Ofsted Inspection of Children's Services - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 120-139)


22 MARCH 2010

  Q120 Chair: But Chief Inspector, in Warrington's case, as Helen has said, there was a work force that thought they were good to better than good. Suddenly, under the new regime, they obviously have got some real challenges. You could say that about Haringey. Are you really saying that none of the media attention that Baby Peter brought to this whole area had any impact on Ofsted at all?

  Christine Gilbert: No, I'm absolutely not saying that. I keep saying that it made us go back and look at what it was we proposed, but I would also ask you to look at the papers that I published, when I published them, to suggest the sorts of changes we were making. I should also say that Warrington's performance in almost every single area other than safeguarding is very good indeed, and by any assessment would be in the "performing well" box, but in the area of safeguarding it is worrying. We've identified the sorts of concerns—

  Q121 Helen Southworth: But Ofsted is the body that should be making sure that safeguarding is safe.

  Christine Gilbert: Well, that's what we did in the unannounced inspection, and that's why we went in for the two-week inspection.

  Q122 Chair: How do you compare that with the Haringey experience, where it was understood—certainly evidence was given to the Committee—that the 2008 inspection was good, and outstanding in part, and the 2009 one that you never published was good, and outstanding in part? There was a suggestion, which I think you have refuted, that that was about to be published when the Baby Peter case hit the media, and you asked for it to be rewritten.

  Christine Gilbert: You will know that I have been given legal advice; I am not supposed to get into discussion about Haringey. However, I think I can answer this one: the APA—and we state this in public, actually, in the information that was published at the time—would be subject to the outcomes of joint area reviews. An emergency JAR was undertaken for Haringey and that influenced the judgment that we then made in 2008.

  Q123 Chair: How many emergency JARs have you done?

  Christine Gilbert: I think that's the only emergency JAR that was done during my time. We now do the unannounced inspections and the rolling programme—the safeguarding and looked-after children rolling programme.

  Q124 Chair: So the emergency JAR was because of the media strop?

  Christine Gilbert: The emergency JAR was because the Secretary of State asked us to do it.

  Q125 Helen Southworth: Could I ask if perhaps we could have information forwarded to us about how many other authorities have had that kind of variation between their annual performance assessment and the full inspection?

  Christine Gilbert: Yes.[2]

  Chair: If Helen has finished, it's over to Edward, who is going to look at serious case reviews.

  Q126 Mr Timpson: I'm afraid these questions are for you, Chief Inspector. The most recent annual report showed quite a wide disparity in the number of evaluated serious case reviews by Ofsted from 2007-08 to 2008-09—up from 92 to 199. Why did that number more than double, despite the fact that the number of notified incidents went slightly down?

  Christine Gilbert: All the evidence that we have suggests that local safeguarding children boards are really seeing this as a top priority and are very conscious of decisions in a way that they might not have been previously, but all the evidence, too, is that the serious case reviews overall are having a real impact. At the end of the first year evaluation, 40% of them were inadequate. In the beginning of March—about 10 March—it was about 17%, but if you look at the last quarter, we now have more "goods" than any other grade and only two "inadequate" marks. I say only two; two is still serious, but it is very different from the picture that we had. There has been a steady pattern of improvement in the whole area.

  Q127 Mr Timpson: Is that based on the same framework of evaluation?

  Christine Gilbert: Yes.

  Q128 Mr Timpson: That leads me on to my next question about the review of that framework evaluation. What progress are you making with that? I know that the review has been welcomed across the board, including the Association of Directors of Children's Services. Where are you with that, and when can we expect better and further information as to what that new framework will be?

  Christine Gilbert: We've had some informal consultation, if you like, and discussions with directors. We had a conference with the chairs of local safeguarding children boards and so on, to look at a very early draft of the proposals for change. They've fed into that, and we've more or less got the document ready for formal consultation. We think that it is probably not appropriate to go out for formal consultation just before the election silence period, because this is going to be an area of real debate. We want to have that debate and we don't want it to be silenced by the election period. I don't know if John wants to add to that.

  John Goldup: I've had a lot of discussions about that early draft, particularly with groups of directors up and down the country. It has been a very positive and stimulating engagement and has been very much welcomed.

