- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents



MEMORANDUM SUBMITTED BY THE NATIONAL UNION OF TEACHERS (NUT)

  1.  The NUT welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Select Committee's call for evidence. Annex 1 contains the NUT's response to DCSF's proposals for a School Report Card.[9] Annex 2 summarises the latest NUT survey of its members on Ofsted inspections. Annex 3 summarises the NUT's proposals for an alternative to the current school inspection arrangements.[10]

  2.  The Government in England has failed consistently to adopt a coherent approach to school accountability. Current systems for evaluation, from individual pupils to the education service at a national level, are extraordinarily muddled. There is no clear rationale of why various systems of summative evaluation and accountability exist. Consequently, schools experience over-lapping forms of high stakes evaluation systems, including institutional profiles based on test results and Ofsted judgements, which are often in contradiction with each other. These over-lapping systems of accountability are made worse by Government national targets for test results and examination results and by the publication on an annual basis of school performance tables.

  3.  Recently, the Government asserted within its Making Good Progress consultation that the, "framework of tests, targets and performance tables have helped drive up standards in the past decade". There is no evidence that such a framework has achieved this objective. Indeed, the same document contains the DCSF's view that, "The rate of progress…. has slowed in the past few years". The reality is that national school accountability mechanisms based on test results have damaged the record of Government on education, giving the impression of failure, not success.

  4.  It is vital that the Government initiates an independent review of its school accountability arrangements. Accountability for the effective functioning of the education service is a legitimate requirement of both local communities and government. Parents have the right to expect fair and accurate systems of accountability. The accountability system in England is permeated, however, by a lack of trust. The Government's assertion, in its recent document, Making Good Progress, that, "most schools now regard an externally validated testing regime as an important accountability measure", is completely without basis in fact. Teacher initiative and creativity is undermined by uncertainties created by multiple and often conflicting lines of accountability.

  5.  The Government should therefore review the measures it has in place for school accountability. Such a review would cover the current inspection arrangements, national targets and school performance tables. Its focus would be on achieving public accountability of schools whilst removing the warping and distorting effects of current high stakes accountability measures.

THE CURRENT INSPECTION ARRANGEMENTS—A FLAWED SYSTEM

  6.  External inspection can help identify areas of a school's work which needs improvement. Such evaluation, however, is at its most effective when school communities understand its purpose and relevance. Overwhelming evidence from research and practice demonstrates that evaluation by schools themselves must also be at the centre of school inspection and support. To quote the Scottish HMCI, "Unless schools know themselves, they cannot benefit from inspection".

7.  The greatest flaw in the current statutory inspection arrangements is structural in nature. It is a system based entirely on securing accountability accompanied by punitive measures for those schools which have been found to fail. This system of policing schools has led to the alienation of teachers from the process of quality assurance and evaluation. The arrangements have failed to channel teachers' expertise, experience and their commitment to the evaluative process. Ofsted has contributed to a culture of compliance under which schools and teachers prepare for evaluation out of fear rather than commitment and enthusiasm.

  8.  Where the outcomes of the inspection are positive there is a sense that the school breathes a collective sigh of relief and continues, much as before. The drivers for improvement continue, as before the inspection, to be those linked more closely to school development planning and review than to inspection. It is where the outcomes of the inspection result in failure that the destructive nature of the system is more evident.

  9.  It is not the Ofsted inspection framework itself which is at fault but the method of its application. There is a lack of balance between internal and external school evaluation in its use. This failure to achieve balance has led teachers to view evaluation as a regular event external to the life of the school. Teachers view section 5 inspections as a process to be planned for and lived through but essentially destabilising to the normal rhythms of life and certainly not to be embraced as integral to the continuing and effective existence of the school as a community.

  10.  At the core of the inspection process are "high stakes" judgements and about teaching quality, which are based on snap-shots of evidence. That those judgements are based on a small number of lesson observations is viewed by teachers as unfair; unfair because they take no account of all the external factors which influence the quality of lessons. Such factors include the composition and attitude of classes at any one time, the inevitable stress of scrutiny and even the state of each teacher's health.

