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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 160-179)


22 MARCH 2010

  Q160 Chair: If you translate that across to your business, I find that that is true is almost every business where you are delivering a service. You're in the business of inspection. How do we know—because we've spent a lot of time; we've looked at the training of social workers; we've now looked at the training of teachers—that the quality of training of your inspectors is good enough?

  Christine Gilbert: We evaluate our training. We've begun to work with other countries. We were in the Netherlands, recently, to work with people there, looking at impact together. We assess ourselves, and we always assess the impact of the inspection framework. We always ask the people we are inspecting what they think of the inspection quality. So there are a number of things that we do.

  Q161 Chair: Yes, but you hire in a lot of your inspectors from the private sector. How do you know how they're training, and up-training, and continuous professional development-ing their staff?

  Christine Gilbert: Miriam will say something about this, but we have, over the years, developed, I think, a very good system of supporting training and quality assuring those inspectors.

  Miriam Rosen: We train our own in-house inspectors, but then we also provide that training to the inspection contractors. So they come along and are trained by us—the trainers, that is.

  Q162 Chair: And you are happy with the quality, are you?

  Miriam Rosen: Then they will go out and train their own inspectors, so we have some assurance there because of the training materials, which are developed by us. But then, it's true that they will do the training of their own inspectors, but we then look at the output of that, because the outcomes of that are the quality of the inspection, and we sign off every additional inspector. HMI sign them off before they are allowed to inspect, and we also quality-assure the inspection reports and take feedback from schools on the quality of the inspection. So these are all methods of looking at the quality of the inspector work force.

  Q163 Chair: But when we looked at school accountability, not only did we worry about the number of qualified people who could work as school improvement partners; we were also worried if we saw that an inspection was not led by an HMI. Early in your evidence, chief inspector, you spoke very warmly about HMI-led inspections in terms of social care. What did you think of our recommendations that an inspection should be led by an HMI?

  Christine Gilbert: I think it would be a pity if we lost some of the really very good additional inspectors we have. The system that we have allows head teachers, deputy heads and so on, to take part in inspections. I think it's good for their professional development, but it's also good for the teams, and I think as long as we've got systems that check that what's going on is good enough, it's fine. We don't get criticism about additional inspectors from the schools themselves. I'm not saying that we don't get criticisms of some inspections, but we don't necessarily get criticisms of additional inspectors in that way. So apart from the cost of your recommendation, I think it would be a pity to lose some of the very experienced people we've got as additional inspectors.

  Q164 Chair: I just want to cover school report cards before we finish, but before we move to Annette, who's been very patient, can I just push you on appeals to inspection? It is particularly sensitive. In one of our reports we looked at how it is quite difficult to recruit school governors. I know of cases where in comes an Ofsted inspector and looks at things; you understand the criteria you're going to be judged on. With a school governors group, suddenly you say it's adequate—only adequate—and here are people giving their own time, working hard, trying to lead the school, doing good things, they think. Suddenly, with never much explanation of why, they have gone from good to satisfactory. Can they appeal against that?

  Christine Gilbert: You can complain about the report, and you can specify what it is in the report you don't think is accurate. What I would be concerned about in the example that you've given is that the governors weren't clear about why the judgment was being made; and one of the very positive things that's come out of the new framework is the amount of debate and engagement that is going on. People do seem to be much clearer than they were about why judgments are being made about different things.

  Q165 Chair: But school governors are a special category—that's why I'm pushing you on this. They are volunteers; they give their time. To go from good to satisfactory with no rationale often dispirits them to the extent that they resign and you lose really good governors.

  Christine Gilbert: I can see that, but governors can and do add real value to what's going on in a school. Those governors that work most effectively are those who do support, but are also quite demanding and challenging of what they are seeing and hearing about the school and so on. There is a difference between adequate and good, adequate and outstanding, or satisfactory and outstanding, and we need to be clear with the governing body about why we're making that difference. The new inspection framework does place more importance on the role of governors.

  Q166 Annette Brooke: Chief Inspector, I wonder if I could ask you about the article in The Times today that suggests that nannies can be Ofsted-registered, but that Ofsted is only carrying out a CRB check and not checking other credentials? You weren't given a lot of space in The Times for a rebuttal, so I wondered whether you would like to explain to us exactly what the situation is.

  Christine Gilbert: The situation is that nannies feature in the voluntary part of the child care register. We ask people going on the voluntary register to self-declare, and we check that they have had an enhanced CRB check and that they've got a health and safety qualification. They self-declare whether they have a Level 2 NVQ qualification. That's essentially it, and over time—a year perhaps—we would sample 10%, including any in that group there might be complaints about.

  Q167 Annette Brooke: Out of how many is that in total that you are sampling each year?

  Christine Gilbert: I don't know the exact figure; I would need to check it and get back to you.[5]

  Q168 Annette Brooke: Surely it is true that as a parent, if I was looking at nannies, I'd see that as a seal of approval—Ofsted-registered.

  Christine Gilbert: We try to make it really clear on the web and in the information that we give to parents that this is very minimal. This is a voluntary register and we do minimal checks. In the inspection visits to the 10%, we don't even have right of access to the home as we would in other situations. I have been told that nobody has yet refused us access to inspect a nanny in the home—we're not having to meet them in the local coffee shop for instance—but we don't have right of access. It is a very different form of registration, and we try to make that very clear.