  Q129 Mr Timpson: So we're looking at June or July to start the formal consultation. How long will the formal consultation take?

  Christine Gilbert: As soon as the election is over, we will be ready—

  Mr Timpson: I wasn't trying to ask you when the date of the election is. How long is the period of the formal consultation?

  Christine Gilbert: Generally, three months is the norm, but we might be able to shorten that, given the extent of the informal consultation that we have had. We hoped that it would be something like eight weeks so that we could be ready to introduce the changes, probably from September.

  Q130 Mr Timpson: Regarding the terms of reference for the review, does that include addressing concerns that have been raised—whether you agree with them or not—about the over-emphasis on the process of producing a serious case review rather than, as people like to say, "learning the lessons" as a serious case review should do from the practices of all the agencies involved with the child in question?

  Christine Gilbert: That has been the focus of the discussion during the informal consultation. Are there things that we might be doing to learn the lessons more effectively? That has been the whole thrust of it.

  Q131 Mr Timpson: For instance, one of the comments from the evidence we received is that the serious case review can be marked as inadequate on the basis that the terms of reference are not right. Is that right and is it something that is going to be looked at?

  Christine Gilbert: I think that the terms of reference do have to be right. People have to think about what they are doing very clearly, or else you could get all sorts of people going off in different directions. I haven't been involved in discussions about that—I don't know if you were, John—but I would argue that you had to be really clear about what it was you were doing with the terms of reference.

  John Goldup: The terms of reference are extremely important. Whether it is correct to say that any serious case review has been judged as inadequate solely because the terms of reference were poor is a different issue, and I couldn't tell you that categorically. What I absolutely can say is that the whole focus of the work we're now doing is on trying to ensure that we develop our framework for evaluating serious case reviews in a way that absolutely supports the fundamental purpose of doing the serious case review in the first place. That is to make sure that the necessary lessons are learned from the things that have happened, and that the right actions are taken to improve the protection of children in the future. That is absolutely the central point around which the whole thing turns.

  Q132 Mr Timpson: Just one last question. Are you in a position to give the Committee your view on whether you think serious case reviews shouldn't be published in full, or whether the executive summary is a sufficient amount of information for us to understand exactly what the issues were in those cases to make them so serious, and how we can be confident that everything is being done to improve the areas of deficiency that led to the unfortunate incident in any particular case?

  Christine Gilbert: We've had a debate about this in Ofsted, and the consensus is that the risk to children and families is too great for meaningful publication. We would have to redact too much. We think that the guidance that has come from the Department about what the executive summary should look like will be helpful in giving a clearer picture about the report, without mentioning the names of individual children and their families.

  Chair: Edward, thank you for that. We move on to Karen, on Ofsted's new inspection framework for schools.

  Q133 Ms Buck: You will be aware, of course, of the controversy that greeted the publication of the most recent statistics, which appeared to show on the face of it a significant reduction in the number of schools getting outstanding or good results. Would you just talk us through to what extent any of this is to do with grading, and how much of it is a statistical consequence of the shifting of inspection priorities towards the schools that have not been achieving so well?

  Christine Gilbert: It is exactly the second of those; the sample is skewed, because good and outstanding schools are now inspected once every five years. The sample is always going to be skewed towards weaker schools. I give you an example: I think it was 6% of the schools that we inspected in the autumn term—from the beginning of September to the end of December—were previously outstanding; the previous year, 11% had previously been outstanding. The difficulty is that until you get a year's look, it is difficult to be able to present in any other sort of way. I think the media are used to looking at it in a particular way—that they get a range. It just didn't do that, and it won't do that in future.

  Q134 Ms Buck: Do you have a clear sense of how you would present this, when you have a full year's data, in such a way as to minimise the risk of the media presenting it as a catastrophic decline in standards?

  Christine Gilbert: There is a statistical tool we could have applied to this, but we thought that that would look too much like spin if we did that, so we thought we should just publish the figures. We haven't come up with an absolutely clear picture of how we will present things at the end of the year. My own feeling is that we'll have to signify the number of schools that we looked at, and decide that progress looked to us to be good enough to leave them without inspection—that they were still good or outstanding—and maybe count those as good and outstanding. Certainly, the picture that we're seeing is not very different from the picture that was seen in the first year, 2005-06, when the new section 5 as it was then introduced.

