School Accountability - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents



1.  We are satisfied that schools should be held publicly accountable for their performance as providers of an important public service. We concur with the views expressed in evidence to us that the two major consequences of the accountability system should be school improvement and improvement in broader outcomes for children and young people, including well-being. (Paragraph 15)

2.  The New Relationship with Schools policy was a laudable attempt by the Government to simplify the school accountability system, particularly in relation to inspection. However, the Government has continued to subject schools to a bewildering array of new initiatives and this has in many ways negated the good work started in New Relationship with Schools. (Paragraph 24)

3.  We are concerned that the Government's 21st Century Schools White Paper signals even greater complexity in an already overly complex system of school accountability and improvement initiatives. There is a real danger that schools may become overwhelmed by the intricacies of the proposed reforms and that School Improvement Partners and local authorities may not have sufficient time or resources to mediate effectively between schools and the myriad providers of school improvement support. (Paragraph 36)


4.  We note that Ofsted is actively considering ways of involving governing bodies more in the inspection process, particularly where inspections are conducted without notice. However, it would have been preferable had the 2009 inspection framework been introduced following a satisfactory resolution of this issue. We recommend that Ofsted bring forward at the earliest opportunity firm proposals setting out how governing bodies will be appropriately involved in all inspections. (Paragraph 45)

5.  We urge the Government to reconsider the proposals to place additional statutory duties on governors. We support the principle of better training for governors, but we recommend that the Government set out a detailed strategy for encouraging governors to take up training opportunities without training requirements becoming a barrier to recruitment. (Paragraph 47)

6.  We are persuaded that self-evaluation—as an iterative, reflexive and continuous process, embedded in the culture of a school—is a highly effective means for a school to consolidate success and secure improvement across the full range of its activities. It is applicable, not just to its academic performance, but across the full range of a school's influence over the well-being of the children who learn there and the community outside. (Paragraph 53)

7.  We believe that Ofsted should do more to encourage schools to be creative and produce evidence of the self-evaluation process which works for them and speaks to the true culture and ethos of their own school. Ofsted should ensure that its own inspection processes are flexible enough to accommodate and give appropriate weight to alternative forms of evidence of self-evaluation. (Paragraph 59)

8.  We are attracted to a model of accountability which encourages and supports schools towards a meaningful, continuous self-evaluation process, evidenced in a form which the school considers most appropriate and verified through inspection. We are persuaded that true self-evaluation is at the heart of what a good school does. For a school which is performing at a good level, embedding processes which encourage continuous self-improvement are likely to be of far more practical benefit than an inspection every few years. The latter is necessary mainly as a check to see that a school is performing at the appropriate level. Inspection should be a positive experience, reinforcing good practice and fostering dialogue with schools in relation to areas where further improvement can be made. The Government and Ofsted should endeavour to do more to help schools which have not yet come to terms with the concept of self-evaluation in its fullest sense. (Paragraph 63)

9.  We welcome the fact that the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services is being asked to review its training and accreditation procedures to support School Improvement Partners in their new role. (Paragraph 76)

10.  The Government must take care that it does not exacerbate the existing problems with recruitment of School Improvement Partners by increasing the training burden and introducing requirements that existing School Improvement Partners be re-accredited and that they all carry an ongoing licence to practice. (Paragraph 77)

11.  We recommend that the Government produce clear plans to show how and from where enough School Improvement Partners (SIPs) with appropriate skills and experience will be recruited with sufficient time to dedicate to the expanded remit for SIPs which is proposed in the Government's White Paper. (Paragraph 84)

12.  We agree with the Audit Commission that local authorities should be more involved with monitoring, supporting and, where necessary, intervening in school budgets and finance. It is indefensible that the expenditure of such vast sums should attract so little scrutiny. Central government should make clear that schools must make a proper accounting of their expenditure to local authorities; and that local authorities should be as engaged with the monitoring of finance as they are expected to be with the monitoring of performance and standards. We do not advocate an erosion of schools' autonomy, but we consider it important that the correct level of financial support is available to them in order to derive maximum value for money from the schools budget. (Paragraph 91)

13.  We approve of the collaborative approach to school improvement taken by some local authorities; and we consider that partnership working between local authorities and all schools in the local area is a valuable means of providing support and spreading best practice. We urge central and local government to work together to ensure a more consistent approach across local authorities in this regard. (Paragraph 96)

