- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-359)


6 MAY 2009

  Q340  Mr Chaytor: I appreciate that, but test data are still dominant in the minds of parents, teachers and pupils. May I ask you about teacher assessment? What is your overall judgement of the accuracy of teacher assessment? Has that improved in recent years?

  Christine Gilbert: We don't assess teachers, we look at teaching. I think that that is closely linked to good self-evaluation. You would expect the school to know where its strengths and weaknesses were and to do something about its weaknesses. That is why the self-evaluation form—or self-evaluation—is so important. In addition to the question about data, schools address issues that you pick up on in their self-evaluations. Often, schools will present inspectors with other data to consider. Inspectors do consider what heads share with them.

  Q341  Mr Chaytor: But in the context of your earlier remarks about the importance of objective data at Key Stage 2, Chief Inspector, why are you reluctant to rely on teachers to provide those data? Do you think that they are not sufficiently objective or that their assessment skills are not sufficiently well developed?

  Christine Gilbert: Many moons ago, I was an O-level and then a GCSE examiner. With the best will in the world, you need a form of moderation for teacher assessment. That is why I said that it would depend what is put in place of Key Stage 2 tests if they go. I would be nervous about a more bureaucratic system being put in their place. In my view, you could not have teacher assessment without some form of national moderation.

  Q342  Mr Chaytor: So something that was less bureaucratic and perhaps less universal, but which had a greater emphasis on teacher assessment with moderation, would be an acceptable solution in your view.

  Christine Gilbert: It might well be.

  Q343  Mr Chaytor: What else might be? What other alternatives would be acceptable to Ofsted to replace Key Stage 2 tests?

  Christine Gilbert: I would want something that gave me some clarity about a child's performance, benchmarked against the national perspective. Quite honestly, parents tell me that that is what they want. They just want some clarity at the key phases. From listening to the debate at the weekend, I do not think that anybody is arguing about GCSEs at 16. I think that 11 is a key phase and that some information is necessary. I think it absolutely wrong to distort the time spent in school with teaching to those tests. Reducing that is a laudable aim, but there must be some clarity about children's performance.

  Q344  Chairman: The Department has told this Committee that schools can still administer the tests and that it will still supply the tests, even at Key Stage 3, if schools want to do them. What is wrong with this range of tests being set nationally, run by schools and marked locally? That is not very bureaucratic is it?

  Christine Gilbert: It depends what moderation there is. When I was a history examiner, I spent many hours in meetings trying to establish what different grades were, and so on. Some of those meetings were on Saturdays, I have to say. But those days have gone. The time spent out of school on some form of moderation depends on the level. I am sure alternatives could be found, but something at 11 is important. Some clarity is needed about what it is, but it should be nothing too complicated.

  Q345  Mr Chaytor: In terms of the importance of the key stages, the Key Stage 3 tests have been done away with, with no controversy whatsoever. But is not Key Stage 3 arguably as important as Key Stage 2—and probably more important than Key Stage 4, in the context of the establishment of the diplomas and the extension of the participation age to 18? Has the age of 16 become almost irrelevant? The age of 14 will be the key point at which the curriculum diversifies.

  Christine Gilbert: I think the Chairman said in passing that most schools were going to continue with Key Stage 3 tests. My impression was that a lot of them were going to carry on with them this year. I do not have any substantial evidence to back that up, other than anecdotes heard on my visits round the country. But schools will put in place systems for assessing pupils and their progress—good schools have them in place now—not just once a year, but regularly. That is one of the things that has happened over the last few years. Schools have got ever better at doing that. So schools will have in place systems to tell them how children are making progress; they will not just be waiting from 11 to 16.

  Q346  Mr Chaytor: Again, in terms of the importance of the key stage, as a parent, although my children are long out of school, I understand the importance of parents having accurate information. But surely that applies every year. There is no point suddenly getting a grade for your kid at 11, if it comes as a complete shock because you did not know what was happening at 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. So is there not a powerful argument for having better assessment and information for parents in each year the child is in school, rather than a single, big-bang, high-stakes test result that labels the child at one particular stage?

  Christine Gilbert: I can completely support parents having regular information in the way that you have described. It is helpful to have a national check on that. Teachers are assessing children and they sometimes are surprised by the external results. Sometimes there is a drift upwards with marks. When I was a director of education years ago, when the Key Stage 1 teacher assessment was introduced, the results went down, because the teachers were tougher than the external ones. It is important to establish some national feel for what is going on. But what you are saying about regular information is crucial to parents.

