- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families

  1.  The Department for Children, Schools and Families is pleased to submit this written evidence to the Select Committee for its inquiry into school accountability. As the Select Committee is aware, in December 2008 DCSF launched two consultation documents, on 21st Century Schools and on the School Report Card. Both consultations will run until 3 March 2009, and both raise some important questions about the current school accountability system.

2.  We believe that accountability is a positive good, not a necessary evil. We believe that it is fundamentally important that everyone involved in public service, in the expenditure of taxpayers' money and especially in the education of our children and young people should be publicly accountable for the results that they achieve. We believe that an accountability system can be a crucial driver of improvement, both in strengthening incentives on public servants and in providing information to enable them to improve. It is central to any case for sustaining or increasing public investment that the public should be able to see the results of investment so far. We also believe it is vital that schools should be accountable to parents, so that all parents can access clear information in order to compare different schools, to choose the right school for their child and then to track their child's progress.

3.  We believe that the current school accountability system plays an effective role in raising standards, enabling schools to drive their own improvement, identifying excellent performance and underperformance, keeping parents informed and ensuring resources are directed to where they are most needed. However, the development of the new School Report Card also offers us an opportunity to consider how we might further improve the accountability framework as a whole. We are currently exploring several aspects of school accountability on which we will offer more detailed proposals in our 21st Century Schools White Paper later this year. In particular, we want to ensure that the school accountability framework gives a rounded picture of each school's overall performance, including the progress of every child, the effectiveness of the school in raising the achievement of the least advantaged and the school's contribution to all five ECM outcomes. We are also considering how to improve accountability for partnership working and to recognise schools' support for the wider community, for example their contribution to the outcomes of children not on their own school roll.

4.  As we consider these areas, we will be taking into account the results of our written consultations and also contributions from parents, school leaders, teachers, social partners and a range of other stakeholders at a series of regional and national consultation events we are holding both on 21st Century Schools and on the School Report Card. We also look forward to the Select Committee Inquiry which we will take very seriously as we prepare for the publication of our White Paper later this year.



Is it right in principle that schools should be held publicly accountable for their performance?

What should be the fundamental purposes of an accountability system for schools and, in particular: to whom; for what; how; and what should be the consequences?

5.  It is vital that schools should be held publicly accountable for their performance as providers of a public service. Schools play an important role in determining children's future life chances, and it is right that they should be accountable to the public for the quality of the services delivered to children and young people, and specifically that individual schools should be accountable to those parents and pupils whom they directly serve. Schools should also be accountable to taxpayers for the significant public investment which is made annually in the school system (over £35 billion in 2008-09). Well-designed accountability systems are a key driver for improving the quality of services, and in the schools system accountability measures are used to identify individual schools' needs and to target resources where they are most needed through the provision of school improvement support eg via the National Strategies. At a system-wide level, accountability structures facilitate the sharing of good practice and shape policy development, for example through government responding to Ofsted's findings relating to national trends.

To whom should schools be accountable?

6.  Fundamentally, schools should be accountable to parents, to pupils and to taxpayers. Public reporting of results and inspection by Ofsted, the independent inspectorate, are central elements of the accountability system and local government has a key role as an agent of pupils, parents and taxpayers in performance management and in intervening where necessary. School Improvement Partners play an important role in setting targets and in performance managing head teachers. This local process is then overseen by central government. Academies are directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families through contractual commitments in their Funding Agreement.

For what should schools be accountable?

7.  Schools should be accountable for the academic attainment of their pupils; their pupils' progression and participation; narrowing gaps in achievement between different groups of pupils; and for their contribution to pupils' wider outcomes. Recent proposals for the School Report Card aim to ensure that schools, parents and the public all have a shared understanding of what schools are expected to deliver. Schools are also accountable for making information available to all their pupils' parents about their policies on behaviour, SEN and admissions. Each LA maintained school is required to publish a prospectus containing information on their policies in these areas, and DCSF is currently reviewing the content and process around the school prospectus in order to further encourage parental engagement with their children's school.

8.  In addition to being accountable to parents for making this type of school-level information available, schools are also accountable to individual pupils and parents for the performance and outcomes of each pupil. This includes the statutory requirements on LA maintained schools to report to parents at the end of year. DCSF Ministers committed in January 2008 to introduce more regular reporting online on pupils' attendance, behaviour, SEN, achievement and attainment, and DCSF is also currently reviewing school reporting regulations. Every LA maintained school is also required to have a Home School Agreement, in which commitments are made by the school to parents, and by parents to the school, although parents are not required to sign this document. DCSF is currently reviewing the process and content around home school agreements.