  11.  In addition, lessons observed by Ofsted inspectors are necessarily atypical; the quality of which are influenced by whether teachers can rise to the occasion to give demonstration lessons. Inspectors, by the nature of their responsibilities, are in no position to evaluate the quality of teaching taking place in normal circumstances. This is a classic case of observation modifying what is being observed.

  12.  In 1999 NUT commissioned research conducted by the NFER into the effects of special measures on teachers and schools. The NFER research provided evidence of the significant human costs associated with so-called "failing" schools. NFER found that the public focus on failure present schools under special measures with additional and often intractable problems as parent and pupils lose confidence in their schools. Schools under special measures lose good staff when they need to retain them. Recruitment becomes nearly impossible.

  13.  The Government may seek to take comfort from the finding that many schools under special measures improve. The findings make it clear, however, that it is the additional resources and support to these schools which bring about these improvements. As NFER found the stigma and consequences of being labelled "special measures" creates additional hurdles for schools. The main message from the research is that the human cost of improvement is unacceptably high leading teachers and head teachers in those schools to conclude, "there must be a better way".

ROLE OF THE SCHOOL EVALUATION

  14.  There does not yet exist in England and Wales a system which brings internal and external school evaluation together in a coherent and systematic way, drawing on the strengths of both and integrating evaluation into systems for supporting teaching and learning. Yet developments in other countries, including Australia, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Scotland, have shown that it is possible to move towards such a coherent system.

15.  In 1995, the NUT commissioned Professor John MacBeath of the University of Strathclyde to investigate whether a practical self-evaluation model could work in England and Wales. The subsequent report Schools Speak for Themselves, published in January 1996, concluded that school self-evaluation was vital, both for the systematic gathering of information about life and learning in schools for the purposes of school improvement and for any national evaluation system of schools.

  16.  Few could have predicted the impact of Schools Speak for Themselves. For teachers, the message that the mechanisms for evaluation were in their own hands has been liberating. This message was not only liberating for schools but for local authorities. A follow up study Schools Must Speak for Themselves commissioned from John MacBeath and published in 1999, found that local education authorities had used Schools Speak for Themselves to provide advice and professional development to schools on self evaluation. Schools which responded to the survey also commented positively on the way in which they had used the procedures and methods within Schools Speak for Themselves to inform their work.

  17.  Apart from providing practical support at school and local education authority level, both studies' proposals have direct policy implications for the current inspection arrangements. They identified four key priorities which should inform inspection, evaluation and support. They are set out below:

    — Self-evaluation should be central in any national approach to school improvement.

    — Accountability and self-improvement should be seen as two strands of the one inter-related strategy.

    — Provision of time and resources have to feature as a key issue in school improvement.

    — School inspection should continue to be a feature of the drive towards school improvement, but as part of a collaborative strategy with schools and local authorities".

  18.  In short, self-evaluation must be at the heart of school review, inspection, school development planning and the provision of external support. Successful external evaluation is contingent on successful self-evaluation. A positive consequence of self-evaluation is high motivation and, consequently, morale.

  19.  The introduction of self-evaluation within the Ofsted inspection framework has been a mixed blessing. The experience of many schools suggests that inspectors have tended to focus on the weaknesses rather than the strengths which have been identified in schools' own evaluation work.

  20.  Self-evaluation, as conceived by Ofsted, has provided schools with the criteria and methodology to apply in their evaluating and reporting on themselves. By imposing the requirement on schools to complete the Ofsted self-evaluation form at least annually, there is a real danger that self-evaluation has become, in effect, self-inspection. Thus schools have taken on the role previously held by Ofsted inspectors.

  21.  Such an approach is a long way from the model which has captured the imaginations of teachers and local authorities. As a result of its work with John MacBeath, the NUT believes that a school which takes time to think through its own priorities and values and which tests the fulfilment of these in practice will, as a consequence, be a better school.

  22.  Whilst appearing to adopt self evaluation, as advocated by the Union, Ofsted are using this in a negative and punitive way. The reduction in the notification period to inspect schools is breathtakingly naïve in its belief that this will reduce stress and bureaucracy. Schools have to remain in constant readiness for inspection, and teachers perpetually working in the shadow of Ofsted, never knowing when the inspectors will appear.