  Q169 Annette Brooke: Do you have concerns about this?

  Christine Gilbert: I do worry that, because of the reason and example that you have given, people will think that someone is Ofsted-registered. We've tried to make what we are doing as clear as possible—it is enhanced CRB, and a check for health and safety qualifications. It rests very much on self-declaration. At the time we introduced this, I spoke to a number of families about why they wanted it, and of course it is related to working tax credit. People can get credits if they are registered.

  Q170 Annette Brooke: I was going to ask, do nannies qualify for the child care entitlement for three and four-year-olds who are Ofsted-registered?

  Christine Gilbert: I don't know if it's exactly the same. Again, I'd need to check that, but they certainly qualify for the working tax credit.

  Q171 Annette Brooke: Chief Inspector, I wonder whether it is appropriate to ask you to reflect on whether you feel that there needs to be some change in legislation, and perhaps come back to us on this. You have identified some concerns.

  Christine Gilbert: I think the concerns were identified at the time that this was being introduced. It was introduced before my time, but I think these concerns were passed on.

  Q172 Chair: Is this is a failure of Miriam's? Is this one of the things where she should have said, "No, we're not going there"? You mentioned this earlier. Miriam, was this down to you? You should have said, "No, we can't cope with nannies."

  Miriam Rosen: I have to say that I wasn't actually concerned with child care.

  Annette Brooke: I leave those questions on the table.

  Chair: Did you want to deal with the last question?

  Q173 Annette Brooke: Yes, I was just going to do that. That is what I was supposed to be doing, but having read the article in the newspaper on the train to London, I wanted to ask some questions about it. When the Committee looked at the school report card, we thought that interim assessments would potentially be suitable for Ofsted inspections. I believe that the reply was that much work needed to be done. Can you give us any indication of what progress you're making with that work and whether you have any preliminary conclusions for us today?

  Christine Gilbert: The answer would be the same. The hope is that we would be able to use what is on the report card, rather than do separate, interim assessments, not least because of the clarity that that would give parents. But we're still working on that, and not in great detail at the moment. There are pilots of the school report card. I don't know how they are going and I don't think we've really moved on much on this one from the last time I appeared before the Committee.

  Q174 Annette Brooke: So you don't have a time frame for this?

  Christine Gilbert: I don't know the time frame for the pilots. I can check that after the meeting and get back to you to let you know what it is. I am sure that there are people sitting behind me who would be able to answer, but I will let you know afterwards.

  Q175 Chair: Chief inspector, one last question from me. When we looked at the training of teachers, continuing professional development was very important. We've come out with some worrying evidence that CPD is being hampered by the notion of "rarely cover", which is being interpreted in some schools as "never cover". We're hearing, for example, from wonderful places such as the York centre for science and the nine regional science centres that they are seeing a big decline in the number of teachers going to their excellent facilities, because of this interpretation of "rarely cover". Are you concerned about this?

  Christine Gilbert: I visit schools, if not every week, certainly every fortnight, and most of the schools I visit have found a system that suits the school, but which would not stop the sorts of visits that you're suggesting. We've just published a study on CPD. Some of it may have been undertaken before these provisions were in place, but they had not prevented CPD going from on in schools.

  Q176 Chair: But there is evidence. There has been a 25% decline in the number of people going to the science centre in York, and that is without what we are picking up from school visits. It is a concern if CPD is being undermined, isn't it?

  Christine Gilbert: I think anything that undermines CPD is a concern. My worry with the funding that is before us over the next few years is that CPD will suffer. A school that isn't investing in CPD is not investing in its own development and in its approach to teaching and learning. CPD is absolutely central to the development of good schools.

  Q177 Chair: Perhaps we can relate "rarely cover" to the value of out-of-school learning, which is something I know you passionately believe in—you did an extremely good report on it just after our report, and you'll know that we are doing an update, which we're putting out later this week. What we'll be saying in our report is that some of the organisational expectations that you and we had about there being a better focus on the importance of out-of-school learning are not being met. That is partly about resources, but it is also about "rarely cover". Again, teachers are unable to get cover so that they can take a party of children out into the countryside, to a theatre or to a science museum. Does that concern you?

  Christine Gilbert: You'll know that we sometimes do something called rapid-response reports, where we look at an issue and see what is happening on the ground. With this one, I'm not quite sure whether it is a case of finding out what is happening on the ground—which we could only produce a small snapshot of if we were doing a rapid response—or whether there are ways of describing what some schools are doing that allows them to have a focus on out-of-school learning, visits and so on, as well as on a thriving internal CPD programme, which is also absolutely fundamental to a school's development.

  Q178 Chair: Yes, but we were not very impressed by one of the union representatives a couple of weeks ago, who basically suggested that out-of-school learning could be done in the playground in Birmingham. That wasn't quite what we imagined when we wrote our report, was it, or when you wrote yours?

  Christine Gilbert: But that wasn't what was captured on the Ofsted report on this area, either.

  Q179 Chair: You have seen the Natural England report, which says that in a generation the likelihood of a child visiting any green space has halved, haven't you?

  Christine Gilbert: We could take this away and have a look at it in our survey programme if that would be helpful.

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