<179> <Mr. Stuart:> Given the scandalous situation and the poor comparison with our international rivals, do you feel that Ofsted is outspoken enough? Historically, for many years, Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons has been prepared to condemn the Government of the day for failing to deliver the expected improvements and standards in the institutions that it is responsible for inspecting. Do you think that, too often, Ofsted avoids rocking the boat?

<Christine Gilbert:> More generally, we could have more leverage over the system. On your point, I think that the coverage of what I said, last November, about it not being acceptable was fairly intense. There was a great deal of coverage of what I said.

 

Q<180> <Mr. Stuart:> Was it not sugar-coated with comments about how standards have risen? The evidence that we received in our testing assessment inquiry was that standards have probably risen rather less than the examination data suggest and that, as you reconfirmed today, it has stalled since 2001, perhaps, in key cases. I am not sure that the public are getting the clear message from Ofsted and Her Majesty's chief inspector that we have got a complete stalling, that standards have not risen sufficiently and therefore that something is fundamentally wrong with the system. I think that the message is still being put out that everything is going great, that we are improving year by year, that standards are rising and that the top-down, target-driven approach-as my colleague put it-is actually delivering benefits.

<Christine Gilbert:> I have said it in speeches, in things that I have written and so on, so I do not think that it has been sugar-coated. The language that I used last November was fairly strong and was picked up as such by the print media.

 

Q<181> <Mr. Stuart:> You suggested in your evidence to us last time that the 20% of children in that invidious position going to secondary school very often constitute most of the 23% of young people who leave education at the age of 16. You talked about what you thought the reasons for that were-difficulties in primary school and the fact that, often, those not up to standard at the age of 11 simply could not engage with secondary schools. Can you comment on the passing last night of the Education and Skills Bill, which has not taken additional steps to tackle those core problems, but which has in fact decided to force those disengaged, unmotivated youngsters to stay in education until the age of 18?

<Chairman:> Education and training.

<Christine Gilbert:> I think that the figure is 10%. Of those 20% going on to secondary school, 10% find themselves in the NEET figure as well.

 

Q<182> <Mr. Stuart:> Some 23% leave education at the age of 16-although that will change when the Bill becomes law, after which all of them will be forced to stay on.

<Christine Gilbert:> Melanie might want to pick that one up. The notion of extended participation age is good, but it is what you do with the pupils that matters. The issue of literacy continues post-16. Across our remit, literacy is a major strand.

<Melanie Hunt:> The important thing to say about the numbers and figures of so-called NEETs is that, between the ages of 16 and 19, 10% of young people do not engage in any of those forms of learning, training or employment. It is not the 23%-I think that that might be a bit misleading.

<Mr. Stuart:> Some 23% are not currently involved. The law passed through Parliament last night will change what those 23% will have to do.

 

Q<183> <Chairman:> Let us get this straight please chief inspector. You are using 10% and Graham is using 23%. Melanie, can you explain the difference between the 23% that Graham is using and the 10% that you are using?

<Melanie Hunt:> I suspect that the difference in the figures may be because of the extra "E", which is about employment-young people in employment. Young people who are in employment are very often in employment with training. One of the key areas-

 

Q<184> <Mr. Stuart:> Not the formal training, which is now going to be insisted on by the Bill.

<Melanie Hunt:> Yes, training that leads towards a recognised qualification. In fact, I met with a group of national employers who are very committed to the delivery of apprenticeships and to training for their work force. They really welcome the opportunity to have ownership of the sorts of learning programmes and training that young people, and indeed adults, will undergo under their care. They say that they have a business imperative to make sure that it is high quality, that it is appropriate, that people stay the course and that people succeed. I think that there really are some positive aspects to this, and it should not all be seen at the compulsion end; it is actually about having the right sets of initiatives.

 

Q<185> <Mr. Stuart:> There is compulsion in the new initiatives to attract young people. Everyone would agree with that. What role will you play in forcing young people into attending?

<Melanie Hunt:> Ofsted does not play an enforcement role with young people. We would look at the provision and the ways in which the providers that we are asked to inspect, which includes some employers, interrelate with the people learning with them. We would comment on their strategies for encouraging attendance, improving participation and encouraging enjoyment and achievement, or entertainment-I quite like that.

