- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents



16 MARCH 2009

  Q40  CHAIRMAN: I recognise that it is well used in commercial organisations as a management development tool, but do you know if it is replicated in parallel sectors in the education sector?

  DR DUNFORD: Elsewhere in the education sector, colleges certainly have a very strong self-review process.

  MARTIN JOHNSON: I just want to observe that the whole top-down ethos of the public sector in recent years militates against that kind of approach.

  CHAIRMAN: But we are using it here.

  MARTIN JOHNSON: That is because schools continue to resist top-down impositions.

  Q41  CHAIRMAN: Self-evaluation was not the schools' idea, it was Ofsted's, was it not?

  DR DUNFORD: No, it comes from him.

  JOHN BANGS: Yes, it was John and I—it is our fault.

  Q42  CHAIRMAN: I can see the "Wanted" posters. You are saying that this was not a plot to save money, but that you successfully lobbied to have a measure of self-evaluation—

  JOHN BANGS: May I expand on that and give a bit of history. The reaction to Ofsted in 1992 was so strong—at Crook Primary School, which had the first Ofsted inspection, the press were on girders looking into the school with their television cameras—that we commissioned Professor John MacBeath, who was then at Strathclyde University, and his team to see whether the Scottish model of school development and self-evaluation could be used in England. That was the purpose of the research. His findings were that, yes, it could. That captured the imagination of the then Chief Education Officer for Newcastle, who then, I believe, carried that. Separately and independently, you were coming to the same conclusions, John—but John can tell his own story.

  DR DUNFORD: That is right—as part of looking at the new inspection process and thinking about quality assurance. The way that Ofsted came in at the beginning, it was about quality control. Industry had moved way beyond quality control, and was very much into quality assurance. We felt that in education it was the bringing together of self-evaluation and external inspection that gave quality assurance.

  JOHN BANGS: Your question, Chair, is absolutely spot on. There are models in the private sector, particularly promoted by Deming and a range of management consultants, that are about owning the product that you are producing. That is absolutely behind self-evaluation.

  KEITH BARTLEY: It is important to differentiate between the SEF and school self-evaluation. The SEF is a very restricted form of school self-evaluation. Those schools that have the cultures, practices and processes in-built and well established around self-evaluation are probably those schools that will have the greatest capacity to respond to the outcomes of an inspection or, indeed, to the evidence that they present in a SEF. I think that we need to see it in its place, rather than assume that it is the process.

  CHAIRMAN: Thanks for that. Let us move on. Sorry to hold you up.

  Q43  MR CHAYTOR: Picking up Keith's point, in terms of the processes other than ticking the boxes on the form, what is best practice in the process of self-evaluation?

  KEITH BARTLEY: Do you mean in preparation for inspection, or more generally in terms of school improvement?

  MR CHAYTOR: Both really. You are making the point that SEF alone is not enough. In the case of a successful school, there is likely to be a sound and solid process. My question is how do we know? How do we evidence the process? What kind of processes are generally considered to be good practice?

  KEITH BARTLEY: For a start, the features of good practice are about schools in which all of the staff are encouraged to be part of that reflective process. In other words, the school's model of organisational development and, indeed, the store by which it sets teachers' professional learning and continuing professional development are very much focused on an examination of practice, a reflection on why practice may be as it is or how it could be changed or improved, and then some consequent planning on that. If those features are evident within a school's self-evaluation processes, they should manifest themselves in improved outcomes for children, which is vitally important, but they are discernible and inspectable features of a school as well.

  Q44  MR CHAYTOR: And the form itself—is the form fit for purpose? Or does it need further refinement?

  KEITH BARTLEY: I want to defer to my colleagues, who will be closer to that, because I have neither inspected nor completed one.

  CHAIRMAN: Mick, you have been quiet for a moment.

  MICK BROOKES: It is a reasonable framework, which is why we are saying that schools need to take it and shake it down, so that it fits their context, rather than it being a one-size-fits-all document. Schools that do that and own it in that way have it as a working tool in a school, rather than as a document that gets done and put on a shelf.

  Q45  MR CHAYTOR: Do you have an input? Do the teachers associations or the head teachers have input into amending the form year on year, or is it a given and that is it?

