Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)
CBE AND MIRIAM
6 MAY 2009
Q280 Mr Chaytor: Chief Inspector,
our system is based on independent national inspection, but not
all countries adopt that model, so have we anything to learn from
systems of inspection run by other countries?
Christine Gilbert: There is an
organisation called SICII cannot remember its full titlethrough
which we work with other organisations across Europe to look at
this. My perception, having come to this fairly recently, is that
other countries look to what we are doing and have moved, even
in terms of self-evaluation and the use of data, in the way that
Ofsted has, but that doesn't mean that we cannot learn from others.
One of the early things that we didabout 18 months agowas
to have 24 hours away with the Scottish inspectorate senior management
team, to see in some detail whether there were things that we
could both learn from the way that we were approaching matters.
I regularly meet the other Chief Inspectors from Northern Ireland,
Wales and Scotland, so there are things that we look at and learn
Q281 Mr Chaytor: But from
your point of view, what are the key advantages of a national
inspection system as compared with regional systems, and of systems
that are independent of government compared with those that are
part of government?
Christine Gilbert: We have not
done a formal analysis of that. My feeling is that in this country,
national inspection gives just thata national, objective
perspective. Although, as I said, we are charged now with securing
improvement, we do not have a personal perspective on the judgements
that we make. We have in-house evidence, and in this area we have
a rich external source of evidence because we use a number of
external companies to look at aspects of what we are doing. Evidence
suggests that our work is much valued, but that has not really
come through in the previous discussions with the Committee on
this. Teachers and head teachers are telling not only us but the
NFER and so on how valuable they find the inspection system and
how much it supports them and supports improvement.
Q282 Mr Chaytor: What are
the key advantages of independence from government? Could you
tell us specifically which areas of government policy Ofsted has
exercised its independence over most forcefully? Where have you
been most critical of a particular government policy over the
years, not just during your own term in office?
Christine Gilbert: I think independence
is really important. It is often difficult to define it and draw
a line, but if we lost our independence we would be seen as having
lost our integrity. There is a great deal of public trust in us
as a body that is apart from government. Only 4% of parents do
not want inspection; there has been a very positive response from
parents about inspection. Independence from government is very
important, and it is important that we report to Parliament through
this Committee. I would guard independence as it is crucial.
Q283 Mr Chaytor: Can you give
us an example of the exercise of that independence?
Christine Gilbert: If you look
at any of our thematic reports, you will find some comment on
national policy and perspective. Some of that is positive and
some is critical. I cannot think off the top of my head of one
that was entirely negative. For instance, at the moment we are
looking at the National Strategies. That report will have a number
of positive things to say as well as a number of critical things.
Q284 Mr Chaytor: Are there
one or two major issues? Having critical things to say is not
necessarily a powerful argument for complete independence. We
are looking for a concrete example of where Ofsted has really
used the independent position it occupies significantly to shift
Christine Gilbert: At the most
fundamental level, each year I produce an annual report. That
used to be a state-of-the-nation report on schools but it now
crosses all areas of the remit. Anybody in the Committee who sees
the publicity linked to that would see that we make a number of
fairly strong criticisms about what is going on. Some of those
run for the entire year. I have now said for two years that the
number of children going from primary to secondary school who
can't read is far too high, and that we are letting down generations
of children. A number of things in the annual report are fairly
strong criticisms of government and would not be written in that
way if we were an outpost of the DCSF.
Q285 Mr Chaytor: If there
is a strong case for independence from government, is there not
equally a case for an independent appeal system for those schools
or local authorities with a grievance against their Ofsted judgement?
Christine Gilbert: We have, as
you would expect, an internal process, but we also have an independent
complaints adjudicator, who is appointed not by us but by the
DCSF. In fact, the adjudicator has changed fairly recently. That
is the final stage, but, after that, people could contact an MP
and go through the parliamentary ombudsman and so on, so there
is a process.
Q286 Chairman: Right. Let's
move on. In passing, Chief Inspector, how do you select which
schools to inspect?
Christine Gilbert: Can I pass
that one to Miriam to talk about in detail?
Miriam Rosen: At the moment, we
have to inspect schools roughly within a three-year time scale,
so we will bring forward a selection of schools for inspection
in any given year, but not so that they can predict exactly when
they are going to be inspected. That is quite important, so there
is some flexibility. That is done by our schedulers without looking
at a particular school and saying, "We want to inspect school
X now"it will just be scheduled once it is in the
pot for the year. We are planning to move to a system whereby
we have an annual risk assessment for schools. The inspection
of schools that are performing well, that have performed well
in previous inspections and for which all the indicators look
good would be put back, so that they would be inspected once within
a five-year period. Schools which were not doing so well would
have their inspection earlier.