  Q347  Chairman: I want to turn to Edward now, but before I do I want to ask whether you have a lot to do with the school improvement partners.

  Christine Gilbert: We do not have much to do with them. We are currently doing a survey, which will be—

  Q348  Chairman: But you have a lot of knowledge of the field, Chief Inspector. Are these SIPs, which we have heard in this Committee can cost us up to £1,000 a day, supplied by the same people from whom you get your inspectors? Are the school improvement partners coming from the same source?

  Christine Gilbert: My understanding is that they are employed by local authorities.

  Q349  Chairman: Where do the local authorities get them from? Where do they come from?

  Christine Gilbert: I think they get them from different places. A number of serving head teachers are SIPs.

  Q350  Chairman: They do it on a school-to-school basis—they don't go to CfBT?

  Christine Gilbert: They might well do. I really don't know.

  Chairman: If you don't know, Chief Inspector, that is fine. I'm not trying to build up a conspiracy theory, I'm just trying to track where we get this expertise from. It always seems to be leading in one or two directions.

  Q351  Mr Timpson: Chief Inspector, earlier you touched on self-evaluation in the inspection process and how it helps inform the inspection from the outset, being a good base and good grounding from which to move up. But you also said that the self-evaluation form is important and then corrected yourself—qualified it, should I say—and said that self-evaluation is important. I accept that that may have been a slip of the tongue, but is that not one of the problems with the current emphasis on the self-evaluation formula? Although it is only guidance, and it is not mandatory, there is a fear among a lot of schools that are often nervous about an Ofsted inspection, so they are reluctant to go outside the self-evaluation formula and look at other forms of self-evaluation which ultimately might not only portray the school in a more correct light, but make it feel that it is more engaged in the process.

  Christine Gilbert: It was a deliberate correction. I had realised what I had said. The form itself is not a process of self-evaluation. The form is the outcome of the process of self-evaluation. There are two things. First, heads are positive about its impact. About 95% fill it in and, as I have said, they do not have to do so. I think that it would be a brave decision not to fill it in, and about 95% do. Schools have got outstanding without having filled it in. Actually, the external evaluations tell us that more than 90% of heads think that it is a really valuable thing to have done. We have had various things. A survey by York Consulting also said that heads were really positive about it. At the same time, head teachers complain to me about the size of the form when I have been talking to people at conferences. They say that it has got so big and unwieldy that they are finding it difficult. We have therefore been piloting a much shorter form— section A, the first part of the form—to encourage greater focus on evaluation rather than just pouring everything in. It is not so much the form that is important, but it helps the debate and gives the inspector something concrete to talk to the school about to see if it is aware of its strengths and weaknesses. The process would have been gone through, such as the engagement of governors, the engagement of staff and the engagement of key partners, children and so on.

  Q352  Mr Timpson: I will come on to the engagement of governors and parents in a moment. Will the self-evaluation review that you are now undertaking form part of the new inspection regime in September? Can we expect to see a streamlined self-evaluation form?

  Christine Gilbert: Yes. We have streamlined it and the pilot schools tell us that it is infinitely better. The pilot schools have been very positive indeed. I have not read anything that was negative about the evaluations that have been made so far.

  Q353  Chairman: Are you sure, Miriam? Were you nodding?

  Miriam Rosen: Yes, the heads are enthusiastic about the new streamline SEF. Instead of having lots of prompts that are integral to it, there will be a help button and guidance notes that they can look at to help them fill it in. It will not appear to be such a big and intimidating form, and that has gone down very well.

  Christine Gilbert: We are just about to put the draft on the web. As I have been talking about it up and down the country, I can see the anxiety and concerns of the heads. Although they think that the current one is too long, they are also nervous about moving to a new one in September, so we are just about to put a draft on the web.

  Q354  Mr Timpson: Is it the intention that past concerns about the self-evaluation forms preventing meaningful self-evaluation involving and engaging parents, governors and teachers will be addressed by the new form, to give schools more confidence to go through a meaningful self-evaluation rather than just filling in the form?

  Christine Gilbert: The criticism about it not being meaningful hasn't been made to me. I don't know if it has been made to Miriam. It has not really emerged.