  DR DUNFORD: I think you should ask the Chief Inspector about how the form is constructed. The one really good thing that I would say is that the Chief Inspector acts as a gatekeeper against the Department for Education adding bits and pieces every two minutes to the SEF. It is only changed once a year, thank heavens. The schools for which I have the greatest admiration are the ones that have the courage not to complete a SEF. There are schools that are "outstanding", but do not complete a SEF and have very rigorous self-evaluation processes.

  Q46  MR CHAYTOR: How do we know?

  DR DUNFORD: Because in that situation, inspectors have to look at the self-evaluation. They do not just look at the SEF or the box-ticking exercise, they have to look at the self-evaluation. The SEF is not self-evaluation, it is simply a summary, in a sort of tick-box way, of the real self-evaluation that has taken place. That comes back to the point that Keith and I made earlier, which John alluded to, that the best kind of self-evaluation involves all the staff. The inspectors coming in can recognise that. When they are talking to an individual teacher of mathematics—not even the head—they will recognise that self-evaluation culture in the school.

  Q47  MR CHAYTOR: There could be a particularly skilful teacher of mathematics who is good at talking self-evaluation language. I spoke at a conference not too far from here, which was set up by an organisation specifically to train head teachers how to fill in their SEF correctly and get a good score with Ofsted. These things are not difficult to do with a bit of training. I am interested in all this stuff about process. Where is this document? How do we know whether over the last year—or the last three or five years—the school has been actively implementing a self-evaluation process?

  DR DUNFORD: Because the best inspectors go behind the SEF to look at the processes of self-evaluation that have led to it. In secondary schools, for example, they talk to the head teacher about the evaluation discussions that take place every year with heads of department. They then go and talk to the heads of departments about that, so they see both sides.

  MARTIN JOHNSON: I do not have a lot to add, except to David's last remarks. This is the whole point about the accountability problem. Where there are high stakes mechanisms, you get negative kinds of reactions. John is talking about the exceptions that prove the rule. For too many schools, it is an exercise in form filling and compliance. For the last quarter of an hour we have been arguing for embedding a culture of improvement, partly through self-evaluation but not only that. You will not get that in a high-stakes inspection regime.

  MICK BROOKES: It is not only the high stakes, it is also the mechanical nature of it. If the mechanical nature of Ofsted means that someone can tick the boxes and get the right answers, we can play the game as well as anybody. Until we have moved from that to a values-based inspection system where the context of the school is what matters, there will be people playing the game rather than owning their own material to move the school forward.

  JOHN BANGS: I think David has asked a really good question. The fact of the matter is that if you have an "outstanding", or even a "good", from Ofsted, you have permission to do anything. You can try out a set of individual instruments constructed within your school community—which is what true self-evaluation is about—that are fit for purpose and stand up to external interrogation about their validity. Those can be tried out because self-evaluation is essentially a creative activity. You are finding out information that you can use, so that you can improve on what you are doing internally within the school, using the instruments that are fit for purpose. I have seen some fantastic self-evaluation on a European basis; for instance, not written self-evaluation, but youngsters taking photographs of the things that they like and do not like. It could be films, or small video streaming, or whatever, actually saying what we like, what we don't and what we think we can do to improve. The fact is that there are a small number of schools with that confidence. At the other end, there is the picture of the head teacher with the moon in the sky, up against their computer late at night, buffing up their self-evaluation form because the end of the 3-year cycle is coming up and they know that they have to do it. There could not be two more stark extremes. Martin put it very well: it is about getting to the guts of how you embed a culture with a rigorous sense of how you can improve, knowing that you own it, knowing that you can improve it, and feeling professionally empowered to do so, but without the kind of high-stakes culture that says that someone else who does not know the process that you have go through is not going to come in and hammer you, using a delivery system that is entirely conformist in approach rather than encouraging innovation at school level.

  CHAIRMAN: A quick one from you, Keith. Then we do need to move on.

  KEITH BARTLEY: I want to make two quick points. First, the study conducted by York Consulting showed real evidence of the high correlation between the best SEFs and the best practice in schools and supporting self-evaluation. It is proven that there is a correlation. The other point that I would like to make goes back almost to where we started. If we have an accountability framework that is focused on the impact of schools' work on children and young people, then schools' self-evaluation provides an opportunity to reflect upon that broader sense of the outcomes—the differences—that the school is capable of making for each child and young person. You cannot do that in a restricted format.

