Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)|
CBE, VANESSA HOWLISON,
9 FEBRUARY 2009
Q420 Fiona Mactaggart: Recently
three schools in my constituency were inspected at the same time.
The conclusion of the inspections was that the first, a secondary
modern, was good with promising prospects, the second, a grammar
school, was good and the third, a secondary modern, was judged
satisfactory. I found that judgment odd. What steps do you take
when you have concurrent inspections in a neighbourhood to moderate
between them? It seemed to me that the reports on those three
schools did not have a shared understanding. That was odd. It
struck me that you should have a mechanism whereby if inspections
are happening in the same place at the same time there is some
effort to moderate between the inspection teams.
Christine Gilbert: Miriam might
want to address the detail of that. We have a system of moderation
that would be in place up and down the country, but as far as
I am aware it would not necessarily pick up the issue that you
Miriam Rosen: That is correct.
We have quality assurance of inspections across the country so
that we can feel reasonably assured that inspections are consistent
in their judgments and their approach, but we do not have anything
in particular for where three inspections happen to be taking
place at the same time within the same local authority.
Q421 Fiona Mactaggart: Will you
think about that? It is odd that judgments seem really different
when inspections are happening at the same time. Perhaps if you
have three inspection teams in the same small town at the same
time there might be some mechanism to get them to talk to each
Christine Gilbert: It would be
likely to be the same company, would it not?
Miriam Rosen: Yes.
Christine Gilbert: So, I think
that you are pointing to a different issue, which we could at
least look at outside this meeting. Generally it would be the
same provider doing those inspections. With the new regime that
starts in September, we are trying to ensure that we do federations,
partnerships and so on at the same time. That is a federation?
Fiona Mactaggart: Yes, it is a loose
federation but a federation nevertheless.
Christine Gilbert: If it is a
federation I am surprised that there was no discussion or contact.
There would have still been three separate reports, because that
is the legislative picture, but if at least two of the institutions
are in a federation I am surprised that there was no debate across
Miriam Rosen: At the moment, we
do not always know when there is a federation. We are trying to
put in place mechanisms so that we do know that, and so that when
possible we can do the inspections at the same time and produce
a judgment about the contribution to the partnership.
Q422 Chairman: Is not the Schools
Commissioner supposed to know when there is a federation? Should
he not tell you when we get another one?
Miriam Rosen: There are 23,000
schools in England and all I can say is that we do not know all
of the federations by any means.
Q423Fiona Mactaggart: This is a very
loose federation, not a tightly organised one. Can I ask one thing
that I have asked you about before? Is your new regime producing
a more diverse inspectorate than you previously had?
Christine Gilbert: We are worried
about the diversity, not because of the progress that we are making
but because we think that the move out of London will impact on
the diversity. We identified that as an issue when we were planning
and assessing the risk of the move. I will be able to report at
the next Committee sitting in May about the progress that we have
made. We have made some progress, but we are worried.
Q424 Chairman: Where are you moving
Christine Gilbert: We have to
reduce our London presence; from next September we will move to
a building that we share withcan I say this, Vanessa?
Vanessa Howlison: Yes.
Christine Gilbert:the Food
Standards Agency. We will be downsizing considerably our London
presence, and using the buildings in the three regional bases
and more home working than previously.
Q425 Fiona Mactaggart: My concern
is about the diversity of the inspectorate, which I assume does
not spend much time at your headquarters.
Christine Gilbert: No.
Q426 Fiona Mactaggart: Can we
get some figures on that?
Christine Gilbert: We can absolutely
give you the figures with the annual monitoring that comes in
in April, and we can give you a progress update since the last
time that we did it.
Miriam Rosen: I can give you the
figures for the inspectors who have conducted school inspections
in the past quarter. Of those, 5% were from minority ethnic backgrounds.
That is some progress, but we would hope for more.
Christine Gilbert: It has been
built into the contract from September.
Q427 Chairman: I asked whether
you can get information from the Schools Commissioner. Do you
meet the Schools Commissioner on a regular basis?
Christine Gilbert: Yes. Miriam
and I meet him every four months.
Q428 Chairman: When do you think
there will be a new one?
Christine Gilbert: I have no idea.
Q429 Chairman: Nor does anyone
as I understand it.
On school inspections, increasingly, federations
and co-operation across schools for delivery of diplomas are importantI
am absolutely going to get you, Melanie, to say three words on
the record, or you will break a Committee traditionbut
does it count for much? When I look at your reports, I wonder
what is the liaison. Some schools I know could be on the moon
for all the consideration that is given to the local community.
There is no relation to, or roots in, the local community. The
Department wants intelligent home-school liaison, but those things
do not seem to play any part in an inspector's report.