  Q135 Ms Buck: The Times Educational Supplement commentary picked out a couple of schools that had been judged as good in an earlier inspection but were then found to be inadequate. Is it simply that there are always going to be some schools that change—and so they should, otherwise there would be something wrong with the inspections—or is it just that the TES was able to find some examples of schools where their grades genuinely had changed, to illustrate a story that you believe is almost exclusively to do with statistical presentation?

  Christine Gilbert: We found that 50% of schools stayed the same, 25% went up and 25% went down. I think this is right—generally not so many would have gone down; we wouldn't have expected so many to have gone down. That relates to the skewed sample. But we also found 35% of some satisfactory schools became good or outstanding.

  Ms Buck: So there's selective reporting?

  Christine Gilbert: Yes. We found often that schools are saying X or Y or Z, but we look at the reports generally published and they bear very little relationship to what is being said about the school in the press.

  Q136 Ms Buck: The reports on the new inspection regime were also asserting that schools were falling to an inadequate rating on the grounds of relatively specific and minor failings—not greeting inspectors or asking for inspectors' ID, and offences relating to heights of door handles and so on. What's your response to that? Is it exaggeration? Is it simply wrong?

  Christine Gilbert: We followed up every single example and I asked for examples, and there wasn't a single one where that was the case. The school that was being mentioned at the time of the annual report—I think it was called Lawnswood—had been designated inadequate because of safeguarding and was inadequate across a whole range of issues. That was one of a whole number. The children were describing themselves as being bullied, achievement was inadequate and so on. That story had been picked up by national newspapers and run with, and when we pulled it off the web it bore no resemblance at all to what was being said. What we decided in the end was that a number of myths were being spread round, and we put on our web a whole series of frequently asked questions to deal with that, but we also said, "Come back to us." When we looked at the assessment—we inspected, I think, 2,140 schools in the autumn—only 17 were inadequate for safeguarding, care, leadership and management. Those two things might have been related to the safeguarding, but it was only 17 schools, and 70% were good or outstanding for safeguarding.

  Q137 Ms Buck: Another of the common complaints from schools is that the new inspection regime reinforces a pre-existing complaint, which is that so much emphasis is placed on a grade assessment and therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, for a school that is achieving remarkable things with a very disadvantaged intake to reach the highest standards of assessment. You assert that that isn't the case, but what's the statistical basis for that assertion? What analysis has been done by Ofsted to look at the schools in each category and then apply the socio-economic profile of the school to that assessment? Do we know specifically that there are schools ranked as "outstanding" that are below, say, the national average in terms of their Key Stage achievement?

  Christine Gilbert: I think it was 8% of schools in disadvantaged areas that had "outstanding" from this sample that we're looking at in the autumn, and 9% was the overall figure, so there was hardly any difference.

  Q138 Ms Buck: But is that a disadvantaged neighbourhood or a disadvantaged profile, because they are different, aren't they?

  Christine Gilbert: It will be the area that the school is located in. That will be the base of it.

  Ms Buck: That worries me, because we all know that a school can be located in a privileged area, yet have an exceptionally disadvantaged intake, and vice versa.

  Christine Gilbert: Sorry—I see what you mean. I imagine the free school meals figure will be looked at, for instance, so it would have caught the population of the school. Miriam, is that correct?

  Miriam Rosen: Yes, as I understand it, it's looking at the free school meals data, so it will have been the population of the school.

  Ms Buck: Okay, so it's not just that the school is located in a ward or—

  Christine Gilbert: No. It will be the population of the actual school.

  Q139 Ms Buck: Is this exclusively on free school meals?

  Christine Gilbert: I would need to check that and get back to you.[3]

2   See Ev 35 Back

3   Note by witness: Ofsted uses free school meal eligibility, and the degree of deprivation associated with pupils' postcode. Information about free school meal eligibility and pupil postcode is gathered by the DCSF through the School Census, whilst the degree of deprivation is calculated using the IDACI, an Index of Multiple Depreivation produced by the Department of Communities and Local Government. Also, see Ev 35 Back

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