- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the National Association of Head Teachers

1.  NAHT welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee Inquiry into School Accountability.

2.  The written evidence provides a broad overview of our position on the main topics of the Inquiry and we would welcome the opportunity to expand upon all of these points in oral evidence sessions.


  3.1  NAHT believes that it is right in principle that schools should be held publicly accountable for their performance.

3.2  Schools should be accountable to parents, pupils and local communities and should be able to demonstrate to Government that they are providing the best possible education to their pupils.

  3.3  Schools should not be held accountable for those factors that affect children's well-being, but over which they have little or no control.


  4.1  NAHT believes that an independent inspectorate is an appropriate mechanism for holding schools to account; however, we question whether the current inspection system is entirely fit for purpose.

4.2  We are concerned that Ofsted's independence is being compromised by pressure from Government and that inspections are overly focused on attainment data and arbitrary government targets.

  4.3  The impact of the inspection process on individual schools is as variable as the quality of the individual inspection teams.

  4.4  When Inspectors arrive with well-informed questions and open minds, take the time to scrutinize and discuss a range of evidence and make a genuine effort to engage with the context the school is operating in, the process can be very beneficial and contribute to improvements in school performance. In these circumstances the Inspection Team are often able to provide insightful recommendations and/or suggestions that are welcomed by school leaders and teachers alike.

  4.5  However, when Inspectors arrive with data-based decisions already made and are unwilling or unable (due to time constraints) to engage with school-based data, with little or no knowledge or understanding of the sector they are inspecting yet an arrogant or high-handed demeanor, unsurprisingly the process becomes less useful.

  4.6  Sadly, everyone working in the school community is aware of the variability in quality of Inspection Teams and this awareness has a detrimental impact on the overall impact of the inspection process as a whole.

  4.7  The knowledge that inspection outcomes now depend as much on the quality of the inspection team as the quality of the school makes it increasingly risky for school leaders to be innovative and/or creative.

  4.8  The entire school community's confidence is diminished by a poor inspection experience as is the esteem with which the inspectorate is regarded.


  5.1  NAHT has concerns that many inspectors lack both the qualifications and the breadth of experience required for a post of such significance.

5.2  We regularly receive expressions of concern from schools where an inspector has demonstrated by their questions or responses that they have no understanding of a particular sector—or indeed of the regulations that surround it.


  6.1  It is appropriate for inspection reports to be placed in the public domain. However, the timetable for publication is currently too short to allow disputes regarding the accuracy or interpretation of inspection data to be adequately resolved. It may also in some circumstances be appropriate for some sections of inspection reports to remain confidential, whilst other sections are in the public domain.


  7.1  It is not possible to answer this question without first considering other relevant factors including the role of self evaluation and the aims and purpose of the inspection.

7.2  If self-evaluation is sufficiently robust and sufficiently valued by the inspectorate, then many inspections will become effectively moderation procedures with recommendations.

  7.3  The length and depth of these moderation exercises will depend largely on the context of the particular school and the complexity of the data in question.

  7.4  However, if self evaluation is not trusted by the inspectorate and they seek to "re-examine" every aspect of a school's performance, then clearly a greater amount of time is required for that to be done thoroughly.

  7.5  Whilst NAHT believes that some aspects of inspection could be flexible in response to the type of school ie number of inspectors, frequency or length of inspection, the nature of the inspection itself should not vary depending on the performance of the school.


  8.1  NAHT is opposed to no-notice inspections.

8.2  The Pre-Inspection Briefing is a useful tool for schools as it identifies those issues that the inspectors will want to pursue and ensure that up-to-date evidence and/or information on those given topics is immediately available in an appropriate format for inspectors.

  8.3  No notice or too-short notice prevents this from happening and so either impedes the process or places schools with particularly complex issues at a disadvantage.

  8.4  NAHT believes that the headteacher should be present for the inspection of their school. No notice inspections reduce either the likelihood of the head being present or the ability of headteachers to participate in activities that take them away from the school site.

  8.5  In considering the amount of notice that may be appropriate, again that depends on the nature of the inspection as outlined above.


  9.1  School self-evaluation is of enormous value in an inspection context and should be given significant weight in the inspection report.

9.2  Massive amounts of time and energy are invested in the production of school SEFs and it is extremely disheartening for school leaders when that information is ignored or dismissed.

  9.3  NAHT position on the use of national test results is well known to the Committee and so we will not re-rehearse the arguments here. Suffice to say that any data used in an inspection must be viewed in context.

  9.4  As stated in our response to the Focus on Improvement Consultation. CVA and RAISEonline do not tell the full story about a school's achievements, and should not be treated as though they do. After all, if a national average is established, some schools will, inevitably, be below it and some above. That in itself tells you very little about the quality of provision in an individual school.

  9.5  The contribution of CVA and RAISEonline data to inspections is limited by factors such as the complexity of the data and difficulties schools have in checking its validity, as well as recognised variations in the difficulty of different subjects at GCSE.


  10.1  Current systems claiming to identify "underperforming" schools are based on arbitrary targets and floor-levels and are inadequate in recognising the hard work of staff and students or the broader achievements made by students within those schools.

10.2  The placing of a school in a category has no impact whatsoever in supporting improved performance, indeed it hinders school progress by diminishing the regard and/or respect that pupils and parents have for the school.

  10.3  The additional support that accompanies being put into a category is what can make a difference to the school, but that could be put into place without the humiliation and scape-goating of school leaders that accompanies categorisation.


  11.1  School experience of School Improvement Partners has been as variable as their experience of Inspection Teams.

11.2  Some indeed act as a critical friend, supporting School Leaders in driving through useful improvement measures.

  11.3  Others unfortunately take the role of proxy inspectors for the Local Authority, placing unnecessary stress on School Leaders and conducting their work in an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust.


  12.1  Members of NAHT find the procedure for complaints about inspections woefully inadequate.

12.2  Many members are of the firm belief that there is simply "no point" complaining as, having already been through a negative experience there is nothing to be gained from the process.

  12.3  When they do make formal complaints about their experiences, the response is usually reduced to a simple assertion that as the investigator was not present they cannot make a judgment.


  13.1  The School Report Card has the potential to highlight to parents and other stakeholders a breadth of information that is not easily available in one place at the present time.

13.2  However, its legitimacy and potential usefulness will be completely undermined if a decision is made to provide one universal grade for each school.

  13.3  The Report Card will need to be seen alongside the SEF and the School Development Plan in order for it to have any usefulness in setting prioritized outcomes for the school and whilst it may add information to the Ofsted Inspection it can only sit alongside Ofsted reports as part of the information landscape.

February 2009

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