  23.  The NUT's model for a future evaluation/inspection framework is based on the principles above.

THE NUT'S PROPOSALS

Inspection: The Principles

    — Internal and external evaluation should be coherent, systematic and integrated. — External evaluation should evaluate each school's definitions of its own successes, performance and development plan, and the effectiveness of its self-evaluation procedures. — A common framework for internal and external evaluation, including its criteria, should be developed in full consultation with teachers and their organisations. This framework can thus be used for the purposes of checking the effectiveness of each school's self-evaluation arrangements.

    — The role of external evaluators or inspectors would be to assess the self-evaluation procedures developed and used by schools themselves.

    — In evaluating the work of schools' external evaluation/inspection should take account of the circumstances of and specific factors affecting each school.

    — All those involved in external evaluations/inspections should have appropriate training, qualifications and experience.

    — A holistic approach to evaluation should be adopted involving a coherent approach to the evaluation of teachers, schools as institutions, local authorities and the education service nationally.

Accountability and Schools

    — There are no school performance tables or national targets linked to test results in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The next Government should abolish both tables and targets. — The data available from summative assessment and examination results should feed into school evaluation reports as they do in current inspection reports. To meet the country's need for a summative picture of the effectiveness of the education service it should re-establish the Assessment of Performance Unit. This Unit would be able to summarise data and ask questions through studies based on sampling. Such a unit would operate independently with an advisory board involving teacher and support staff unions, the TUC, the CBI, government and relevant agencies. It would respond to requests for national evidence on standards within schools and colleges.

    — The terms, "special measures" and "notice of improvement" should be replaced by the term "schools in need of additional support". Such support may involve external support. If external evaluation identifies problems in a school then the local authority should be required to provide support including advisers and seconded teachers based in the school. There should be no "one size fits all" deadline for improvement.

    — An independent Her Majesty's Inspectorate (HMI) should be re-established which replaces Ofsted and would be responsible for evaluating schools. The HMI would be independent of government, not as a non-ministerial government department, but as a stand-alone independent, publicly funded body. The HMI Annual Report would be presented to Parliament, via the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, on an annual basis.

    — External school evaluation should be conducted by HMI possibly accompanied by a small number of trained advisers who would advise HMIs drawn from teachers, advisers, parents and school communities.

    — Instead of a School Improvement Partner, each school should be able to appoint a critical friend whose job it would be to provide advice to the head teacher and staff and seek to secure additional support where necessary. Appointments would be made solely by the school. Critical friend posts would be funded by local authorities through specific grants allocated by government.

    — HMI would evaluate the procedures put in place by schools to assess their strengths and their plans for improvement. The HMI would examine the processes and procedures schools have in place for gathering information on levels of pupil achievement, on the personal and social development of pupils and on the views of the school community. The HMI evaluation schedule would be flexible enough to respond to school evaluation models which have been developed or adapted by schools themselves to reflect their curriculum range and activities.

    — HMI evaluations should be flexible enough to cover both individual schools and collaborative arrangements between schools including federations.

    — School profiles would be determined by each school's own evaluation. A single profile would cover each school's public description of its offer and achievements. Unlike the proposals for the School Report Card, the profile would reflect the school's own evaluation and HMI commentary and not be summarised by a single letter or grade.

    — Open and public accountability for schools should be predicated on an evaluation system which results in fair and accurate judgements. A new system of school evaluation would have integrally an open and separate appeals procedure with respect to an HMI evaluation where schools which disagree both with the procedure or content of that evaluation can appeal. The results of appeals should lead to judgements which can be maintained, modified or overturned.

    — There should be one single form of institutional evaluation; school self-evaluation. Institutional evaluations should be developmental, not punitive. Punitive inspection does not strengthen schools; it makes them fragile. Assessment of the curriculum should be focused on supporting learning, not on carrying out a task for which it is inherently unsuited; that of being a proxy for the evaluation of schools.

    — The proposals which the NUT has set out above provide a framework for a new system of accountability for schools and, indeed, colleges. It is one which supports, not undermines, schools and contributes to the quality of the education service.

