- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-384)


6 MAY 2009

  Q380  Chairman: You are the major accountability body in this country, are you not? Here is the suggestion that something else will come in to help with accountability and you seem to have been kept in the dark.

  Christine Gilbert: I don't think that discussions reached that point. I certainly have not been in discussions at that point. I had seen it as perfectly possible that the grade might be different because Ofsted is looking at things today and getting underneath what some of the data are suggesting. We will be looking at why things are as they are and how things could be improved. We have actually gone through two hours and not talked about that. One of the real virtues of Ofsted is the wisdom and the experience of inspectors and their ability to give clear advice about how you can make progress and so on. I would see that as an absolutely key bit of our role in school inspection.

  Q381  Mr Chaytor: But, given the wisdom and experience of inspectors and the importance of Ofsted's independence from government, does it not follow that Ofsted should be arguing very powerfully that it should have the final responsibility for allocating the grade on the report card?

  Christine Gilbert: Well, I will think about that one.

  Miriam Rosen: I think what we said is that report cards complement Ofsted's inspections.

  Mr Chaytor: They could contradict them.

  Miriam Rosen: They may well conflict—and Christine has explained that to you—because the report card is looking at data that is essentially looking backwards and the inspection is in real time. There may have been a change in the teaching in the school and a rapid decline would show up in the inspection grade, but that would not necessarily show up straightaway in the report card.

  Q382  Chairman: But Chief Inspector, you can see David's point. Here you are, the chief organ of accountability in the educational sector, and here is this new way of helping with accountability. You would think that you would have been much more intimately involved in the process of designing this new system.

  Christine Gilbert: I think there will be time for engagement and comment when the score card has reached a point—

  Mr Chaytor: The consultation period has ended. It ended at the beginning of March.

  Christine Gilbert: I think there is going to be more discussion about it.

  Q383  Chairman: But there is an implied criticism of what we have. The point you made is a good one, Chief Inspector: we have not discussed that very much. Evidence given to the Committee, when we have looked at accountability, says two things. First, Ofsted is very expensive, and there are certain aspects of its behaviour that we don't like. On the other hand, if you look at all the data, we are not sure that Ofsted does what it was originally set up to do 20 years ago, which is to improve standards in schools. That is the debate, isn't it? Isn't it the case that that dissatisfaction is sort of expressing itself through the Department in the idea of having something either as an alternative to or as well as Ofsted: the school report card.

  Christine Gilbert: I saw the report card as a way of being clearer, as I said, about the information that we hold in schools. I thought that the real dilemma and debate was about what key things you would put on that card. For me—along with the things that you might traditionally expect—the perception of parents is, for instance, absolutely crucial for getting a picture of what is going on in the school. We had been expecting to do our own—we did initially call it a report card or a health check—but we would not be doing both. It doesn't make sense to do both, so we felt comfortable working with what was emerging, as long as we could have some say in what was emerging. However, on the Chairman's remarks about what we think, it is not just a matter of what we think. In this area of our work—more than early years, social care and the FE sector—we have external surveys done and so on. Those surveys have given astonishingly high figures in relation to what heads and teachers—in the newest one that we have had done we asked teachers—think about inspection. They tell us how much inspection has contributed to improvement and how helpful it has been.

  Q384  Chairman: Can we have sight of that?

  Christine Gilbert: Absolutely. I would be delighted to send it to you.[12]

  Chairman: Chief inspector, it has been a very good session. We have learned a lot and we will go away and ponder more. I hope to see you again soon.

12   See Ev 138-39 Back

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