  Q48  MR CHAYTOR: Does the role of self-evaluation and the SEF have a particular weighting in the total inspection process? How does it fit in? How is it integrated into the rest of the inspection?

  DR DUNFORD: Again, I think that you come back to the proportionality inspections, and the point that John made. It is different looking at a SEF in a school that is good or outstanding, where all the trends are going in the right direction, to a school where things are badly. I think that is the only way I can answer that question.

  Q49  MR CHAYTOR: Before we leave the SEF and Ofsted, what about the cost? Martin touched earlier upon that question. Do we spend too much on inspections?

  DR DUNFORD: Perhaps we would ask the question—

  MR CHAYTOR: We are asking the questions.

  DR DUNFORD: Perhaps we would answer that question by raising the question of what is the cost of all of this put together, when you include the opportunity cost of the time taken when the moon is in the sky, and filling in the SEF, when you are filling in the school profile—which we have not mentioned; as part of the accountability system, it is completely useless—and when you are involved in numerous discussions, with people coming in asking you about your targets and so on. I think it is not just about the cost of Ofsted; it is about the cost of all of those things.

  Q50  MR CHAYTOR: Five minutes ago, you were putting the case for good self-evaluation processes, saying this is integral to the culture and management of the school, it takes time, and it involves the head teachers talking to the classroom teachers. You cannot suddenly say, "Hang on, there's a cost to that."

  DR DUNFORD: No; we would probably all say that it is money well spent. Particularly if it is done well, that is money well spent. If that money is well spent, perhaps we should put more resources into that, in order to spend less on the extended inspection coming along and validating it.

  Q51  MR CHAYTOR: The specific question that follows is, do we spend too much on Ofsted?

  DR DUNFORD: We probably spend too much on Ofsted investigating individual schools and not enough on Ofsted investigating how the system is going as a whole, which was a point that we made earlier.

  Q52  CHAIRMAN: Why should Ofsted be responsible for all schools? Why should it not take a few schools?

  DR DUNFORD: How do you mean?

  CHAIRMAN: Why don't we have a much trimmed down Ofsted that has only a few schools—many fewer schools?

  DR DUNFORD: You could have a system that did that if, for example, you relied more upon school improvement partners, who are having a regular support and challenge conversation with the head teacher. You could also use Ofsted less if there was a much better relationship between inspection and school support, which we talked about earlier, and you focused more resources on the support aspect rather than on the inspection aspect and all that goes with it.

  Q53  CHAIRMAN: I asked that because, as I listened to the Laming inquiry discussions last week, the one question that was left unasked was the fact that what Laming recommends is enormously expensive in resource implications. If that is true, somewhere there is going to be a shift of spend from schools across to other children's services. I am just wondering whether inspection might be an alternative.

  DR DUNFORD: We would magnanimously give up some—

  CHAIRMAN: I thought you might say that. Sorry, I cut across and someone was very frustrated about not getting in there—Martin.

  MARTIN JOHNSON: I just want to emphasise what I think John was getting round to. I would be very surprised if this Committee did not look at the costs of all the agencies involved in both inspection and improvement work. If you look at Ofsted, the National Strategies, the Specialist Schools Trust, the SIPs and local authority improvement teams, they are all doing overlapping work. Maybe it is for you to recommend how that is rationalised—I have given my take on that—but it certainly needs rationalisation and savings would accrue.

  Q54  MR CHAYTOR: Each of your organisations has submitted a written statement to the Committee, and one of them has called for big cuts in budgets either to Ofsted or any of the other agencies that were referred to, Martin.

  MICK BROOKES: Without a shadow of doubt—I have said this to whoever would listen—when it comes to a choice between front-line services and everybody who purports to support schools, we would be voting for front-line services. If that meant putting a greater emphasis on trusts in schools properly to self-evaluate, with light-touch approval accreditation of that, we would vote for it.

  MARTIN JOHNSON: We specifically said in our evidence that we believe that Ofsted should no longer carry out section 5 school inspections. There is a saving there.