14.  We urge the Government to recognise the good work done in the local authorities which demonstrate a systematic, collaborative approach towards the identification of schools in need of improvement and the provision of support in raising their standards of performance. We recommend that the Government should be sparing in the use of its extended statutory powers to intervene in relation to school improvement. We consider that these powers should be used only in cases where the relevant local authority has failed in its duty to secure school improvement. They should not be used as a mechanism for central government to increase its control over the way in which schools are managed. (Paragraph 102)


15.  In general terms, we support the approach to inspection set out in the 2009 inspection framework. We consider that a frequency of inspection in proportion to a school's current levels of performance is sensible, although some concerns remain about identification of schools where there is an unexpected slide in performance. We consider that a short notice period for inspection is sensible, but schools must be given sufficient time to collate all the necessary evidence and ensure attendance of key personnel. Without-notice inspection is appropriate where there are particular concerns about performance, and safeguarding in particular, but this approach should not be used without good reason. (Paragraph 111)

16.  If visits to schools are to be as short as two days—and bearing in mind that some of those days will be taken up by preliminaries rather than by inspection itself—inspectors will need to be highly trained and well qualified if they are to make an accurate evaluation of school provision (Paragraph 112)

17.  We remind Ofsted of the need for transparency and publicity for the way in which inspection data are combined to form final judgments on schools. (Paragraph 113)

18.  We support the principle of increased emphasis on the views of pupils and parents, but we have some reservations about the level of responses to questionnaires, particularly for schools with a challenging intake. We urge Ofsted to make transparent the approach that inspectors will take when forming judgements on schools where there has been a low level of response to questionnaires from parents; and it should not rule out the possibility of meetings with parents. (Paragraph 114)

19.  We are persuaded of the need for an inspectorate, independent of government, which can assure the quality of provision in individual schools, as well as producing more general reports on aspects of the education system at a national level. We consider that the latter are particularly important, not least because they should provide a sound evidential basis for policy-making by the Government. (Paragraph 121)

20.  Both Ofsted and the Government should be alert to any sign that the growth of Ofsted's responsibilities is causing it to become an unwieldy and unco-ordinated body. (Paragraph 122)

21.  We believe that Ofsted should aspire to have HMIs lead all inspections. Schools causing concern should always be inspected by a team headed by an HMI. (Paragraph 127)

22.  We note that Ofsted has a duty to encourage improvement in schools. However, we do not accept that Ofsted necessarily has an active role to play in school improvement. It is Ofsted's role to evaluate a school's performance across its many areas of responsibility and to identify issues which need to be addressed so that a school can be set on the path to improvement. Ofsted has neither the time nor resources to be an active participant in the improvement process which takes place following inspection, aside from the occasional monitoring visit to verify progress. (Paragraph 137)

23.  We recommend that Ofsted's role in school improvement be clarified so that the lines of responsibility are made clear to all those involved in the school system. Ofsted's function is a vital one: it is, in the purest sense, to hold schools to account for their performance. It is for others—schools themselves, assisted by School Improvement Partners, local authorities and other providers of support—to do the work to secure actual improvement in performance. The Chief Inspector already has a wide and important remit: she should feel no compulsion to make it wider. (Paragraph 138)

24.  We recommend a review of the data underlying comparator measures or sets of measures to ensure that they accurately reflect the range of factors that can impact on school performance. (Paragraph 150)

25.  We consider that the quality of school provision beyond the teaching of academic subjects is extremely important and that Ofsted has a duty to reflect this in a fair and balanced manner in its inspection reports. (Paragraph 157)

26.  We urge Ofsted to rebalance its inspection framework in two ways, in order to reflect better the true essence of the school. First, when evaluating academic attainment, we recommend that Ofsted gives less evidential weight given to test results and derivative measures and gives more weight to the quality of teaching and learning observed by inspectors in the classroom. Second, when evaluating a school's performance in terms of pupil well-being and other non-academic areas, we recommend that Ofsted should move beyond the search for quantitative measures of performance and that it should focus more effort on developing qualitative measures which capture a broader range of a school's activity. (Paragraph 161)


27.  Performance data have been a part of the educational landscape in England for some years. Like it or not, they are a feature of the school accountability system and we recognise the manifest difficulties in retreating from that position, even if a watchful eye should be kept on the consequences of the abandonment of performance tables linked to test results in other parts of the United Kingdom. If such data is to be collected, much can be done to mitigate the more unfortunate aspects of the publication. We take a pragmatic view and believe that the focus of debate should move towards a more fruitful discussion of the types of data and information collected and the method of presentation. (Paragraph 167)

