- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 265-279)


6 MAY 2009

  Q265  Chairman: Can I welcome the Chief Inspector and Miriam Rosen to our proceedings. This is an important session for us. All our sessions with you, Chief Inspector, are important sessions, but this is rather out of the ordinary as it is not on your annual report or on a specific inquiry. It is just to help us look at the ways in which we in England evaluate schools and hold them to account in terms of what they do for our children. This is a more free-thinking exercise, if you like. We are here to learn, not to push you too hard—you know that we would not do that. We will get started. There is a lot of territory to cover, so I will ask everyone to be quite brief in their questions and answers. Chief Inspector, you know what we are inquiring into—the value of inspection and the quality of accountability that we have. Is there anything that you would like to say before we ask questions?

  Christine Gilbert: Just to endorse your opening remarks, we consider this inquiry very important indeed, particularly as we are revising the school inspection framework. We are reviewing it now in the final stages for changes to be introduced from September, so the inquiry is very important to us.

  Q266  Chairman: When will you be publishing your plan for change?

  Christine Gilbert: The pilots have just got under way, so we think that we will be able to publish the framework towards the end of June. We have had a lot of debate about it up and down the country and presented different things about aspects of it, but we still have a number of key decisions to make. We look forward to the inquiry reporting in time for September.

  Q267  Chairman: We will have to try to get the report out as soon as possible. Miriam, I have just been thinking—when did you first start coming in front of this Committee? You are a familiar face.

  Miriam Rosen: It was 2004.

  Q268  Chairman: So it has been at least five years. You are very welcome again. Can I start the questioning. You, Chief Inspector, are a new broom. You certainly seem—listening to your comments and answers to questions in this Committee—rather different from your predecessor. Why is that?

  Christine Gilbert: I don't know if I am different. Certainly I think that nothing stands still and inspections develop. Although I was appointed as Chief Inspector of Schools in October 2006, I was essentially appointed to the bigger job that started in the following April, so we have looked at the fundamentals of inspection in a way that has probably not been necessary for several years.

  Q269  Chairman: Your predecessor had a more limited view of the role of Ofsted. Every time I pushed him, saying, "You go into a school, inspect, make a judgement and walk away; you don't do much in terms of the school improvement process," he said, "So be it—that's what we do." You don't take that view, do you?

  Christine Gilbert: I took the Education and Inspections Act 2006 really seriously. I was new and the Act created my post and created the new Ofsted. That charged us with three things: regulating and inspecting to secure improvement, which was very different from what was there before; regulating and inspecting to secure the engagement of users, which meant pupils—children and learners, essentially—parents and employers; and ensuring value for money. Those three things were set out very clearly in the Act. They influenced and informed all our planning and thinking at Ofsted.

  Q270  Chairman: Wasn't there a larger move? The Prime Minister very much wanted to rationalise the inspection process right across the public services, and one gets the impression that part of that process—pushing a number of inspectorates and roles into one—changed the nature of your role and your job. Has that been for good or ill?

  Christine Gilbert: Bringing the four inspectorates together really did make us think hard about the role and function of inspection, and what things could be common and what things were really different. As we have discussed in this Committee before, we do not have, in Ofsted, a whole set of generalists; we still have specialists in a number of areas. So it was an attempt to bring the organisations together to get something more out of inspection than we got before. It really is important, as you said, to go in and report objectively what we see, but if we are just doing that and nothing happens as a result, I would question whether even the reduced amount of money we now spend on Ofsted is well spent. My view is that inspection has to have some impact.

  Q271  Chairman: I should have thought that one of the things that would give you sleepless nights is your very grave responsibility for child protection. That is not only a vast area that is very different from what Ofsted was involved in previously, but a dramatic and important area in terms of outcomes, such as the Baby Peter case. Does that not dominate your thinking and lead to you having less time to think about the less dramatic, but certainly important, issue of schools?

  Christine Gilbert: You are right to say that the area you have identified is essentially high risk, but I regard school inspection as core and central work and I invest a lot of time in it. I read, as the previous Chief Inspector would have done, every special measures report—that is, generally, four or five a week. I also read every single survey report—that is, or it feels like it is, one or two a weekend. I certainly think that those things are really important. Connections can be made across the areas. I read a report by Miriam's team—it originated from education—on exclusions. You will recall that there was some fuss a few months ago about exclusions of very young children. We couldn't work out what was going on or why, so we did what we call a rapid response report. Reading that report, I could see that connections could be made with what we were doing in our safeguarding inspections. We were able to pick up on that and make sure that the new safeguarding rolling programme inspection, which we will be undertaking next month, will look at what local authorities are doing about exclusions. Are they really fulfilling their statutory responsibilities? Are they providing education for children who are excluded after six days, and those sorts of things? We look at it holistically. It is a big remit but it is also a fascinating one. It is really important for children and their families that we look at things holistically.