9.  In order for schools to be held accountable to the public and to parents, it is important that performance data is publicly available. It should be accessible to everyone, and presented in an understandable format, both for the general public to understand the quality of education provision in their area and to assist parents in making school choices. One of the aims of the School Report Card is to simplify the presentation of performance data and make it more accessible.

How should schools be held to account?

10.  The Government set out a framework for school accountability in the New Relationship with Schools (NRwS), as one of eight key school reforms in the Government's Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners in 2004. The principles of the NRwS included:

    — Schools themselves being at the heart of the system.

    — A greater emphasis on school self-evaluation.

    — A shorter and sharper Ofsted inspection regime.

    — Schools produce a single school plan, informed by a smaller number of DCSF desired outcomes than previously.

    — The introduction of a School Improvement Partner for each school, who holds a "single conversation" with the school about its development priorities, targets and support needs.

    — A new School Profile, capturing for parents a balanced assessment of each school's ethos, characteristics, performance and improvement priorities, to replace the Governors' Annual Report.

11.  The proposed School Report Card will sit within this existing framework rather than replacing or competing with it. However, we have proposed in our consultation that the School Report Card should replace the School Profile; we will await the outcome of the consultation before making this decision. The 21st Century Schools White Paper will set out our plans for how the various elements of the accountability framework will complement one another.

12.  The School Report Card will complement Ofsted inspection reports by providing a more regular assessment of performance, and forming the core of the automated element of inspection assessment used by Ofsted to select schools for inspection. The School Improvement Partner will use the School Report Card alongside self-evaluation to identify and discuss areas of strength and development with school. This discussion will inform the school improvement steps required, which are then agreed and set out in a single School Improvement Plan. Schools with post-16 provision will be held to account for their post-16 provision through the Framework for Excellence, an independent, quantitative assessment of performance in the post-16 phase.

What should be the consequences of school accountability?

13.  All schools should be constantly seeking to improve further and taking their own action in response to their own self-evaluation and through discussions with their School Improvement Partner. Local authorities have a role to play in supporting all their schools. Where LA maintained schools' outcomes or inspection reports are not judged to be satisfactory, the LA role includes supporting and challenging the schools, including through the School Improvement Partner, and through other proportionate intervention as appropriate. Where schools need more significant support, it is sometimes appropriate for central government to intervene more directly and work more closely with local authorities to help them support and challenge their schools, for example through the National Challenge programme.

How do other countries hold their schools accountable for their performance and against what criteria?

14.  The OECD's Education at a Glance 2008 (OECD, 2008) reports on evaluation and accountability arrangements in the 30 OECD countries and in six partner countries. The focus is on lower secondary state schools, ie the equivalent of up to Year 9 in English schools.

15.  In these countries, the main mechanisms for school accountability are: student performance assessments (analogous to our national curriculum tests); student examinations (analogous to GCSEs); school self-evaluations; and external evaluations or inspections of schools. About half of OECD countries require either self-evaluations and/or inspections by an external body. About two-thirds of OECD countries undertake student examinations and/or assessments at the lower secondary level. In OECD countries, school evaluation and student performance measures are mainly used to provide performance feedback to schools. In general, they have little influence on school financing, rewards or sanctions. The PISA 2006 international report indicates a positive relationship between attainment and public availability of performance data:

    "Students in schools posting their results publicly performed 14.7 score points better than students in schools that did not, and this association remained positive even after the demographic and socio-economic background of students and schools is accounted for". (PISA 2006 international report, p 243)

16.  Further evidence on how other countries hold their schools accountable for their performance is available from a recent study on Accountability and children's outcomes in high-performing education systems (C Husbands, A Shreeve & N R Jones, EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2008). The study confirms the widespread use of outcome indicators for accountability purposes, although the nature and purposes of these functions varied markedly between systems.

Is the current accountability system of inspection and performance reporting for schools broadly fit for purpose?

How should schools be held accountable for their performance in the context of increasing collaboration in education provision?

17.  The principles of school self-evaluation, light-touch Ofsted inspection and the School Improvement Partner, established through the New Relationship with Schools, have been widely welcomed and have supported schools in taking ownership of their own improvement. The accountability system is flexible in allowing central government to shift priorities and respond both to individual school needs and to emerging national policy, for example through the introduction of progression targets and deprivation targets. The current accountability framework does not only take account of hard data, but also of valuable qualitative information through self-evaluation and Ofsted inspection.

