The Work of Ofsted - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)



  Q400 Fiona Mactaggart: How far back in history does that go?

  Miriam Rosen: We would look at the current issues, so if there had been a case, for example, 10 years ago, we would not necessarily know about that.

  Q401 Fiona Mactaggart: That is 10 years ago. What about five?

  Miriam Rosen: I do not think that we would necessarily know about that, either.

  Q402 Fiona Mactaggart: Do you not think that that might concern parents? It is an incident, which, five years ago, probably affected children who are currently in the school.

  Miriam Rosen: If there were an issue that was of concern to parents and children currently in the school, I think that that would be brought to our attention, because we talk to children in many different situations. We also have a parents' questionnaire, so they tell us what their concerns are. If there was anything that affected children currently in the school, I think that we would pick it up.

  Q403 Fiona Mactaggart: If it were brought to your attention, would it be reflected in the report?

  Miriam Rosen: It depends on what we find at the end of the inspection, but I think that if the issue were affecting children currently in the school, then we would be told about it by the parents or the children.

  Chairman: A quick question on value for money of children's services from Graham, and then we will finish the session on schools.

  Q404 Mr Stuart: How do you reconcile the real needs in children's services, where there are serious problems for improvement, with your year-on-year cost reductions and inspections?

  Christine Gilbert: We built the approach that we have adopted to value for money into the way that we think and plan for the organisation—that goes back to the point that I made earlier to the Chairman. If we think that an area of our current work is at risk, we identify it, and say that we cannot do it without dropping something else. We cannot take anything on additionally without some recognition being given for that to be done. I think that we are at the point of having done all the things that we think that we can do—not that we have done them; we might have identified them, and might be on a journey, but we just cannot keep taking on additional things without it impacting on the work that we are doing.

  Q405 Mr Stuart: You have got the lighter touch CAA and the issue that came out with Haringey about your desk-based research. When that research came out and you gave it the thumbs up, you made it clear that it was purely desk based. Those things will feed into concern that if 42% is pared down from your big expenditure, you are often not going to have the resources to be able to respond to additional need and send in another team to look at something and bring it forward. It is all very well in theory, but the truth is it will have to have a big flashing light on it before you are going to be able to sort it out.

  Christine Gilbert: That is an issue because we will have to keep a close eye on it. We have factored in a number of what we are calling triggered inspections—where something has arisen and we need to go in to look at it through the CAA process. However, we have not made any reductions in that area or in the inspection of children's social care—absolutely none. For instance, if the contract that we are looking to finalise in the next week or so comes in at a figure higher than anticipated, we are in trouble. We hope that we have made wise estimates in relation to a number of things such as that, but until they have come to fruition we are not sure.

  Chairman: I think we will have to leave it there. Paul and Derek have been very patient, as have David and Fiona who are behind them. Would you like to mention school inspection, Paul?

  Q406 Paul Holmes: A regular issue, about which we have talked before, is that people, such as those involved with the National Association of Head Teachers, often say that there is great fear that Ofsted—especially in relation to more short inspections—uses test results almost to the exclusion of anything else, and that it comes in with a pre-conceived idea based on the stats of test or exam results. Such people have, for example, observed that lead inspectors will say to the school leadership team, "If your standards—in other words your results—are only satisfactory, we can't give you a good award for leadership or management." That might be the case, even though the school has only got to satisfactory because of outstanding leadership and management. Do you have any further observations on that?

  Christine Gilbert: That has been said to me too, but it is completely untrue. We could evidence that it is untrue by looking at a number of schools. In the first year of the new school section 5 inspections, I think that there were quite a lot of complaints—Miriam would have been around, but I was not in those days—about the use of and reliance on data. However, that has actually reduced significantly. Although there has been considerable talk about that from the NAHT in particular, it is not evidenced in the complaints that we get about inspection or in the dialogue that I now have with head teachers about inspection. We rely on and use data, but the key, overriding thing—I cannot stress this enough—is the inspector's judgment of what she or he is seeing in that school having analysed the data. The data help you with the lines of inquiry that you are going to pursue, if you like, but it is what you are seeing in a school—the other evidence that the school presents to you and so on—that allows the inspectors to reach a judgment on the school.

  Q407 Paul Holmes: So, lead inspectors have never said to a school leadership team, "We can't give you a good rating, because your results are merely satisfactory."?

  Christine Gilbert: I cannot say that they have never said it. What I can say to you is that it is not true and if you look at the guidance that we give inspectors, it is pretty clear that it is absolutely not true. It is also not true if you look at the results. You will remember the furore about the schools in National Challenge. I think that 17 of those had an outstanding Ofsted categorisation.

  Q408 Paul Holmes: You mentioned the guidance given to inspectors. In issue 8 of January 2009—so, just four weeks ago—the guidance states, "There are cases where the description of the school being inspected places undue emphasis upon the characteristics of other schools in the locality." It states that, for example, it is preferable for inspectors to use a quote such as, "`this is a non-selective school in a selective area'" rather than comments such as, "`this school is surrounded by a number of grammar schools'" or "`the presence of grammar schools in the area has an impact on the number of higher attaining students at the school'." Why do you feel it necessary to circumscribe in that way the language that inspectors can use?

  Christine Gilbert: I will have to pass that one to Miriam. I am not familiar with that example.

  Miriam Rosen: The idea is simply to give an accurate description of the context of the school, which is actually about the school itself and the pupils it takes in rather than the surrounding schools, because they may or may not have influenced the children that that particular school has.