Q287 Chairman: How do you
get a good mix? If you don't get a representative mix, your annual
report on what is going on in schools is distorted.
Miriam Rosen: Yes, and what I
didn't say is that of the good and outstanding schools or those
that we think are likely to be so judged, a fifth will be inspected
each year on a random basis. Otherwise, as you say, we would have
a biased annual report.
Q288 Chairman: Yes, that is
what they say about something else that you will know about, Chief
Inspector, wearing a different hat. If health visitors go to severely
challenging families only, they have nothing else to judge things
by. If they don't go to average families, their world view is
distorted. Does that apply to you, too?
Christine Gilbert: It is important
to have a really close fix on what "good" looks like.
Also, we try to do this in our survey reports because it is important
for people to see what other schools, colleges and so on really
achieve. We are taking a much more focused look at some of that.
I think I sent copies of Twelve outstanding secondary schools
to each of you. We are doing one on primary schools and one
on special schools in the autumn.
Chairman: Let's drill down on the purposes
and outcomes of Ofsted inspections.
Q289 Mr Stuart: What do you
think is the main purpose of Ofsted?
Christine Gilbert: There are probably
three. Going back to what I said to the Chairman, I think it is
important that we inspect to secure improvement. Ofsted was established
in 1992 as part of the parents charter, and the information that
we provide to parents is absolutely fundamental. I am talking
about information not only on the school that their child is at,
but on the schools to which they are considering sending them.
Thirdly, we have to report to Parliament and the Secretary of
State on the state of education in terms of minimal assurance
and in terms of how public money is being spent. Essentially,
Ofsted is about those three thingsI know that they are
not clearly distinct from one another.
Q290 Mr Stuart: Is there a
danger that because you are inspecting to secure improvement,
you will become another stakeholder, and you will want to see
apparent standards rising, rather than being an entirely independent
evaluator of the system without a stake, necessarily, in how it
responds to your information?
Christine Gilbert: That is a real
danger, and we talked about it a lot when we established our strategic
plan for the new organisation. We could present improvementit
would not be securing improvementif inspectors took their
foot off the pedal and became more generous in their judgements.
It goes back to the question about independence. It is really
important to be independent; it is important to report frankly
and fearlessly about what is being seen in schools; and it is
important to have integrity about the judgements being made.
Q291 Mr Stuart: Thank you
for that, Chief Inspector. You said last year that you thought
standards in schools had stalled. Is that still the case? Is that
in the primary sector, the secondary sector or both? Can you give
us an idea about when standards stalled, if they still are stalled?
Christine Gilbert: That was part
of what I was saying in the point I made earlier about the annual
report. That was something that the Government would not have
liked us saying. I cannot tell you until we have done the annual
review for this year, and we are embarking on beginning production
of that report. I was most concerned about the stalling of literacy
and numeracy. I was talking about the fact thatcertainly
for the second year, if not for the third; I have been involved
in only three reports20% of children are still going on
to secondary school unable to be fully literate or numerate. That
struck me as a real concern. I was persuaded very early on. I
was initially very opposed to the national literacy and numeracy
strategies, but what I saw in Tower Hamlets, and the way that
they were being implemented, absolutely transformed my view of
them. In the early days, in areas such as Tower Hamlets, they
were transformational. As time has gone on, they have needed refreshing
and have needed to take a different approach.
Q292 Mr Stuart: Any new initiative
will tend to be pioneered with enthusiasm and tend to make a positive
difference. It's the old problem, isn't it? That of "Turn
the lights down in the factory and productivity goes up, then
turn them back up months later and productivity goes up."
Christine Gilbert: To stick with
the Tower Hamlets example, it is not that progress would have
been unlearned. Some of the principles of the approach to national
literacy and so on are absolutely fundamental and focused on the
basics, and children were completely liberated by being able to
read and write. That has gone on, but I want it to go on up and
down the country. The figure of 20% is just too high, because
most of those children will therefore not be motivated when they
go to secondary school. Many of them are bright, eager children
who have somehow lost their way. So, a focus on literacy, for
me, is absolutely paramount.
Q293 Chairman: Where did you
get that 20% statistic from, Chief Inspector?
Christine Gilbert: We got it from
the Key Stage 2 results.
Q294 Chairman: Last night,
Nick Gibb, who used to be a member of this Committee, said it
was 40%. If that is true, you might as well resign, mightn't you?
If it really is 40%, we have achieved nothing in the 17 years
Christine Gilbert: The 20% figure
is the one that I complained about being the same. Certainly for
two years running, we did not seem to have made an impact. We
had done a number of things to focus on literacy, and in fact
maths and numeracy too, so you will have seen the substantial
report that we produced on maths, which has been enormously well
received up and down the country. We have a number of dissemination
activities related to that. We have a very big report coming out
on literacy and so on. We are making judgements and we are using
inspection to try and find out more about them, because we are
privileged, in many ways, to see things going on in classrooms
in schools up and down the country that other people do not see.