  Chairman: They are all frightened of you, Chief Inspector. They wouldn't dare say something.

  Christine Gilbert: I don't think that they are. They do say various things up and down the country. I don't think that they would be nervous. I always say that they don't need to give me their name or the name of the school when making their comment. That would have come through as a complaint. They said that it had got too long and too unwieldy. We don't insist that they complete it all—they don't have to. I don't think that filling in the form is going through a process of self-evaluation. You have to go through the process and then fill in the form after the process. It is all part of going through the process. Heads update the form regularly; they use it as a working document over the course of the year.

  Q355  Mr Timpson: I am conscious of the time. Let us move on to the involvement of others in the inspection process and what weight you give to their views. First, let us look at governance. I hope you will confirm in your answer that under the new inspection regime that will come into universal use at the beginning of the school year, the views of governors will be given sufficient weight in the inspection process. The governors must be happy that their views have been given the weight that they deserve.

  Christine Gilbert: We are concerned to ensure that governors feel engaged. One of the negative aspects of no-notice inspection has been the difficulty of engaging governors. At the moment, if there are two days' notice, the inspector phones the head and the head is asked to tell the governor—by that I mean the chair of governors or another representative—who might be at work, unavailable and so on. We are thinking hard about that. It is important to us that governors are very involved. We expect the governors as a body to feel engaged in the production of the self-evaluation form, and we would ask about that.

  Q356  Mr Timpson: Finally, can I ask about parents. We will all have come across parents who want to be active in the school and have their say about how it is run, the quality of the teaching and so on. However, there are also some parents who, for whatever reason, find it difficult to engage with the school, particularly those who find it generally difficult to engage with teachers and those in positions of responsibility. We now have the section 5 inspection regime and questionnaires for parents to fill in. There is a concern among some that those questionnaires make those people who find it difficult to engage with the school even more likely to disengage. That could be because they have their own problems with literacy, an aversion to forms, or whatever else. Often, they are people who have children with a vulnerability over and above what one would normally expect. Do you accept that proposition? What can be done to ensure that those types of parents get more involved in the inspection process and in providing information?

  Christine Gilbert: One of the things that has happened in the pilots has been a number of meetings with focus groups of parents to see how they could be engaged more easily. The percentage of those filling in the forms is still too low. That has been under active discussion during the pilots, but we have not come up with any proposals yet. One of the things that is different is that we will be asking schools about how they engage parents and pupils and what they are doing in that area. One of the first questions I was asked was about what I saw our key purpose as being. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 says that we have to regulate and inspect to ensure that users are engaged in the settings that we are inspecting. We want to ensure that parents are properly engaged in the life of the school—not only on the day of the inspection—and we want to know how the school is doing that. Schools might do that in different areas, contexts and so on. That is a difference in what will be taking place.

  Chairman: Graham, a quick question on this before we move on.

  Q357  Mr Stuart: You mentioned that test data and parental dissatisfaction act as prompts to go in and inspect a school. What other data do you have at national level to help to identify schools? Please be specific.

  Christine Gilbert: Miriam will pick up on points about this. We look specifically at the last inspection grade and at what any surveys that have taken place say about the school. We look at attendance—and I think we mentioned exclusions although I am not sure if that went in. We look at test results, parent and pupil satisfaction and perceptions of what is going on in the school.

  Miriam Rosen: We are looking at, for example, whether there has been a change of head teacher, because we know that a change of head teacher is a factor that can precipitate a school going into special measures. Sometimes it could be that a new head teacher has just taken over and is moving the school up and out, but we are looking at whether we can capture data like that as well.

  Q358  Mr Stuart: You have not mentioned local authorities.

  Miriam Rosen: Yes, we are in discussion with the Association of Directors of Children's Services about whether it could give an indication of the local authority's view of the school, which could also be an indicator.

  Q359  Mr Stuart: You do not formally have plans to ensure that you collect that at the moment.

  Miriam Rosen: We can have access to the school improvement partners' report when we go into the school, but we do not at the moment have it in advance of going in. The SIP report should give the local authority's view of the school.

  Chairman: It is not a question, but we got the feeling in an earlier evidence session that governors and parents seemed to think they had been rather sidelined. John, we shall have a quick look at school report cards to finish the session.

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