28.  The Achievement and Attainment Tables present a very narrow view of school performance and there are inherent methodological and statistical problems with the way they are constructed. For instance, they are likely to favour independent and selective schools, which have a lower intake of deprived children or of children with Special Educational Needs. It is unsurprising, therefore, if such schools consistently top the academic league tables. Yet most of those who may wish to use the Tables, particularly parents, remain unaware of the very serious defects associated with them and will interpret the data presented without taking account of their inherent flaws. As a result, many schools feel so constrained by the fear of failure according to the narrow criteria of the Tables that they resort to measures such as teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, an inappropriate focusing of resources on borderline candidates, and encouraging pupils towards 'easier' qualifications, all in an effort to maximise their performance data. There is an urgent need for the Government to move away from these damaging Achievement and Attainment Tables and towards a system which gives a full and rounded account of a school's provision. (Paragraph 176)

29.  We urge the Government to work closely with Ofsted in order to produce a model of the school report card appropriate for use by the inspectorate. However, if in Ofsted's view the school report card ultimately takes a form which is unsuitable for the purpose of risk assessment, as an independent regulator, Ofsted should not feel compelled to adopt the school report card as a replacement for its interim assessment. (Paragraph 184)

30.  We welcome in principle the introduction of the school report card as a rationalisation of current accountability mechanisms and an attempt at providing a broader evidence base for assessing schools' performance. However, the Government must take care in developing its proposals that it tailors the school report card to the particular needs of the English schools system. Lessons can be learned from international practices and the case of the New York school report card will be particularly relevant; but the Government should not assume that what works elsewhere will necessarily work in the English system. (Paragraph 196)

31.  Schools should be strongly incentivised by the accountability system to take on challenging pupils and work hard to raise their levels of attainment. To this end, we support the proposals to introduce credits on the school report card for narrowing the gaps in achievement between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. However, we strongly caution the Government against the introduction of any penalties for increasing gaps in achievement. If the Government were to attach such penalties, it is likely that schools would seek to deny school places to challenging pupils in order to avoid the risk of a lower school report card score. They might also create incentives for schools not to push gifted and talented students to reach really high levels of achievement. (Paragraph 206)

32.  We have been struck by the weight of evidence we have received which argues against an overall score on the school report card. It is true that Ofsted comes to an overall judgement on a four point scale, but this judgement is meant to be the result of a very extensive analysis of a school's provision across the board, relying on quantitative and qualitative evidence and first-hand experience of the school at work. A school report card is not, and in our view never can be, a full account of a school's performance, yet the inclusion of an overall score suggests that it is. (Paragraph 211)

33.  The range of discrete measures proposed for inclusion in the school report card certainly present a broader picture of a school than the current Achievement and Attainment Tables; but they cannot be the basis for a definitive judgement of overall performance in the same way as we are entitled to expect an Ofsted judgement to be. On balance, we think that parents and others should be able to decide for themselves those measures of performance most important to them. We approve of the proposal both to grade and rate performance in each category on the school report card, but we are not persuaded of the appropriateness of and need for an overall score. (Paragraph 212)

34.  We recommend that the Government guards against serial changes to reporting criteria for the school report card once it is introduced nationally. The ability to track school performance on a range of issues over time is potentially a valuable feature of the reformed system, but this will not be possible if the reporting criteria are in a constant state of flux. (Paragraph 216)

35.  There is potential for substantial confusion to be introduced if the reasons for differences between scores on the school report card and Ofsted judgements are not clear, leading to a perception of incoherence in the accountability system. This would be unfortunate, as the success of any accountability system depends on the extent to which users have confidence in it. We recommend that DCSF and Ofsted work together to find a way to eradicate, or at least minimise the impact of, this problem. If the Government accepts our recommendation not to include an overall score in the school report card, the potential for conflicting accounts of school performance would be greatly reduced. (Paragraph 217)

36.  The Government must address the methodological problems inherent in basing important indicators on survey evidence. It is unacceptable that schools with the most challenging intakes might suffer skewed performance scores because of a low response rate to surveys for the purposes of the school report card. (Paragraph 222)

