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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 140-159)


22 MARCH 2010

  Q140 Ms Buck: I would certainly find it very interesting to know whether it also includes School Action Plus, English as an additional language and so on, if that's possible to know.

  Christine Gilbert: What people did, too, was confuse what we would call attainment and achievement, and achievement is the thing that's the limiting grade. Achievement involves attainment—raw scores, to put it crudely—but also learning and progress. That's the key—the difference that the school is making. That's what we're really looking at in terms of achievement.

  Q141 Derek Twigg: In those 8% of schools, what was the actual attainment in terms of 5 GCSE passes at A to C?

  Christine Gilbert: I don't know without checking, but I can check and get back to you on that.[4]

  Q142 Derek Twigg: That would be useful, because I want to explore the issue, again, about attainment, achievement and what is outstanding. I would argue that a school gaining around 20% in GCSE passes cannot ever be termed outstanding. What's your view on that?

  Christine Gilbert: It honestly does depend on the intake of the school. For instance, you might get a special school—

  Q143 Derek Twigg: Let's take an average deprived area in terms of the statistics. Halton is the 21st most deprived authority in the country, but with a 70% attainment level at GCSE. Let's just take, for want of a better phrase, the average sort of deprived population that a school might have in certain areas like that.

  Christine Gilbert: If the attainment was that low, the inspectors would look at those results and attainment more generally in the school, but they would also look to see what the school was doing. It could be on a strong upward move; for example, if it had been 3% the year before, it might be. But I would think it would be very difficult indeed to get "outstanding" in that situation.

  Q144 Derek Twigg: Some people will argue that, because they have put in all that effort into getting the school on an upward trajectory, it justifies it being "outstanding". I put it to you—you sort of answered it, but I want to make sure—that attainment is also a pretty important part of a school's performance.

  Christine Gilbert: I have said countless times that you can't go to interview with your value-added score. You've absolutely got to get the results.

  Q145 Derek Twigg: Would you argue—again, it is put by certain people—that the fact that the school is in a deprived area is somehow an excuse for low attainment?

  Christine Gilbert: That was said to me quite a lot, and that was the trigger for the three publications that we produced on outstanding schools. The first publication was on outstanding secondary schools in disadvantaged areas, where there had been a number of things over time; but the schools were all performing very well. The attainment was good or better in all those schools and they were all doing very well by their pupils, in acutely disadvantaged areas.

  Q146 Derek Twigg: There are a lot of good examples. I want to explore another issue briefly with you. I know it's early days in terms of the inspection regime, but generally is there any excuse for a local authority not knowing if one of its schools is inadequate?

  Christine Gilbert: No; I think a good authority should know its schools well enough to know how each of them is performing.

  Q147 Derek Twigg: So it should never come as a surprise to a local authority that one of its schools is inadequate, as deemed by yourselves?

  Christine Gilbert: In my view, it shouldn't come as a surprise.

  Q148 Derek Twigg: Have you come across many authorities that found it a surprise?

  Christine Gilbert: None has talked to me about it, but whether they have talked to other people about it I don't know.

  Miriam Rosen: Especially now that the school improvement partners are in the schools, they should know if the school is inadequate and they should be informing the local authority.

  Q149 Derek Twigg: That leads to the question why a school should be inadequate if the local authority knows about it. What has it not done that it could have done?

  Christine Gilbert: Sometimes, the local authority knows that it is unable to shift the school.

  Derek Twigg: That's the point. What is it that the authority is not doing that it should be doing?

  Christine Gilbert: There are various things; it could issue a warning notice and so on, but I think that would be a last resort. Most local authorities would want to work with their schools to effect change.

  Q150 Derek Twigg: Just to press you on the last question, what is it specifically that a local authority could do basically to assure you that it can prevent a school becoming inadequate in the first place? What is it not doing that it should be doing? You don't want to get to the stage of issuing a notice, as you rightly say. We're into prevention, surely; what is it in your experience that local authorities are not doing that would prevent a school becoming inadequate?