  Q272  Chairman: As you have grown, have you not become more reliant on what I would call bought-in help? You mentioned in your evidence that inspections have been going for 150 years. Inspectors used to report to the Privy Council because there wasn't a Department, which is why you are Her Majesty's Inspector. As time has gone on and your remit has expanded, you are forced to go to the independent or private sector to buy inspectors. Is that not a concern?

  Christine Gilbert: That was the whole basis on which Ofsted was established back in 1992—the number of HMI was reduced. I am not going to go back as far as 1992—

  Chairman: You mentioned 150 years, so I was thinking of the workhouse.

  Christine Gilbert: I would say that the way that the former Ofsted contracted inspectors from September 2005 is a model of public-private partnership. It was in place when I arrived. We have just gone through a process and the contract that will be introduced from September will be even better. We use a number of contractors, but we use HMI in the inspections in various ways. I think that the model that we have is a good one.

  Q273  Chairman: In your evidence you said that you have gone from five contractors to three. Is that right?

  Christine Gilbert: Yes.

  Q274  Chairman: Who are they?

  Christine Gilbert: Serco, Tribal and CfBT. CfBT has something after its name—CfBT something.

  Q275  Chairman: And which two have been left out this time?

  Christine Gilbert: Prospects did not get a contract, and there are also Cambridge and Nord Anglia. A number of them provided regional services. I think that our submission said that five provided regional services, but there were two that provided services nationally. There was an FE contractor—Nord Anglia, I think—that provided services nationally, and we have brought all of that work in for the three contractors.

  Q276  Chairman: And how do you ensure the quality of the providers? When the teaching unions came before us, some of the criticism was about inconsistency, worries about quality and the fact that not all inspections are led by an HMI.

  Christine Gilbert: The more complex ones are led by an HMI, and 75 % of secondary school inspections are led by an HMI, but an HMI signs off, as it were, every single inspector we use. They are checked, monitored and shadowed on an inspection, and every report is read by an HMI. Over and above that there are a number of on-site visits, not for every additional inspector, but for some. So it is a fairly intensive process.

  Q277  Chairman: Are there any other quality checks on those private inspectors?

  Christine Gilbert: Miriam will know more of the detail on that, but we check a number of indicators. Having come fresh to this, I think that one of the benefits is having a number of them, and our regional link with each of them is very important, so the regional directors monitor it very closely. I attended a session at which there was a review of what had happened to the SATs contract and the LSC contract. Usually I come away from such meetings with a list of things we need to do, but actually in the way we had approached those contracts we had done all the things you should do and more, in terms of both the way we had chosen the contractors and the way the contracts operated. Miriam would be happy to give some detail on how she would manage it day in, day out and on a monthly basis.

  Q278  Chairman: In a sense, the acid test that you apply in the case of teachers—certainly your predecessor did—is how many bad or inadequate teachers get moved on, out of the profession. It is therefore fair to ask how many inspectors are found not to be up to the job and get moved on.

  Christine Gilbert: They probably wouldn't get through the first checking phase for inspectors, but that would be a very small number, in terms of capability and so on.

  Miriam Rosen: As far as HMI go, we have extremely rigorous and lengthy selection and training processes, so if someone gets through all of that they really ought to be a successful HMI.

  Q279  Chairman: HMI are what percentage of the total inspectorate work force?

  Miriam Rosen: We have about 200 HMI working on the schools inspection programme for at least part of their time. The contractors that we use have around 1,000 additional inspectors in total. Some of those are working full time, and some are brought in for some of the time. The contractors themselves manage those inspectors and will assure their quality, but as Christine says, an HMI will sign them off on an inspection to say that they are worthy, fully trained and competent. They have to meet the same competencies as an HMI. The contractors are responsible for the performance management. Ofsted performance-manages the contractors, so we look very carefully at key performance indicators for quality, timeliness and other things that we go through with them on a monthly basis in the regions, where the regional directors manage the contracts, and then it comes through to me on a national basis and I take overall responsibility. I think that they are very tightly managed.

  Chairman: Right. I am testing the patience of the rest of the team, so I will hand over to David.

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