  Q55  MR CHAYTOR: We have touched on the question of SIPs. No one seems to be dissenting that SIPs have been a useful innovation. There may be a difference of view in the approach. Do you think they will be there for ever or is it temporary?

  CHAIRMAN: Are you all right?

  JOHN BANGS: I was trying—

  DR DUNFORD: To get the first word in.

  JOHN BANGS: The idea that an individual school improvement partner can be this Olympian character through which advice can go two ways, data can pass two ways—that they can be the person who provides the judgment about the individual school to the local authority—I find extraordinary. I think that SIPs betray, to a certain extent, a lack of trust in the school. Conceptually, school improvement partners are wrong. Actually, if you talk to head teachers, they often talk with fond memory of the original external advisers who used to come in, because those external advisers, albeit they were employed by CEA, actually were there to provide the—to use the parlance—challenge and support to the individual head teacher alone. Often, those head teachers who have been a long time in the business will remember that fondly. Probably one of the best aspects of the old school—the pre-appraisal scheme in the mid-'90s—was the fact that head teachers and chairs of governors used to be involved in school appraisal, and that actually seemed to work relatively well too. It comes back to the issue about what we spend our money on. The balance between external evaluation and money for school improvement through professional development and the identification of individual professional development is entirely skewed. There is far too little spent on the outcomes of an appraisal or a performance management evaluation compared with the enormous weight of external inspection, whether at local authority or national level. I know we are coming to the end. We have argued in our submission, and have consistently argued for the past 10 to 15 years, since Ofsted came in, that there ought to be an independent review of the accountability system as it actually bears down on schools. We ought to have had a national debate about the nature of the accountability system. We did not have one. It was simply imposed, if colleagues remember, back in '92. It was a deal done between the Conservative party, which thought it was going to lose the election, and Labour about getting a Bill through Parliament. There was no debate at the time. Essentially, we have a rushed and truncated model of a top-down inspection system that has gone through various iterations since, but nowhere have we sorted out how you actually evaluate the institution as a whole. That seems to me the key issue.

  Q56  MR CHAYTOR: Just one more, before we move on—the question of other initiatives, such as National Challenge. There was a little furore when the failing schools were originally identified. Has that settled down and does anyone now deny that the National Challenge programme is targeting resources where they are most needed?

  MARTIN JOHNSON: We've got a thing about the National Challenge. It's lucky Mary Bousted is not here, otherwise you would have a 10-minute barrage. The fact is that the challenge in particular, but some of the other agencies as well, has a not dissimilar effect on many schools—not the very self-confident ones that have the "outstanding" badge—as an Ofsted inspection. They create the impression, perhaps inadvertently—if you talk to the national strategies people, they declare that of course it is not their intention and not what they do—that, as perceived in too many schools, National Challenge is another example of the imposed conformity. They say they give advice, which they do, but it is perceived as a demand for a rigid answer on why a subject might be taught. There is a situation where the QCA has been trying to free up the curriculum to quite a lot of support—we await what is suggested for Key Stage 2 to see whether it mirrors Key Stage 3—on the one hand, but the assessment regime is under a lot of pressure as well. You still have these agencies saying that is the way to do it—as perceived by schools.

  CHAIRMAN: A quick one from you, John, because we have to get to this last section on schools.

  DR DUNFORD: National Challenge is a huge £400 million project that was introduced with no project planning. You have local authorities told to create improvement plans over the summer holidays. We had National Challenge advisers not appointed until November—and they are the key people in this. We have had the funding only in the last week or two getting into some of the schools. There is also some very questionable targeting of the resources in that £400 million—into some school reorganisations, but also into simply improving the results of Year 11 in the next two years, not on deep school improvement. I have huge questions around National Challenge.

  CHAIRMAN: A quick bite from Mick and then we move on.

  MICK BROOKES: It is an example of how accountability is being misused, sitting in the Department saying, "Oh woe! All these schools have been described as failing schools. That is not what we intended." But it was clearly going to happen. When you have accountability based on a very narrow spectrum of results, you will get those things. The concept that you can have a good school working in a very tough environment moving forward—maybe not as fast as other people would like—has not been understood by politicians.