18.  However, we believe that there is scope to strengthen and sharpen further the accountability system, and we will be setting out our proposals on this in the 21st Century Schools White Paper, including more detailed proposals for the School Report Card. We want to ensure that the accountability system reflects what we expect of the school system, drives ongoing school improvement, and recognises all the achievements a school makes.

19.  In the 21st Century Schools consultation document, we set out a number of areas where the accountability framework needs to continue to evolve in order to keep pace with current practice and priorities. We want to enhance accountability where schools are increasingly working in partnership. In the White Paper we will give a clear account of to whom schools are accountable, what they will and will not be held accountable for, how they will be held to account and the consequences of both excellent and poor performance. We want to look at how school are recognised for supporting the wider community, for example their contribution to the outcomes of children not on their own school roll. We are also exploring further the implications of raising the participation age and ensuring schools are held to account for the participation and attainment of all their students, and ensuring there is a coherent and consistent accountability framework.



Is an independent inspectorate an appropriate mechanism for holding schools to account?

20.  Yes, it is an important mechanism. As an independent inspectorate, Ofsted is not the only mechanism for holding schools to account, but it is an important part of the school accountability framework. The introduction of Ofsted in 1992 signalled the replacement of the previous inspection arrangements, which were perceived as too cosy, with a level of independence and objectivity which is valued by schools, parents and others. Ofsted inspection provides external validation and challenge, the value of which is derived from the inspectors' independence. As inspectors work to national frameworks and standards which are publicly available, schools know how they will be judged. Inspection is also an important mechanism for identifying any issues faced by vulnerable or small groups of children, which tend to be lost in aggregate school level data.

What is the impact of the inspection process on school performance, including confidence, creativity and innovation?

21.  The impact of inspection is regularly subject to evaluation not just by Ofsted but also externally, for example by the National Foundation for Educational Research and MORI. 96% of headteacher respondents believed that inspection would move the school forward. 81% believe the positives outweigh the negative aspects. This evidence is based on 2,000 responses to the Ofsted School Inspection Survey received in the first half of 2008; these are surveys which every school is invited to complete following inspection.

22.  In 2007, an independent external evaluation of the impact of Section 5 inspections, as perceived by schools, was commissioned by Ofsted and carried out by a team at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) (Evaluation of the Impact of Section 5 Inspections, McCrone, T, Rudd, P, Blenkinsop, S, Wade, P, Rutt, S & Yeshanew, T. NfER, 2007). In this evaluation, 84% of teacher respondents felt that inspections made a positive difference to the school, whilst 88% thought that inspections helped set new priorities for their school.

23.  In an Ipsos/MORI poll carried out in September 2008, 92% of parents said they were in favour of school inspection. In HMCI's Annual Report for 2007-08, Ofsted tells us that the schools judged outstanding by Ofsted embrace innovative and creative approaches to teaching, learning and wider pupil development.

Are inspectors appropriately qualified and trained to carry out inspections, particularly in the light of the need to report against Every Child Matters outcomes?

24.  The law requires the Chief Inspector to ensure that inspectors have such qualifications, experience and skills as are necessary to secure that she can perform her functions in an effective manner. Those functions include reporting the contribution made by schools to pupil well-being ie the five ECM outcomes. This has been a more challenging area for inspectors, because schools may have less control over some key measures, so that inspectors must make fine judgements as to the contribution of schools. Plans for new school level indicators for well-being should help to address this, and Ofsted will ensure that inspectors have the necessary skills to assess these. The combining of early years inspection with the rest of the school inspection system has also led to the need for additional training for school inspectors, because of the different approach to learning and development and its integration with children's welfare in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

25.  The Chief Inspector is required to publish details of the qualifications or experience or both that are to be required of non-HMI inspectors, the standards that these inspectors are to be required to meet and the skills that they are required to demonstrate. All non-HMI inspectors have to be supervised by HMI until they are deemed capable of inspecting to the required standard.

Is it appropriate for inspection reports to be placed in the public domain?

26.  Yes. It is very important that there should be full transparency. This builds confidence and ensures that parents, pupils and taxpayers have the information they need. One of the principles of inspection is the importance of gaining a user perspective. This is set out in the 2003 Office of Public Services Reform publication Inspecting for improvement: developing a customer focused approach. Seeking the views of pupils and parents but not sharing the findings with them would signal a return to "cosy professionalism". The Ofsted website is one of the most extensively used in the public sector and parents are one of the key users. Ofsted reports inform choice, provide assurance and trigger action or intervention where necessary.

How often should inspections be carried out and how long and detailed should these inspections be?

Has the introduction of a light-touch inspection regime for higher-performing schools been appropriate?

