- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Campaign for State Education (CASE)

  CASE believes in an education system that is fair to all children, young people and their parents and which has the resources to provide excellent quality.

CASE believes that the current National Curriculum Assessment system, and the Ofsted inspection system, which hinges its judgements of schools on the very narrow NCA results and school comparisons based solely on these, are totally inadequate as a basis for school accountability. CASE is of the view that

    — League tables as a way of holding schools to account should be abandoned.

    — Governing Bodies are the legally accountable body for schools and should be treated as such; the headteacher and staff are accountable to the Governing Body. Governors' annual reports should be re-instated.

    — All schools should be accountable to parents, children , their local community, local authority and the taxpayer.

    — Schools should be accountable for ensuring that each child progresses successfully throughout their time at school.

    — There are not enough mechanisms of support in place to help schools that are facing difficulties. The "name and shame" ethos does nothing to support the school or help children and staff.

    — The effects of potential conflicts of interest in the privatised inspection system need to be taken into account.

    — Schools should be not be competing with each other but sharing facilities and good practice so that every school becomes a good school.

    — All aspects of school provision should be included in any accountability system and the views of children and young people and parents should be paramount.

    — Academies need to be treated in the same way as all other schools ie not just accountable to the DCSF and subject to a separate inspection system.

1.   Is it right in principle that schools should be held publicly accountable for their performance?

  The principle that schools should be held to account is sound, as the state education system relies on taxpayers' money. More importantly, there has to be a way of assuring that each child is in receipt of their entitlement to a good education. Holding schools to account is the main way of guaranteeing this. The problem is the word "performance". Performance should have meaning across many areas and take the many factors into account which are unique to each school and its intake, ie not just raw test results. This is what is making an accountability system which is consistent and meaningful across all settings extremely difficult. The system we currently have is not working.

2.   To whom should schools be accountable?

Schools should be accountable to parents, children, their local community, local authority and the taxpayer. Parents need to know that their children are well cared for and are in receipt of a well taught, broad curriculum. Children should be able to hold the school to account through any of the various vehicles of student voice—councils, senates, representation on school bodies, etc—as they clearly should have a say in their own education. The public need to know that their taxpayers' money is being wisely spent, so schools are more broadly accountable to the general public. Central Government needs to have some means of knowing to what extent the state education system is fulfilling stated objectives of Government and is providing value for money to the taxpayer. It is also the role of government to monitor schools' performance nationally, to be the main commissioners of research into innovations in education to ascertain this and to disseminate good practice through which is based on research.

3.   For what should they be held accountable?

Broadly, schools should be accountable for ensuring that each child progresses successfully throughout their time at school. The pastoral element of a child's experience at school is also important. Schools should be accountable for how they ensure that holistic systems are in place that respect and treat each child as an individual.

4.   How should they be held to account?

League tables of assessments at KS 1-3 are not the most meaningful way of holding schools to account, as they fail to take into account the many socio-economic elements which have huge significance in a child's education. In addition, as league tables result in schools competing against each other, how useful can they ever be in promoting a national state system, where each child should be able to expect a good local school in their neighbourhood? League tables encourage the culture of parental choice and therefore parents as consumers of education. This serves to differentiate the opportunities available to each child, and therefore tarnishes the whole idea of entitlement and equity in state provision of education. League tables as a way of holding schools to account should be abandoned.

The Government has initiated a rethink of the accountability framework in the form of the new Report Card. Initial plans for this take into consideration factors other than test results and contextual value added scores. The jury is still out on whether the Report Cards will be fit for purpose, as their content is still under development and consultation. However, reducing the perceived effectiveness of a school down to a single score, or traffic light system of colours, as has been mooted, would not seem to be able to be representative enough of everything that a school is achieving at any moment in time. It also serves to perpetuate the culture of inter-school competition rather than collaboration. Surely the point of having real people visiting schools as inspectors is that they observe lessons and all that happens in the school and discuss with practitioners at all levels and children and young people and governors, what they think about their school, come to subjective judgements on the basis of their experience and subsequently discuss their finding with all stakeholder groups, making suggestions for improvement and offering support in implementing recommendations.

5.   What should be consequences?

  This question relates to consequences of the system we currently have, rather than any new system which might have very different criteria by which a school is held to account. At the moment a school is held to account by exam results, including SATs, and Ofsted reports. Much of this is under the spotlight at the moment, as to whether they are fit-for-purpose. "Consequences" implies that a school has done something wrong and is somehow to blame and has overall negative connotations. We need to ask how schools that have been shown to be experiencing problems get appropriate support. At the moment there are not enough mechanisms of support in place to help schools that are facing difficulties. The "name and shame" ethos does nothing to support and help children and staff.