  CHAIRMAN: School improvements. Andrew, would you open on that?

  Q57  MR PELLING: I really wanted to deal with the school report card. I apologise for arriving late; I stayed for the statement in the Chamber. I also apologise for the fact that I have come to the conclusion that this debate about school accountability has become so confused over the years that I would like to return to the idea of some accountability to the local community and through local education authorities. Having declared my prejudice, do you think the school report card has a legitimate and useful place in terms of accountability for schools? I know that there was consternation about some of the proposals. How could the proposals be adjusted to make them better suited?

  DR DUNFORD: We had a debate about this at the weekend, which you may have read about in the press. We are not keen on the whole school performance coming down to a single grade. However, in principle, a school report card could represent more intelligent accountability. That depends on the detail; the devil really is in the detail. How do you measure improvement and progress? What wider achievements of the school will be brought in? We must have a discussion over the next couple of years about what those elements will be, how they will be combined and how they will be graded. In principle, replacing league tables with a more sophisticated report card that has been well thought through—with the input of the profession, parents and other stakeholders—could be useful. We have set out 10 principles, which I could send to you, about what a report card should look like. I will mention just one of them. A good school serving a challenging area should have the same chance of getting a good grade as a good school serving a more favoured area. We will judge all the proposals on the report card against that principle and the others that we have set out.

  JOHN BANGS: To follow on from John, there is the germ of a good idea in the school report card. It could be a rich definition of the school's evaluation checked by an external evaluator. Currently, the school report card is another damn thing. It comes on top of the Ofsted inspection result. The consultation document does not resolve the question it poses itself: what do you do if you have decided, given all the data, that you have an "outstanding" and Ofsted comes up with another judgment? The Government refuse to pose report cards as a substitute for or alternative to school performance tables. This proposal suffers from the greatest sin of all, which is cherry-picking a system from one country and dropping it in elsewhere. It genuinely is cherry-picking because the New York report card is used by individual schools as a way of arguing for better funding. That is not part of the consultation. The United Federation of Teachers agrees with the school report card in New York because it is a vehicle for negotiations with New York City about extra funding for schools. I do not see that here. The idea of a model or framework for describing in a sensitive way the strengths and weaknesses of a school so that it is understandable for the whole community is good. However, you must get rid of the baggage, such as the overlapping accountability systems that Martin mentioned.

  MICK BROOKES: If the report card leads to a wiser way of describing and narrating a school's progress and what it is doing for the community, we would support it. However, there is a reductionist theory about trying to get something very simple for parents. As John said at his conference, there are answers to every complex question that are simple and wrong.

  MARTIN JOHNSON: I want to chuck in something very unpopular. The notion that we can divide our schools into four categories is absolutely bizarre. We are being consulted on whether we would prefer to use A to D or 1 to 4. It is unfortunate from the point of view of policy making that the larger the study, the more it becomes seen as the fact that schools differ in their effectiveness hardly at all. That is the opposite of an assumption that is made throughout policy making, but it is the case. I did not manage to get this into our CVA discussion, but CVA figures only confirm that. Although there are some outriders, the vast bulk of schools' scores vary little, when allowing for statistical issues. The idea of the score card and actually dividing schools into sheep and goats is fundamentally flawed. I know that my words will go out there into the ether and be disregarded. In a way, it is counter-intuitive—it just happens to be the case.

  Q58  CHAIRMAN: Do you also mean that good teaching doesn't do any good?

  MARTIN JOHNSON: There is quite a significant classroom effect—a teacher effect—but there is very little school effect. That is a very significant difference—or should be—for education policy. The importance of the teacher in the classroom is becoming more understood but it is still submerged in terms of policy making. I am not saying anything of which you are not fully aware but, to recap, a school is a very complex organisation. The idea that you can summarise, even in a few pages, as John aspires to, what it is like and likely to be for a range of learners, is just a myth. As for reducing it to a single digit or letter—that is a joke.

  Q59  MR PELLING: So Martin is saying that past education policy has been too obsessed with the idea of school organisation or effectiveness, and that politicians should concentrate on a classroom, pedagogical level.

  MARTIN JOHNSON: Absolutely.

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