February 2009

ANNEX 2

A SUMMARY OF THE NUT'S MOST RECENT SURVEY OF THE VIEWS OF NUT MEMBERS ABOUT SECTION 5 OFSTED INSPECTIONS

  1.  Although aspects of the current inspection arrangements are supported by teachers, such as the reduced amount of notice of inspection and the reduction in the amount of time spent in schools by inspectors, the negative impact which they perceive inspection to have on themselves, their colleagues and their school outweighs any benefits inspection might bring.

2.  A constant theme throughout respondents' written comments was the stress, pressure and additional workload which were associated with inspection. This was in contrast to the findings of the NUT's survey in 2006 and in many areas reflected the findings of its 2004 survey, before major changes to the inspection framework, which were supposed to address these issues, had been introduced.

  3.  Respondents' written comments rarely gave just one example of additional workload—many were in fact a catalogue of tasks which they had undertaken, which they often explained as necessary because they wanted their school to do well in the inspection. The high stakes consequences of not doing so well were clearly upper most in the minds of many respondents, particularly those who reported working all weekend or late into the night at school prior to the inspection commencing.

  4.  This is also likely to be the reason why so many respondents reported working on classroom displays which they felt would meet inspectors' approval or, indeed, undertaking cleaning activities in their school. The "fresh paint" syndrome, which has been used to jokingly describe the lengths to which schools go to make a good first impression on inspectors, would certainly appear to have some substance behind it. This finding also raises the issue that teachers are choosing or being directed to ignore the provisions of the National Agreement on Workload. Whilst inspection is so critical for the future of schools and their staff, however, it is unlikely that any guidance from Ofsted alone would tackle this problem—the issue appears more rooted in the punitive outcomes associated with inspection.

  5.  The two most frequently mentioned drivers of workload, lesson planning and paperwork, are well known to Ofsted and have featured regularly in previous NUT surveys on inspection. What has emerged from this survey, however, is that this problem is no longer confined to primary schools but has spread to all phases of education. It is clear that Ofsted's existing guidance, that particular formats for lesson plans or certain forms of documentation are not required by inspectors, has not had an effect or has been forgotten. The NUT would recommend that Ofsted consider up-dating and re-launching its guidance on this issue in an attempt to tackle rising levels of pre-inspection workload.

  6.  Increased workload, together with the pressure of knowing that the school could be deemed to be failing, with all of the monitoring and uncertainty that this now entails, are almost certainly the key factors in the heightened levels of stress reported by respondents. A particularly disturbing finding was that comparatively younger or newer members of the profession were more likely to say they had been highly stressed by the inspection than in previous surveys.

  7.  This has serious implications for their future retention and the NUT believes that, together with the on-going evidence of the impact of inspection on head teachers' and other members of the Leadership Group's recruitment and retention, this by itself provides a strong rationale for reform of school inspection arrangements.

  8.  An additional rationale is the evidence provided by this survey that inspection is increasingly seen as disruptive to the life and work of schools, particularly as it does not fit with the natural yearly cycles of school development and planning work and is perceived by many respondents to actually detract from their school's "real" work. There was also increased evidence in this year's survey that teachers' professional development and other activities had been disrupted by the inspection, partly because teachers felt they must concentrate all their efforts on the inspection for the good of the school as a corporate body, rather than undertake work which could be more directly beneficial to teaching and learning.

  9.  As has been the case with previous NUT surveys, the quality of the inspection team was key to respondents' perceptions about the inspection process in general and the inspection outcome in particular, with respondents still believing that the outcome of the inspection could be determined very much by the composition of individual inspection teams. The relevance of inspectors' experience and knowledge for undertaking inspections of the Foundation Stage, SEN provision and special schools were again highlighted as particular causes of concern.

  10.  Concern was also expressed about the practice of assigning only one inspector to some inspections, which respondents felt could exacerbate the issue referred to above of lack of appropriate experience about particular types of provision but could also impact detrimentally on standard inspection processes.