  Q409 Paul Holmes: It is not may or may not, because you also say in the extract here, "Descriptions should only be used if they are directly relevant and make a significant contribution to explaining the inspection outcomes." That is what you have just said. Surely, if a school is a secondary modern—whether you call it a comprehensive, community or specialist school—it is basically a secondary modern, if it is surrounded by grammar schools. That is going to make a significant contribution to explaining the inspection outcome.

  Miriam Rosen: The inspection outcome could be outstanding for the school. It does not matter what the intake of the pupils is. What matters is what the school does with those pupils, how well it educates them and how well they then do compared with their starting points. What we were trying to say in that guidance was to be accurate in the description rather than try to describe it in terms of the surrounding schools.

  Q410 Paul Holmes: Your inspection team, which has been on the ground and into a lot of schools, might feel that the nature of the surrounding schools is relevant. In the infamous case of The Ridings School, for example, it was surrounded by schools that in one form or another selected their intake. It was taking the children who were at the bottom of that system. An inspection team might feel that that was relevant for the report on the school, but you are saying that it should not use those terms.

  Miriam Rosen: It can still describe the intake. The really important thing we look at when we go into a school is its effectiveness—how effectively the school educates and cares for its pupils.

  Q411 Paul Holmes: If there are harsh, abrupt judgments—partly from the Government and partly from yourselves—that the school is not getting X% five grade A to C, it could be relevant that the school is at the bottom of the pecking order in terms of intake.

  Miriam Rosen: One of the most important things we look at is the progress that pupils make depending on their starting points. They can make very good progress if they have low attainment on entry, or they can make very good progress starting from higher attainment. Progress is a very important judgment that we make. It is true that the overall attainment pupils reach is also important, because they want to go into the outside world and get jobs or continue into higher education, perhaps. But progress is one of the most important judgments that we make and children from any starting point can make good progress, if they are being given a good education.

  Q412 Paul Holmes: As a final example, if a school is suffering in terms of its intake because of the nature of the surrounding schools, it becomes more difficult to recruit staff and there are more supply teachers. It is the same as happened in Haringey in a sense—a high number of social workers on short-term contracts passing through, so you did not have the long-term stability of professional staff. If all that is built into a relevant picture of why a school has fewer pupils with five grade A to C, surely the inspectors should have the right to make that clear in their report. You seem to be saying to them that they have got to play that down.

  Miriam Rosen: Our evidence is that some schools in that situation do extremely well and some do not. We want all schools to do as well as they can with the pupils that they have.

  Q413 Paul Holmes: Some of them do extremely well, but the common feature among the bottom 200 schools in the league tables is that they serve very deprived areas.

  Miriam Rosen: Yes and, as Christine has just said, some of the schools in the National Challenge are judged by us to be outstanding. It is possible to break the mould and to do it. In fact, we are soon to publish a report which looks at 12 outstanding secondary schools, all of which are in deprived areas and do not have particularly advantaged intakes, yet have broken the mould and done exceptionally well. Other schools may learn from that.

  Q414 Derek Twigg: Chief Inspector, how many struggling schools have you identified so far?

  Christine Gilbert: My annual report identified around about 5% inadequate schools from inspections in 2007-08, 9% of which are secondary.[5] We are still finding that there are a greater proportion of struggling schools in the secondary sector than the primary sector.

  Q415 Derek Twigg: What will you be doing differently to identify struggling schools more quickly?

  Christine Gilbert: The new proposals keep the work that we have done on schools in a category—either special measures or notice to improve—much as now. We found that it works well and as schools come out of special measures or notice to improve, they are very positive about it. The difference in the new approach is that we will be looking more closely at satisfactory schools. At the moment, we look at about 5% of those. In future we will look at the progress of satisfactory schools. If it looks from a set of data as though the school is slipping or not making the progress that we want it to, we will go in for a monitoring visit. So that is a feature of the new inspection regime planned for September.

  Q416 Derek Twigg: How many schools are satisfactory at the moment?

  Christine Gilbert: In the secondary sector it must be about 30%

  Q417 Derek Twigg: So that is quite a large proportion. You intend to inspect all those as part of this quicker regime?

  Christine Gilbert: All of them will be inspected once in three years, but annually we will look at the performance of those schools according to things such as their assessment results, attendance, exclusions, and parental satisfaction to assess the risk of leaving the school without an inspection for some time.

  Q418 Derek Twigg: So once a school is identified as struggling, it will not just be identified more quickly but will be more frequently inspected. Are you talking about an annual inspection?

  Christine Gilbert: No. We are saying that we will inspect all schools and this has yet to be agreed because we have asked the DCSF to consider five years rather than six years. The initial proposals were for six years. The idea is that good or outstanding schools would be inspected at least once during that time frame of five or six years. To reassure parents, we would look annually at the data for each of those schools to see whether the picture presented suggested some problem emerging there. So we might go back to one of those more rapidly. But if a school is satisfactory, it would be inspected within three years. That happens now, but we will be doing more frequent monitoring of those schools and monitoring visits to some of those schools to help prevent them from them going into special measures.

  Q419 Derek Twigg: You said that you would inspect those schools that are either good or excellent every five to six years.

  Christine Gilbert: The initial proposals were for six years. Parents were very concerned that generally that meant that a child could go through the school without having an Ofsted inspection. So we asked the DCSF to see whether it would find additional funding for five years. Although it has been positive about that, we have not had a yes yet. It will be five or six years, because we do not think that we can do five years unless we get secure additional funding.

5   Note by witness: The 9% is a proportion of all secondary schools rather than as a proportion of 5% of inadequate schools. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 13 May 2009