 

Q<186> <Mr. Stuart:> You will inspect. Basically, you will inspect and check that the law is enforced and that those young people, whether they want to or not, are forced to attend mandatory education in skills or learning-whatever you want to call it-until the age of 18.

<Melanie Hunt:> That discussion about Ofsted enforcing or checking that attendance has not been had, because, of course, Ofsted can only inspect those institutions that are offering training and education and those employers who are offering it. So there will be young people who are outwith the institutions that we inspect. My understanding is that it is the local authorities' intended responsibility to ensure that 100% of young people in that age group are gainfully engaged.

 

Q<187> <Mr. Stuart:> What evidence do you have of the disruption and damage caused to the education of others by those who are forced to stay in classes when they would prefer not to be there?

<Melanie Hunt:> We do not have evidence that that is a problem because in the post-compulsory sector that we inspect, in my directorate-

 

Q<188> <Mr. Stuart:> I was thinking about the pre-compulsory sector, and the evidence that you have about the disruption. We have a large truancy problem, which has increased rather than decreased, so I suppose that those children absent themselves quite often. I am concerned to learn from your evidence what potential impact the cohort-the 23 per cent. of young people who do not continue to study for formal qualifications after 16-could have on the education of those who wish to learn?

<Melanie Hunt:> I am sure that Miriam will wish to comment on what happens in schools and its impact. I would just say that the 14-to-16 reforms and the sort of programmes that we have been inspecting over the past four or five years for young apprenticeships and for increased flexibility programmes-collaborative programmes-really do capture the interest of many young people who have not hitherto engaged with the school curriculum. The opportunity to learn in a different way and to learn in different environments is beginning to address the difficulties that those young people, and possibly their peers, have been experiencing.

 

Q<189> <Mr. Stuart:> Do you think that it would be better to develop Diplomas and other new initiatives, which we would all welcome to engage young people who are otherwise disengaged, and get those initiatives in place and functioning properly, before we made it mandatory for people to attend?

May I move on to another issue? The General Teaching Council has suggested that too many teachers are not up to standard and that insufficient action is taken against them. How many teachers do you think are not up to the required level?

<Christine Gilbert:> We do not have the evidence to give an answer to that. We comment on teaching rather than teachers. In the section 5 inspections, we talk about the quality of teaching in the school, so we are not able to give an answer to that question.

 

Q<190> <Chairman:> One of your predecessors spent a lot of time talking about ineffective teaching.

<Christine Gilbert:> Different inspection framework, Mr. Chairman.

 

Q<191> <Chairman:> But with 20 per cent. of young people not being ready at age 11, is it not fairly important? Parents out there hope that Ofsted would be absolutely involved, in its inspection process, in identifying teachers who are not up to standard and taking action. Keith Bartley said that there were 17,000 substandard teachers-that outraged some of the unions, I know-and that it was unacceptable that only 46 teachers from a work force of about half a million had been officially assessed as incompetent. If it is not your job, whose job is it?

<Christine Gilbert:> I am not taking issue with what he is saying-

 

Q<192> <Chairman:> Do you think that he was right, then?

<Christine Gilbert:> I see-and heads tell me-that the process for getting rid of teachers who cannot teach well takes too long. They are reluctant to embark on it. When they do, they find that the teacher has moved school before the end. There is an issue there, but you asked me a question about teachers, and I am not able to give you an answer to it. When we inspect, we talk about everything that we see with the senior management of the team in school and the head of the school, so the school is very clear about what we are seeing and how near our judgment is about the teaching-and, in that context, the teacher-to their judgment of that particular teacher.

 

Q<193> <Mr. Stuart:> What more do you think we can do? I remember, when I was chairman of the governors of a failing school that we were trying to turn around, we basically split the teaching staff into three. There were those who were teaching up to the required standard and those who were not, who were then split into those whom we thought could be brought up to standard and those whom we thought never could. The reality in many schools is that the further away the teacher is going, the more likely they are to be given a generous reference. Very often, teachers are just moved out of one school into another and not given the support, encouragement and perhaps re-training that they need. What can Ofsted do to help with that?