6.   Is the current accountability system of inspection and performance reporting for schools broadly fit for purpose?

There is significant concern that the current systems of SATs, league tables and Ofsted are not fit for purpose. The emphasis everywhere is on competition and largely paper based inspection, rather than on face to face discussion, collaboration and support. SATs serve the purpose of ranking schools, rather than offering meaningful information about how well a child is progressing. Furthermore they encourage the "teaching to the test" approach which narrows the curriculum to the detriment of every child's learning experience. League tables encourage the idea of "high stakes" testing and compound the curriculum problem. Major concerns about Ofsted include: its systems to guarantee consistency amongst the five private companies tasked with the actual inspections; the short inspections which cannot hope to be comprehensive enough in their scope and attention to detail to serve any useful purpose; and the lack of mechanisms to offer support after identifying problems. It may be that to counter the perceived current deficiencies of Ofsted inspection it may be desirable to reinstate the Local Authority's capacity for school inspection and expand a government employed HM Inspectorate. By removing the private companies now employed by Ofsted, it would be clear to all that HMI judgements were nationally consistent, there were no perverse incentives for inspection outcomes, and no conflicts of interest between or within competing private companies. Local Authorities have the local knowledge necessary to understand the very particular circumstance of each school they inspect and they already have the beginnings of a structure in place to support schools that need help via School Improvement Partners. Not only do these bodies have a solid knowledge of demographic elements of any area, they can also take into account neighbouring schools. As they are the bodies that sort out admissions for schools within their area, it is logical that they continue to be involved in the lives of children that they allocate to certain schools. In small authorities it may be cost effective to have subject and sector specialists who work over neighbouring authorities. LAs should report to central government and be assessed by central government. In addition, it is useful for governors to have a local reference and information point to aid them in their strategic role.

7.   The methodology used by Ofsted for school inspections is problematic at a number of levels:

(1)  It is substantially paper-based. The most significant of the paper inputs to inspection are the existing test result data and the school's Self Evaluation Form—the SEF.

    (a) The strong correlation between Ofsted inspection verdicts and test results raises the question about what purpose the inspection serves when the outcome appears to be a foregone conclusion. (eg Times Educational Supplement reporter Warwick Mansell highlighted that of the 6,331 primaries visited in 2006-07, 98% had the same inspection verdict overall as they had been given for "achievement and standards"—which is based solely on test results.)

    (b) The school's self evaluation is a one-size-fits-all form. The SEF assumes not only that the "quality" of a school depends on its systems and processes but that the evidence for this must exist in auditable form for Ofsted to recognise it. This can force schools to adopt modes of work which may not suit their staff and pupils and to create nugatory paperwork purely for the placation of inspectors.

    (c) If the contribution that a school makes to its community is a function of the whole life of the school, then the inspection will inevitably see little of it since the interaction of inspectors with living people in the school is limited and pressurised. Lesson observation and in depth conversations with sample groups from the school have virtually disappeared.

  (2)  There is no moderation of Ofsted inspection verdicts.

    (a) Inspections are carried out by five monopoly private companies, the Regional Inspection Service Providers, each of which has been allocated an English region. No mechanism exists for comparing the quality of judgements of one company with another. The need for such moderation is not fulfilled by any existing HMI interaction—indeed it would logically be subject to the same criticism. Moderation between companies could only be scientifically convincing if they were asked to judge the same schools.

    (b) Inspections are conducted over one to two days by small teams (one to four members typically) with no necessary inclusion of any inspectorial subject specialisms. It is always assumed that their judgements are absolute since they are never confirmed by independent teams. This raises the question of subjective inspectorial input. If there were no subjective input, then there would be no need for the inspection since it would only be necessary to construct an algorithm to transform paper data into the judgement. If there is subjective inspectorial input, and that is the most reasonable and likely condition, then why is there no systematic moderation of judgements?

    (c) Ofsted does not keep inspection paperwork beyond three months after the inspection. This makes it impossible to make in-depth comparisons of the judgemental process made over time, even within the current un-moderated system.

  The effects of potential conflicts of interest in the privatised inspection system do not appear to have been taken into account. For example, Nord Anglia has the contract for the inspections in the north of England. Nord Anglia is a subsidiary of Pearson. Pearson also owns, inter alia, the examination board Edexcel and does the printing for the OCR examination board. Pearson owns a share of BBC Active, an educational software provider, Phoenix school information management software, Longmann Educational Book Publishers, Heinemann Educational Book Publishers, Knowledge Box, Penguin Books and the Financial Times. In partnership with Amey (a company involved in Building Schools for the Future contracts), Nord Anglia, as "Eduaction", ran Waltham Forest Education until 2008. Nord-Anglia ran Hackney education until it was handed over to the Learning Trust, which held on to some key Nord Anglia managers in Hackney. When an inspection rules unfavourably for a school, current government policy is for that school to become an academy—a school with private sponsors and management. There is no proscription on the private Regional Inspection Providers or their related companies becoming an academy sponsor in these circumstances. In all cases, it seems to be assumed that there will be no conflict of interest. What assurances can be given that that is in fact the case?