Christine Gilbert: I would say
two things on that and we will be able to report more fully when
we meet you again. First, the judgment on community cohesion is
shifting that situation a little and, secondly, the plans for
September for school inspection include judgments on partnership
working. That is not final, but in the draft that I have seen,
it will apply in three things that we judge. The new model will
make those things clearer, but a report will still be related
to outcomes and impact.
Q430 Chairman: If the most significant
element in a child's education when you strip everything away
is the support it gets from its family, surely you should check
whether the school-family connection is being fostered in a positive
Christine Gilbert: I thought you
meant more formal partnership considerations. We already look
at the engagement of parents and so on. We will be assessing parental
views every year, which will be helpful.
Q431 Chairman: Melanie, do you
do anything in terms of the linkages between the further education
sector and local schools?
Melanie Hunt: Yes we do. In fact,
we look at a number of different sorts of linkages and partnerships.
One of things that has struck me as the debate has been going
on is the complexity of those relationships. We know that all
sorts of different partnerships take place for specialist, cross-phase
and quality reasons. One of the challenges that we have had with
the new FE inspection framework is mapping those partnerships.
Critically, we are running a survey programmeit is in its
second yearlooking at the introduction of the new diplomas.
That especially is based on partnership between school and college
and how the joint curriculum planning, delivery and evaluation
takes place. I think that that will yield some very helpful results
at the end of this first year of the diplomas.
Chairman: I am afraid that you have been
squeezed, but we can look quickly at school room report cards.
Q432 Mr Chaytor: Will the abolition
of Key Stage 3 SATs make any material difference to Ofsted reporting?
Christine Gilbert: I do not think
that it will. The schools will still need to assess the progress
of the pupils in the school and we will still need systems for
monitoring, evaluation and so on.
Q433 Mr Chaytor: If Key Stage
2 SATs were abolished, would there be any difference to Ofsted's
Christine Gilbert: That is different.
The parents whom I meet, in contrast with the NAHT survey that
I read last weekthis is not scientificare positive
about having tests at a break in the stage of transfer, as they
see it. We use those as part of looking at the overall value added
that the secondary school has and so on. I am sure that we would
find something else if they were abolished, but they are a real
help to us when we look at a school.
Q434 Mr Chaytor: Do you think
the school report card concept can give anything more than is
currently available through the performance tables and Ofsted
Christine Gilbert: One of the
things that parents said to me during our consultation on the
school proposalsit mirrored something that this Committee
saidwas that they were bombarded with information and no
longer knew what any of the information about assessment, attainment
and so on meant. It is hard for people, even in the professional
world, to understand the different tables and so on, so I do see
the report card as having the potential to clarify and cut away
some of that. One parent who does a lot in the governor world
and so is very familiar with a lot of this said, "I want
to know the key things that I should be looking at when I look
at schools." If we choose the right ones, it will prioritise
the things that are captured in a card.
Q435 Mr Chaytor: You are suggesting
that there is too much information now and the report card should
offer less information? You are suggesting a report card should
be a simplification rather than an enrichment of the information?
Christine Gilbert: Yes, and I
would still see inspection as complementing that. It is not in
itself sufficient, for the reasons that we talked about earlierthe
limitations of just looking at databut you could look at
it and it could help you in triggering an inspection, for instance,
by just looking at the picture.
Q436 Mr Chaytor: So if it is about
simplification rather than enhancement, why not just simplify
the data in the performance tables?
Christine Gilbert: This is a way
of simplifying the data. I am sure there are others, but it is
a way of simplifying the data and capturing, in something quite
short, what the picture is.
Q437 Mr Chaytor: What should be
taken out of the performance tables?
Christine Gilbert: They just need
to be made more readable. If you look at some of the report cards
that I have seenor score cards, as they were described
initiallythey just give you immediately a picture of what
the school is like. But I stressI cannot underline this
enoughthat you need to link that with the inspection performance
Q438 Mr Chaytor: So do you think
the report card should have a single descriptor of the school's
performance that would include some of the data currently in the
league tables or performance tables and some of the judgments
in the inspection report? Should it be reduced to a star rating
or a five-point scale as is the case for other public institutions?
Christine Gilbert: We are still
debating that. Miriam is not a member but an assessor on the expert
group which is looking at that and contributing to the debate,
but, at this stage, I do not think that Ofsted would give a view
on it. There are pros and cons with all these things.
Q439 Chairman: Are you a bit sceptical
about it? It sounds as though you regard it as a gimmick.
Christine Gilbert: No, I thought
I was being too positive, so I started to pull back.
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