<Christine Gilbert:> We are clear in what we say to the senior management team. We work with other organisations, such as the GTC. I will be seeing him to talk about this particular issue.

 

Q<194> <Fiona Mactaggart:> You will recall that when you last appeared before the Committee, I pressed you about the issue of black and minority ethnic inspectors and the criticism by the Commission for Racial Equality that Ofsted was, in its opinion, the worst performing regulatory authority. That exchange led you to provide me with further information, for which I am grateful, and it led the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to claim that he had been maligned here. Nevertheless, the issue is still important. A large proportion of children in our schools are black and minority ethnic, yet a small proportion of the inspectorate reflect that ethnicity. Has there been any improvement?

<Christine Gilbert:> There has been some improvement in Her Majesty's inspectorate and so on, but there has been a dip in the inspectors whom we employ through the regional inspection providers, or the contracted-out part. The HMI figure has gone up, and I think that the children's figure has, too. The number of those employed directly by Ofsted has increased. We have looked hard at that. There has been a shift in part of a set of inspectors whom we employ called additional inspectors, and when we picked at that, we discovered that it was likely to be because a number of additional inspectors came in from the ALI, and the profile therefore changed. There is only a limited amount we can do through the contract process at the moment, but we are building provisions into the new contract for 2009. Current contracts are subject to an equalities dimension, but a tougher stance will be taken in the new contracts in 2009 in respect of the work force I am talking about.

 

Q<195> <Fiona Mactaggart:> Are you saying that the new contract will place a requirement on bodies that contract with you to provide additional inspectors to have a particular proportion of black and minority ethnic inspectors or, as suggested in evidence to us from the London School of Islamics, to provide bilingual inspectors to inspect such settings?

<Christine Gilbert:> I do not know about the second point, but I think that Miriam will deal with that. On the first point, the answer is yes.

 

Q<196> <Fiona Mactaggart:> What will the proportion be?

<Christine Gilbert:> I do not know. We are just embarking on the contract discussions, so we are far from establishing anything like that at the moment. We are embarking on a competitive dialogue to work out different elements of the contract. That will be part of the debate over the next few months before the contract is signed at the end of the year.

 

Q<197> <Fiona Mactaggart:> Is Ofsted ready to inspect the duty of schools to promote community cohesion , which will be put in place in September?

<Christine Gilbert:> We think we are. The trials have gone extremely well, and schools have responded positively. We are making some shifts and changes because of those trials, but, all in all, things have gone very well. Inspectors have been, and are being trained, to carry out those inspections. The relationship with the Equality and Human Rights Commission is much stronger.

 

Q<198> <Fiona Mactaggart:> It could not be less strong than it was when we last spoke, but nevertheless.

<Christine Gilbert:> Ofsted's chief executive officers have met the EHRC's representatives, and they were very positive in agreeing our new schemes.

 

Q<199> <Chairman:> Chief inspector, you are always very convincing when you come before the Committee, but a little voice out there sometimes says, "What on earth is going on in Ofsted?" You are facing an imminent strike by your employees. There was unhappiness about the degree of bullying in Ofsted. What is the explanation for that? Perhaps we can bring Vanessa in on this. Is it because you have been tightening the screws financially following Gershon? Why does Ofsted not seem to be a very happy ship? Is it because you have been cutting budgets? Is it because you have been following Gershon? What is going on? There is a strike on the one side and allegations of bullying on the other. Why do we not get a warmer picture of what is going on in Ofsted?

<Vanessa Howlison:> Clearly, we are making savings, and we have more savings yet to make. However, the pay award that Ofsted has negotiated with the Treasury is above the average that has been awarded this year. We are using some of that money to ensure that there is true equity among our staff so that people who are doing the same role will in future be paid the same amount. Moving to that equity position will probably mean that some people will go through a transition for a short period, and that could be a factor. However, the pay award that Ofsted has negotiated with the Treasury is above average for this year, so this is certainly not a straight money issue.

 

Q<200> <Chairman:> Is it your style of management? Last time, when we had the chair of the Ofsted board here, we were told that things would improve. Has the Ofsted board improved, or is your management style still lacking, given that you have this unhappy group of people working for you?