8.   Governance and Accountability

  CASE believes that true local democratic accountability of schools can best be achieved through the work of a stakeholder governing body, where each stakeholder has an equal voice, and there is a balance between those groups on the GB which have a sectional short term interest in the school (staff and parents), and those who have a wider and long term view (the Local Authority and the local community). Governing bodies should be large enough to include governors of varying lengths and types of experience in each stakeholder group. Lack of such a stakeholder governing body is one of CASE's major objections to Academies, where the sponsor selects the majority of the governors, and to Trust schools where the Trust appoints the majority of the governors. These schools in our view have no form of local democratic accountability, which as state funded schools, they should have.

As expressed elsewhere, we believe the current National Curriculum Assessment system, and the Ofsted inspection system, which hinges its judgements of schools on the very narrow NCA results and school comparisons based solely on these, are totally inadequate as a basis for school accountability. Judgements of schools need to be much broader and need to be made and communicated by all the stakeholders in the school.

  Developing a national framework for accountability that has meaning is fraught with difficulty. Governing bodies with the various stakeholders (ie parents, staff, community, local government, and pupils) involved should be the main way schools are held to account. The Annual Governors Reports to parents which were made available to the public should be re-instated. These reports should contain data of public exam results, eg GCSEs, A Levels, etc and details about how the money has been spent. These reports, along with a regularly updated prospectus (also the responsibility of the Governing Body) which explains the ethos and the many practical details of the school, would be sufficient to inform parents' choice of schools.

  Such a Governors Annual Report could also be addressed to the Local Authority as a basis for discussion with LA Inspectors/SIPs and LA support for school improvement. Involving LA personnel in a revived Annual Parents Meeting, together with greater content might attract more interest than is the past experience of most schools. The public too could visit the school and hear what it is doing.

  A new style Report, compiled by governors on the basis of their knowledge of the school (not just HT reports) could include a report on pupil progression in the last year, using NCA results as well as wider information, report on behaviour and attendance, the number of children progressing from School Action Plus to School Action, curriculum innovations and their success/popularity, and progress on the Every Child Matters outcomes.

  The 1988 Education Reform Act made governing bodies the main avenue of accountability of schools. The role of the governing body in accountability was well recognised in the first Ofsted Framework. (Sections 6.1 and 6.3.) The Governing Body of all maintained schools was seen as the "responsible authority" and as such the body which facilitated the inspection arrangements and to which Ofsted reported. It was then the governing body which was responsible for the post Ofsted Action Plan. Successive Ofsted Inspection Frameworks have reduced the responsibilities of the Governing body and the role of governors in the inspection process.. With the current framework it is unlikely for the inspectors to talk to more than one governor ideally the Chair, but that this can consist of a telephone conversation, and might not happen at all. This is highly unsatisfactory, especially since the governing body is a corporate entity and individual governors may not act on their own.

9.   Accountability for what?

  A major plank of the ERA was the introduction of the National Curriculum and National Curriculum Assessment (NCA). The NC established an entitlement for all children between the ages of 5 and 16 to a broad and balanced curriculum wherever they live and whatever their socio-economic background, ethnicity, first language, faith, Special Educational Needs (SEN) or disability. NCA was designed to check at the ages of 7, 11, 14, and 16 that all children in England and Wales were getting their entitlement. Throughout the 20th century, educational research showed that the main determinant of educational achievement in England was the socio-economic circumstances of the child's parents. Attempts by successive governments since the 1944 Education Act to ameliorate this effect on attainment have had little or no effect. It follows that differences between schools were largely determined by the socio-economic background of their intake. They had very little to do with the quality of teaching and learning in the school, or even the resources available to the school or the effectiveness of its management. However, research showed that the best schools could make up to a 10% difference in the average achievement of pupils in the school and that "good schools" benefited all their pupils, whatever their "abilities" and whatever their background. In order to ensure that all schools are good schools. We need to find an accountability system that includes the many different aspects of what schools do to enable children to grow and develop successfully , endoses what they do well and gives help to improve other areas. Schools do not have to be put in categories; it is more difficult to challenge schools categorised as "outstanding" and those regarded "inadequate" often take longer to improve.

February 2009

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