  Christine Gilbert: I think it's related to where you started the line of questioning. I think it's when they don't know their schools well enough—they don't have systems in place to know their schools well enough, and to have a dialogue with the head of the school and the governing body about what is going on in the school.

  Derek Twigg: On that basis, no local authority gets deemed by you to be "outstanding" or "good" or has ever been in that situation.

  Christine Gilbert: We now look, in a way that we hadn't until the new system, at the aggregated results of school inspections. One might not do it, it would depend, but it would be very unusual to get three schools going into special measures, and that not being flagged up as a real issue for us as to whether it would impact on the outstanding judgment.

  Q151 Derek Twigg: Just to be clear, in the future no local authority should be deemed "outstanding" or "good" and subsequently a school is found to be inadequate?

  Christine Gilbert: It would depend on the circumstances for that particular school and on the circumstances for that local authority, but we now look at what is happening in that authority. For instance, say an authority had three schools in special measures two years or 18 months ago and it is showing on the profile that those schools were inadequate. That might not stop the authority being deemed "good" or "outstanding" if no schools had gone into special measures since then and if we felt that progress in those schools—with the authority working with those schools—was sufficient. So there are issues of judgment.

  Q152 Derek Twigg: Today, you go into one local authority and you say, "We have done our inspection and that local authority is good or outstanding". You would absolutely not expect any school in that local authority in the next 12 months, 18 months or two years to be deemed as inadequate. Otherwise, there is something wrong with the inspection, isn't there?

  Miriam Rosen: I don't think that that will necessarily be the case, because there are instances when the local authority knows that a school is in trouble but it is actually having difficulty shifting it on. So there may be instances where that is the case and there may also be instances where there is a sudden decline. So I think that it would be difficult to have a blanket rule like that.

  Q153 Chair: I just want to touch on something that Karen brought up. The previous report said that we were unhappy about the kind of bluntness of using free school meals as a sensitive or accurate indicator of deprivation. I know that we've all been in the business of trying to refine that method. You seemed a bit vague about whether there was a more refined way of dealing with an index of deprivation.

  Christine Gilbert: We have not found one and the free school meal is a crude proxy, as we know, because it is really known free school meals—it is not necessarily an entitlement to them, or anything else. But we are looking at the area of value for money and the differences in schools. That issue will come up again with those considerations and we will come back to you on it.

  Q154 Chair: Are you doing that on your own, or with the Department? How are you doing it?

  Christine Gilbert: We have been charged with doing it on our own, but we have also been talking to the Audit Commission about what we are doing. We have also been talking to a number of heads who have got some interesting systems operating.

  Q155 Chair: It is the sort of thing that you might commission the Institute of Education or the London School of Economics to do some research on, surely.

  Christine Gilbert: It might well be.

  Q156 Ms Buck: That is a very interesting point that you just made. When we ask a parliamentary question about free school dinners, the replies always come back that it is impossible to give the precise data and that the figures are always ranked by estimated entitlement. And yet you are saying that you think that you don't know who is entitled to free school dinners.

  Christine Gilbert: I had this debate with somebody last week. It was about a special measures report, where there had been a phrase about the pupils' entitlement to school meals and I said, "How would they know? Is something different from when I was either in schools or in a local authority?" I thought that there might have been something else. In the end, the system relies on the parents alerting the school that the child is entitled to free school meals. If the child doesn't want a meal in that school, the parents wouldn't necessarily need to tell the school.

  Q157 Ms Buck: With secondary schools in particular, you would get a very skewed picture as a consequence of that, wouldn't you?

  Christine Gilbert: There were also some schools where a hot meal was not necessarily provided, so that parents didn't think that it was worth having the meal at all and therefore the "entitlement" would be lower in that school than would be expected.

  Q158 Chair: Would you agree—in the past, I think that we have agreed on this issue, but let's see whether we can update our agreement—that the closest relationship between good quality learning and anything else is highly qualified and trained professionals in the classroom?

  Christine Gilbert: We do agree on that. Well, we agree that teaching is the most important impact on learning, yes.

  Q159 Chair: Teaching is related to the skills, isn't it?

  Christine Gilbert: It is, absolutely.

4   See Ev 36 Back

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