<Christine Gilbert:> I should say that the survey about bullying happened just before I arrived, Mr. Chairman. It also related to the former Ofsted. That said, we have become one organisation from four, and two of those former organisations did not want to join the new organisation. We have achieved a lot in a year, and I could give you all sorts of details about what we have done to engage staff. We had an assessment by Investors in People a fortnight ago, although we will not know the formal result for another week. Generally, however, the feedback about what had been put in place was very positive. The assessor said that he did not think that the organisation could do much more than it was doing to treat its employees fairly and engage them in the developments ahead.

 

Q<201> <Chairman:> You have said in previous remarks to the Committee that you are well on the way with joint area reviews, chief inspector. What are you picking up about the overall success of the replacement of separate social services departments and education departments with one children's department? Some of us pick up a degree of unhappiness about that arrangement. For instance, at a very taxing time for a local authority that is preparing for Building Schools for the Future, it finds itself led by a head of children's services who has no experience in secondary education-indeed, it may even have someone in charge of its schools sector who has no background in secondary education. Is that a problem you are picking up?

<Christine Gilbert:> We finish the round of joint area reviews at the end of this year. Miriam, who knows about this in more detail, may want to contradict me, but it is not a problem I have seen identified in the reports I have read. I think people have moved on from the argument, and generally we are seeing real benefits for the individual in bringing education and social care much closer together and focusing on the issues raised in discussion this morning, looking at the needs of the most vulnerable children and young people in particular.

<Chairman:> That is a pretty rosy picture of what is going on in joint area reviews.

<Christine Gilbert:> I think directors of children's services are fairly realistic. This has happened-there is no turning back-and they have to make a success of what they have. We are seeing improved processes as a result of joint area reviews and better multi-agency working. It is also true to say that we are not yet seeing enough improvement in outcomes across the whole range.

<Miriam Rosen:> That is absolutely what we are finding: improvements generally and in joint working, but we need to see more impact on outcomes, particularly for vulnerable groups.

 

Q<202> <Chairman:> What support are you giving to local authorities? As I understand it, you have the comprehensive area assessment system. The Committee, and myself in particular, have told you time and time again, as we have told your predecessors, that it is all very well doing a one-off inspection or a continuous series of inspections over several years of a particular group of schools; but I have always said, "What about when you get systemic failure in a local area or part of a local authority?" Your predecessors said, "Well, that's not our job." Will it be your job under the comprehensive area assessment system?

<Christine Gilbert:> It will be part of our job. I would always have argued that, working through comprehensive performance assessment, you could have identified real failure in local areas. But actually, comprehensive area assessment has much more focus on a whole area and how the key partners in that area work to provide a better quality of life for the people who live there. It is led by the Audit Commission, but we are very heavily involved in shaping what that will look like.

 

Q<203> <Chairman:> So you could now say to a local authority or a group of schools in a town, "Jointly with the Audit Commission, we have picked up a systemic failure here, and the way to deal with that is to take certain actions"?

<Christine Gilbert:> We are quite far away yet from introducing the CAA. We are going out for a second consultation on this in about a month. It should give us what you describe.

 

Q<204> <Chairman:> The criticism we have had from local authorities is that they do not get that level of advice.

<Christine Gilbert:> We look at a number of things in a local area-some hard data, some soft data-and go through a risk assessment process. We will only be running one standard inspection, and that is for safeguarding looked-after children. However, looking at the area will lead to "triggered" inspections, so if a particular issue emerges that needs a greater focus, it might trigger a particular form of inspection. It is more flexible than the CPA and much more related to a holistic picture of an area.

 

Q<205> <Chairman:> So, if there is systemic failure in a school, you will be able to say something about it and give advice on how to tackle it.

<Christine Gilbert:> Yes, but we should probably be able to do that outwith that process given that the new schools inspection framework will have a greater focus on partnerships across schools and so on to see whether they are generating the improvement that they should be generating.

 

Q<206> <Paul Holmes:> I have a quick point for clarification. When we talk about the 20% of children going from year 6 to year 7 who are a concern, are we saying that they are functionally illiterate and innumerate, or are we saying that they have not reached a level that we would like them to reach?

