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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)



  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 are identifying.

  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 other briefly.

  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 them.

  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 to? Maidenhead?

  Christine Gilbert: We have to reduce our London presence; from next September we will move to a building that we share with—can 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.[6]

  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 important—I am absolutely going to get you, Melanie, to say three words on the record, or you will break a Committee tradition—but 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 way.

  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 programme—it is in its second year—looking 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 reporting?

  Christine Gilbert: That is different. The parents whom I meet, in contrast with the NAHT survey that I read last week—this is not scientific—are 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 reports?

  Christine Gilbert: One of the things that parents said to me during our consultation on the school proposals—it mirrored something that this Committee said—was 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 earlier—the limitations of just looking at data—but 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 seen—or score cards, as they were described initially—they just give you immediately a picture of what the school is like. But I stress—I cannot underline this enough—that you need to link that with the inspection performance as well.

  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.

6   See Ev 86 Back

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