Q295 Mr Stuart: In 2006, you
said that one in eight secondary schools was judged inadequate
and that more than a third were no better than satisfactory. In
front of this Committee in February, when asked about how many
schools were rated satisfactory now, you said that in the secondary
sector it must be about 30%. So, it appears that in three years
nothing has improved. Can you tell us why you think that might
be? Do you have any thoughts on Government strategies on rooting
out inadequate, unsatisfactory schools?
Christine Gilbert: We definitely
think that there has been some improvement, and I can send you
the figures after the meeting.
There has been improvement in that time, but we cannot be content
that children and young people are ever attending schools that
we think are inadequate. That is what concerns me. Though I think
that Ofsted, in many ways, has its greatest impact in schools
that are failing, we want to stop them failing and we want to
stop them going into that position. One thing we are going to
do from September is go back to more schools that are satisfactory.
At the momentwe introduced this about 18 months agowe
go back to about 5% of schools that are satisfactory but have
one or two areas that might generate concern. That has gone down
very well and has led to real improvement between the time we
make the judgement and the time we go back. From September, we
are going to go back to more satisfactory schoolsthose
that seem to have a poor capacity to improveso we think
we will be going back to about 40% of satisfactory schools. We
think that if we go back and do the monitoring visit, it will
be more preventative than waiting for the school to go into special
Q296 Mr Stuart: One of the
Government's policies to try to tackle failing schools is the
National Challenge programme. Some of those schools were judged
outstanding by Ofsted before they were suddenly and peremptorily
announced as being in the National Challenge, with all the stigma
and opprobrium that came with it. Did you wonder why you were
wasting your time when the Government pulled the rug on both your
inspectors and the schools?
Christine Gilbert: The Government
were looking at straight exam results. We look at test results,
but we do not rely entirely on them, so our inspection reports
were judgements across a whole range of things. I did go back
after the disparity and look at the reports. In those schools
we had judged outstanding or good, inspectors felt secure that
improvement was happening and the capacity to improve was evident.
Chairman: Graham, have you finished?
Q297 Mr Stuart: I have one
more question. In 2007, you said that you had received numerous
complaints over a three-month period about inspectors passing
judgement on schools without actually sitting in on classes. At
the time, you said you were stunned by those disclosures. How
many complaints have you received in the past year or two? Are
you still receiving them?
Christine Gilbert: I don't remember
any letters of complaint, but as I said to the Chairman at the
beginning, we have been consulting on new proposals for school
inspectionessentially, for evolution from the current system.
I have been up and down the country talking at various conferences,
and this is a constant refrainteachers, interestingly,
complaining that they have not been seen by Ofsted inspectors.
Though I am smiling, we have taken this very seriously and the
system that will be introduced from September, although we have
not fine-tuned the detail, will put far greater weight on observation
of classrooms, teaching and learning.
Mr Stuart: Thank you.
Q298 Chairman: I am going
to call Fiona, but before I do, there is a little thing that sparked
my interest. The Government employ private contractors to run
National Strategies, don't they? Are they the same people you
use to get inspectors?
Christine Gilbert: I think they
use Capita, don't they? I imagine the point you are going to make
is about conflict of interest.
Q299 Chairman: Yes. The whole
world is using major contractorsCapita, CfBT, we all know
the names. Do any of these interlock?
Christine Gilbert: Not with the
National Strategies, although I think there are other issues with
the National Strategies. The issue of conflict of interest was
a major part of discussion through the contract. We used a process
called competitive dialogue. A number of the people bidding for
the contracts also provide services. I will give you a specific
example: Serco provides services to Walsall and has the contract
for the Midlands area. That is right, isn't it Miriam?
Miriam Rosen: Yes.
Christine Gilbert: This was discussed
through the awarding of the contracts, and each contractor had
to have processes in placeChinese wallsto avoid
that. Various systems are in place, and as we speak, protocols
are being worked out. Over and above that, although the focus
of the three contractors will be regional, they will also have
a national dimension to their work. The services, institutions
and settings that we inspect are not neatly located in the regions
that Ofsted has chosen to divide up the country into. For example,
Serco will not be inspecting Walsall, but one of the other contractors
will. Therefore, we have a number of arrangements and protocols
in place. I don't know whether you want to add to that, Miriam.
Miriam Rosen: I think that covers
it. We will make sure that when a contractor is running services
in an area, they don't inspect it.
5 See Ev 142-43 Back