<Christine Gilbert:> The second of those. After I made the criticism last year, I was accused of being unfair. They might have a level of literacy and numeracy, but it is not sufficient for them to function well in school or in society in general.

 

Q<207> <Paul Holmes:> So, we are not saying, as the press sometimes does, that they are illiterate or innumerate? Some parts of the press sometimes report it in that way.

<Chairman:> Some politicians as well.

<Christine Gilbert:> No, I am not saying that, but their skills are not enough to give them the life chances that they should have.

 

Q<208> <Paul Holmes:> You will probably say that it is not in your remit and that you do not have the evidence, but if we looked back 20, 40 or 60 years ago, would the figure have been 20% or more? When we had conscription, the armed forces had big basic literacy programmes, because the 18-year-old conscripts were well below the level that was needed. Is 20% better than it used to be or worse?

<Christine Gilbert:> When I chaired the teaching and learning review, the evidence that we examined suggested that it was much better. My personal experience in the east end indicated that literacy programmes had a phenomenal impact on the local population.

 

Q<209> <Mr. Stuart:> I want to move on to Diplomas. Can you tell us how you will be monitoring the new diplomas and what plans you have to scrutinise provision when courses start in September?

<Christine Gilbert:> Melanie was telling me this morning what we have been doing.

<Melanie Hunt:> We have just completed a survey of 16 local authorities to look at the preparedness and readiness of partnerships regarding the introduction of 14-19 reforms-actually, 15 of the 16 local authorities were satisfactory or better. There is evidence that with joint working and joint planning, there has been a broadening of the curriculum, a better range of opportunities and improved participation and attainment. Many of those partnerships have had a particular focus on the subject that we were talking about earlier-the young people who are not in education, employment or training. They are beginning to tackle that issue. We intend to conduct a survey during the course of the first year of the pilot Diplomas to examine the first four diploma lines-the first four specialisms that are rolled out in the early partnerships. From that work, we will get a better sense of how best to inspect and what we should inspect and look for. That will be done in tandem with the developments in the schools inspection framework and the college and work-based learning inspection frameworks, all of which will come together for September 2009.

 

Q<210> <Chairman:> What is the problem with Train to Gain? Is the quality of the Train to Gain provision as it should be? We hear that it is 180 million under-spent. The private sector providers-the majority-are finding it difficult to deliver a quality product for the money that they are paid. What are the concerns?

<Melanie Hunt:> The work that we have done looking at the quality of the provision demonstrates on average a 60% success rate. Many providers have reached 75% or 80%. I still say that that is not good enough, so there is work to do on quality of provision.

The other big issue is that much of the work being done is not actually about new training and the development of new skills, but the accreditation of existing skills that the work force hold but have never had recognised or accredited. On the one hand, that is really positive, because it gives people a portable qualification, builds their confidence and self-esteem and can attract them into further learning and skills development. On the other hand, if that is widespread, it is not adding to the skills base of the nation. We will complete a survey of Train to Gain this year, and we shall report in the summer.

 

Q<211> <Chairman:> Why does it not all join up? It seems to have let everyone down by not making apprenticeships link to qualification. Surely you should be clamouring for that, Melanie and chief inspector. We thought that we were on course so that an apprenticeship would be linked to a qualification. Now we hear that it will not be. Why not?

<Melanie Hunt:> The apprenticeship leads to a qualification.

<Chairman:> Not necessarily.

<Melanie Hunt:> It leads to a national vocational qualification, either at level 2 or level 3.

 

Q<212> <Chairman:> Are you sure?

<Melanie Hunt:> Yes.

 

Q<213> <Chairman:> With a group of MPs, I met the private sector organisation, which said that that is not the case. Can you check your facts and come back to me on the matter?

<Melanie Hunt:> Yes, of course.

<><Chairman:> Thank you. Chief Inspector, it has been a really good session. You seem to have a rosier view of what is going on out there than we have. Sometimes, I wish that we were following you into the cutting edge area, rather than your following us. I am a bit disappointed with some of your responses today about our report that came out yesterday on testing and assessment. I am very disappointed that not one member of your staff got an early copy and read it. Thank you.