  11.  There was a much greater level of polarisation than in the previous surveys, however, with far fewer respondents expressing neutral views on teams. Approval rating of HMI inspectors, however, continued to be relatively high judging by written comments. This indicates that little progress has been made in improving quality assurance to ensure consistency of inspectors' approaches to behaviour during an inspection itself.

  12.  A number of respondents described positive experiences of inspection teams or individual inspectors as "surprising" or revealing a "human" side to Ofsted, particularly where they felt the school's or their own circumstances had been taken into account. It is disappointing that this should be still seen as an aberration for the usual standard of inspection teams, rather than the norm and that opportunities for inspectors to show some compassion or understanding for school staff were missed.

  13.  Overall ratings concerned with the level of professional dialogue and the supportiveness of the inspection visit did, however, decline slightly compared to 2006, which again may be attributed to dissatisfaction with the inspection arrangements as a whole rather than a sudden decline in the quality of individual inspection teams, however inconsistent this might be.

  14.  Respondents' views on the current inspection arrangements were complex. On one hand, there was an increased level of support for the view that inspection reports were generally accurate and fair, but the perception that inspection failed to assess or capture accurately the value added by schools also increased.

  15.  This appeared to be linked to the very strong feeling that test and examination results were used far too much as indicators of school quality, with approaching two thirds of all the written comments made alluding to this in one way or another.

  16.  The main arguments used were that pupil performance data was being used exclusively by inspectors because of the reduced amount of time in school; that this was deeply unfair and inaccurate for small schools, special schools and those serving the most disadvantaged communities; that inspectors arrived in school with pre-conceived ideas because of the focus on data and were often unwilling to consider any alternative evidence the school might have to offer; and that crude links between these data and the inspection grades meant that provision, particularly quality of teaching, would be marked down in order to match the overall grade dictated by the data.

  17.  This does not bode well for one of the proposals made by Ofsted for revisions to the inspection framework from September 2009. In addition, respondents expressed mixed views about several of Ofsted's other proposals, in particular the continuing focus on the core subjects only during full inspections, which saw a considerable increase in the number of respondents who now oppose this, and the introduction of no notice inspections, which appeared to be deeply unpopular.

  18.  There was much stronger support, however, for the proposal to increase the period inspectors spent observing teaching, with respondents suggesting between 20 minutes as a full lesson as the optimal observation period which would enable inspectors to gain an accurate picture of the quality of teaching.

  19.  Respondents typically favoured the retention of the current arrangements in this respect, with between two and five days being seen as the optimal notice period, although many said this did not actually reduce stress and preparation as the inspection "window" for a particular school could be deduced up to two years in advance. Respondents also preferred the current three year inspection cycle and there was some support for a six year cycle, but for all schools, not just for high performing schools as Ofsted had proposed. The idea of yearly inspections for some "satisfactory" schools failed to gain a single supporter amongst respondents to this survey.

  20.There was also a fair level of concern about the trend towards shortening inspection visits to just one day, the so-called "light touch" inspections. Although many respondents welcomed the reduction in the length of the visit they were also concerned that it did not give sufficient time for inspectors to genuinely get a feel for their school or to investigate the story behind the data. A number pointed out that it had enabled the school to "hide" various aspects of provision or conceal weaknesses, which were not in the long run in the best interests of the school. This might indicate a need for the survey of staff which was suggested by Ofsted in its proposals for the 2009 inspection framework.

  21.  Respondents remained unsatisfied, however, with the Ofsted inspection regime as currently formulated, as they continued to believe that this was separate from support for school improvement. The majority of respondents still believe that inspections do not stimulate support or help from external sources or help their individual school improve. A number questioned why, given that inspection appeared now to simply validate their school's own self evaluating as set out in the SEF, both processes should continue. Others proposed alternative accountability systems which they thought would have a more direct impact on school improvement.

  22.  Respondents to this survey, as in previous NUT research, clearly supported the view that it is the structural nature of the inspection system which is now in urgent need of reform and the "tinkering round the edges", or proposed revisions to the inspection framework in 2009, will do nothing to address existing problems. Until inspections are de-coupled form their potentially punitive consequences and given a more developmental and supportive function, they will continue to drive up pressure and stress in schools.




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