Examination of Witnesses (Questions 315-319)|
CBE, VANESSA HOWLISON,
9 FEBRUARY 2009
Q315 Chairman: Christine Gilbert,
may I welcome you to this session of the Committee? You might
not be a banker, but you still draw a good crowd, so welcome to
the proceedings of the CommitteeI only say that in light
of tomorrow morning's session of the Treasury Committee, which
was much publicised over the weekend. It is a pleasure to have
you here. As you know, on the last occasion we met to discuss
your report, we were understandably concerned, particularly with
children's services. Although that will be part of the agenda
today, we want to get a broad balance. Of course, you know that
we were going to have a seminar on school accountability last
Mondaya week todayand you can guess that it was
postponed because of the difficulty that the participants had
in getting here. This session would have flowed nicely from that.
Some of the broader questions today will be asked because we are
getting in mode for considering the third matteras you
know, we have looked at testing and assessment; we are writing
a report on the national curriculum; and the next pillar of the
three pillars of education reform is school accountability. We
normally give those participating a chance to say a few words
to open the sitting. That is your right and privilege at the moment.
Good afternoon everyone. I am pleased to have another opportunity
to discuss Ofsted's wider remit, to highlight some of the important
matters revealed by our recent annual report and to answer your
questions. However, before doing so, I thought that it would be
helpful to touch on a key issue that we talked about last time
we metthe new comprehensive area assessment, or CAA, as
it is called. The details of the CAA are about to be published
this week. It will give local people a much better picture of
how well or otherwise their local services work and the overall
quality of those services for local people. From April, it will
replace a number of existing assessments and reviews, and it is
the result of joint work between Ofsted, the Audit Commission,
and the inspectorates of health, adult social care, police, prisons
and probation. It is going to draw on a wide range of inspection
evidence from all inspections in the local area. The intention
is that the CAA will provide local people with a straightforward,
rounded and independent assessment of the quality of life in their
area and of the prospects for improvement. The focus will be much
more on outcomes for local people, rather than on an assessment
of their council. Where improvements are needed, they will be
what is described as "red flagged"just as particularly
good practice will be highlighted. Crucially, the new CAA reports
will assess how well local bodies are working together, which,
as we have seen in recent tragic cases, is particularly important
in the delivery of services for children and young people whose
circumstances make them vulnerable. Although the new system marks
the end of joint area reviews and annual performance assessmentsAPAsit
will not replace existing Ofsted inspections of local settings,
institutions and key services. Instead, we hope that it will build
on the strength of existing Ofsted inspections by making better
use of the data that we collect and the judgments that we make
in the 2,500 inspections that we undertake each week. So, we want
information that is collected once, but used more than once. In
the area of child protection, we must be particularly vigilant.
I can confirm to the Committee that there will now be an annual
child protection inspection in every council. That will involve
unannounced inspections, which will complement the three-year
full inspections that we are introducing in relation to all safeguarded
and looked-after children. At the same time, our school inspections
are being further improved to ensure that inspectors spend more
time in classrooms observing teaching and learning. In particular,
there should be a focus on, for example, how one child is making
progress or how a teacher is working with different groups of
pupils in the classroom. We are also currently piloting the no-notice
inspections that I spoke to you about in earlier meetings. We
will further develop that proportionate approach, which means
closer monitoring of schools and colleges that are satisfactory.
By the same token, it is right that the best schools and colleges
have less frequent inspections, although their performance will
be monitored to detect signs of slippage. With the new CAAs and
our refined approach to inspection, I am confident that we will
have a much better picture of local services than before and be
in a much better position to bring about improvement, not least
in the safeguarding of children and young people. I hope that
you welcome those developments and look forward to taking your
questions on them and on other things.
Q316 Chairman: Chief Inspector,
that all sounds most interesting. How long had those reforms been
Christine Gilbert: The plans for
the revision to annual performance assessments and joint area
reviews were published last September, and we have been consulting
since then. The school inspection survey was published around
Miriam Rosen: Yes, we consulted
through to August.
Christine Gilbert: At the moment,
we cannot tell you exactly what the proposals are for the school
inspection survey, because we are still piloting in a number of
authorities. So the answer is for quite some time.
Q317 Chairman: Did you make these
changes because, heaven forbid, you listen to what some members
of the Select Committee say, or what Ministers say? What is the
impetus? Is it the Secretary of State phoning you? Where does
it come from?
Christine Gilbert: Absolutely
not. The impetus came from the creation of the new organisation.
I was appointed six months before the new organisation was established,
and the reorganisation and so forth was well under way by then.
I decided that it would be foolish to up-end what had been planned.
It was really important that users and providers experienced business
as usual, so for the first year we made minimal changes to the
inspection regimes. As the first year went on, we set up a project
inside Ofsted, to look at the different systems that we hadwe
had 39 different inspection and regulatory systems operatingto
see what coherence we could find across them without straitjacketing.
We looked for the best practice in each of them and produced a
document, which is internal but which will also be on the web,
called "Ofsted Inspects". That document contains a number
of core principles that we try to apply to all our remits. It
is an ongoing process, and each system is looked at in detail.
We were most concerned that those providers that had inspections
from different areas experienced them as one inspection. There
might have been inspectors with different specialisms, but they
would appear at the same time in what we would call a common inspection
Q318 Chairman: What I am trying
to get at is how do you become a listening and learning organisation?
How do you pick up discontent out there? I have relayed some of
the discontent that I have picked up in schools; for example,
people say that the inspection is now too short. Someone, even
today, said that their child's school had had only a day's inspection,
which seems rather short. If you hear something like that, at
what level of policy direction do you take it up? Where is it
considered? Where are these decisions made? I am trying to get
a feeling for how you cope with that.
Christine Gilbert: We would consider
those things within Ofsted. I go out and about around the country
and come back with anecdotes, which people then say are either
exceptions or contain the germ of something. We listen hard to
what the Committee says, and we listen to what the different organisations
that we meet regularly say. That is one thing that we have been
really keen to do, when we go out to consultation. On the school
inspection proposals, for instance, we could have been completely
satisfied with the 1,700 responses, but when we analysed them
we found that they were mainly from professionalsfrom within
schools, from heads and so onand that the minority were
from parents. So, we organised some groups with parents, to talk
to them. We are really conscious of what we were required to do
by the 2006 Actfocusing on improvement, listening hard
to users and obtaining value for money. By users, I mean children,
learners, parents and employersthat is what the Act says.
We probably focus more strongly on the first two requirements
than the third, and we have listened really hard. One thing that
I have been keen to say is that we learn from anything that we
can, so if people are not happy with how they are inspected, they
have to tell us about it. I really want to hear what people say,
so that we can build it into improvement for the future.
Q319 Chairman: Some of my colleagues
on the Committee were rather surprised when I wrote the foreword
to a recent collection of essays from Civitas. They would not
normally expect me to do that, but I decided to do so after reading
the essays and thinking that they were good. Have your people
read that and absorbed it?
Christine Gilbert: Yes, I read
it. I did not think that some of the essays were as good as others.
Chairman: That is the way of such collections.
My colleagues are always keen to get in on the questioning. Over
to Andy on the Ofsted remit.