37.  Academic research in the field of school effectiveness is lacking in the field of pupil well-being and wider outcomes beyond assessment results. In the absence of robust, independent research evidence, the Government should exercise great caution in pursuing its otherwise laudable aim of widening the accountability system beyond simple test scores. (Paragraph 223)

38.  We do not believe that the indicators based on parent and pupil surveys, together with data on attendance, exclusions, the amount of sport provided and the uptake of school lunches, provide a balanced picture of a school's performance. In the absence of a set of performance indicators which are able to provide a fully rounded and accurate picture of how well a school is supporting and enhancing the well-being and outcomes of its pupils, the school report card should not purport to give a balanced view of a school's overall performance in this or any other area. The Government should make clear on the face of the school report card that its contents should only be considered as a partial picture of the work of a school. This is not to say that we do not consider the inclusion of well-being indicators to be a welcome development: we are merely concerned that parents and others should understand the limits of the information which is presented to them on the school report card. (Paragraph 224)

39.  We are pleased that the Government is now moving away from the Achievement and Attainment Tables based on a narrow set of measures of academic achievement derived from test results. We believe that the move towards the broader evidence base proposed for the school report card is a step in the right direction. However, we reiterate our warning to the Government that it should not make claims for the school report card which do not stand up to scrutiny. It will never constitute a definitive view of a school's performance but it might, if properly constructed, be a useful tool in assessing a broader range of aspects of a school's performance than is possible at present. (Paragraph 225)

40.  At the start of the pilot study of the school report card, it is too early for us to make detailed recommendations about its precise contents. At this stage, we simply urge the Government to take account of the concerns raised by witnesses to this inquiry. There is still much work to be done in developing the school report card into a workable format. (Paragraph 226)


41.  The complexity of the school accountability and improvement system in England is creating a barrier to genuine school improvement based on the needs of individual schools and their pupils. We support the message in the 21st Century Schools White Paper, that schools should be empowered to take charge of their own improvement processes. However, the Government's continuing tendency to impose serial policy initiatives on schools belies this message and the relentless pace of reform has taken its toll on schools and their capacity to deliver a balanced education to their pupils. We urge the Government to refrain from introducing frequent reforms and allow schools a period of consolidation. (Paragraph 239)

42.  Inconsistencies in the approach to school accountability and improvement and inconsistencies in the judgments which are made in different parts of the accountability system are both confusing and damaging. Confusion undermines the credibility of the accountability system and schools which find themselves pulled in different directions are unlikely to be able to give their full attention to the fundamental task of providing their pupils with a broad and balanced education. (Paragraph 249)

43.  We recommend that the Government revisits the proposals for reform of the school accountability and improvement system set out in the 21st Century Schools White Paper with a view to giving more substance to its claims that schools are responsible for their own improvement. We have received strong evidence that schools feel coerced and constrained by the outcomes of Ofsted inspection and programmes set up by central government, such as National Challenge. We have consistently noted the adverse effects that targets have had on the education of children and young people. The Government should seek means of delivering support and challenge to schools without what many witnesses perceived as a harmful 'naming and shaming' approach endemic in the current system. (Paragraph 260)

44.  The problem with the Government's assessment of the accountability system is that it implies that schools welcome the opportunity to take "ownership of their own improvement" but then provides the perfect example of how they have been prevented from doing just that. The "flexibility" of the system, allowing a constant shift in priorities by central government, is precisely the reason why schools are struggling to engage with the accountability regime and myriad school improvement mechanisms. The Government refers to the flexibility of the accountability system as if this is an inherent benefit. The opposite is true. Schools and, indeed, local authorities are in sore need of a period of stability so that they can regroup, take the necessary time to identify where their priorities lie and then work, with appropriate support, to secure the necessary improvements. (Paragraph 262)

45.  It is time for the Government to allow schools to refocus their efforts on what matters: children. For too long, schools have struggled to cope with changing priorities, constant waves of new initiatives from central government, and the stresses and distortions caused by performance tables and targets. (Paragraph 265)

  1. The Government should place more faith in the professionalism of teachers and should support them with a simplified accountability and improvement system which challenges and encourages good practice rather than stigmatising and undermining those who are struggling. In doing so, it is vital for effective accountability that the independence of HM Inspectorate be safeguarded and maintained at all times. We believe that the Government should revisit the plans set out in its 21st Century Schools White Paper and simplify considerably the accountability framework and improvement strategies it proposes. (Paragraph 266)

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 7 January 2010