27.  Government principles of inspection state that inspection should: contribute to improvement; focus on outcomes; encourage and build on rigorous self-assessment by service leaders, and should be proportionate to risk. Over time inspectors should modify the extent of future inspection according to the quality of performance by the service providers. This principle is central to planned developments for school inspection, which also conform to the other principles.

28.  The frequency of inspection should be based in important part on the assessment of risk. Inspection should be targeted more frequently on institutions where there appears to be a risk of underperformance and where it can have most impact. The accountability arrangements need to evolve to reflect the maturity of the school system and the improvements that have been made.

29.  Inspections need to be sufficiently detailed to provide secure judgements and to provide useful information for parents, pupils and others, but should avoid placing undue burdens on schools. Lighter-touch inspections have been piloted over recent years, reflecting the principle of proportionality and helping to develop Ofsted's new risk assessment mechanisms.

Should inspections be tailored to the current performance levels of the specific school being inspected and, if so, to what extent?

30.  There needs to be some uniformity to enable a national picture but within the system, inspection needs to be flexible enough for inspectors to pursue particular trails to seek out strengths and weaknesses.

How much notice, if any, should a school receive of an upcoming inspection?

31.  We have consistently reduced the notice period in order to avoid the build-up of pressure on staff and unnecessary pre-inspection planning, and to enable inspectors to see more easily the normal day-to-day operation of the school. There can be benefits to a short period of notice: it enables parents and other stakeholders to contribute to the inspection event (eg through parental questionnaires and opportunities to speak to inspectors), and also enables schools to give a proper account of themselves. The law is designed for a system based on a period of notice, but it recognises that there is also a place for no-notice inspection within the system, for example where there are serious concerns about a school.

In the context of an inspection, what is the value of:

    the school's self-assessment;the results of national tests; and

    the school's contextual value added scores;

and how much weight should be attached to these elements in the inspection report?

In an inspection, how should emphasis be balanced between educational attainment and other aspects of a school's provision, such as the Every Child Matters outcomes?

32.  Self-evaluation empowers schools to assess their strengths and weakness and identify priorities for improvement. Self-evaluation evidence is a key indicator for judging provision and leadership. Performance data inform inspection judgements but do not determine judgements in a simplistic way. However, pupils' life chances are to a great extent determined by their attainment in school, so it is important that inspection takes account of this information. Value added data enable account to be taken of the progress of pupils in relation to their starting point, which is important for considering the impact that the school is having.

33.  A school's distinctive contribution is in excellent teaching and learning, ensuring that all children achieve. However, it also has a clear role in actively contributing to all aspects of a child's life—health and wellbeing, safety, and developing the wider experiences and skills that characterise a good childhood and set a young person up for success as an adult. This is not just because these outcomes are vital for a good childhood but also because educational attainment and other outcomes are mutually reinforcing and there is evidence to show that this is particularly relevant in the early years. For example, children and young people learn and thrive when they are healthy, safe and engaged; in turn, the evidence shows clearly that educational achievement is the most effective route out of poverty. It is therefore crucial that while maintaining a focus on educational attainment the inspection regime also holds schools accountable for its contribution to pupils' wider outcomes. The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile reflects some of these elements (such as social and emotional development) and the well-being indicators which DCSF and Ofsted are developing will also enable schools' contribution to wider outcomes to be better reflected.

What are the mechanisms for identifying schools that are underperforming and are those mechanisms adequate?

34.  Ofsted currently inspects maintained schools every three years. Inspectors review previous inspection reports, attainment and progression data and schools' self evaluation forms. In addition, they assess the quality of leadership and management (including governance), teaching and learning, behaviour, pupil development and the curriculum. They seek the views of parents and pupils as part of the inspection.

35.  The present Ofsted inspection framework is a key element in the school improvement process and plays an important role in the accountability of schools and local authorities. The shorter, sharper and more frequent inspections introduced in September 2005 have raised the bar on standards and the expectations on schools.

36.  The current inspection cycle comes to an end in August 2009 and Ofsted have consulted on proposals to further improve the process (A Focus on Improvement: Proposals for maintained school inspections from September 2009 (May 2008)). The main proposal is a move to a more flexible cycle in which schools judged "good" and "outstanding" in their previous inspection schools will be inspected at intervals of up to five or six years, with other schools continuing to be inspected at least every three years. However, every school will undergo an annual risk assessment to check on progress made which will determine the timing of the inspection. Those that are coasting, have inconsistent performance or are slipping will be identified quickly and inspected more frequently.

37.  DCSF monitors school and local authority performance. It looks at a variety of factors—Ofsted reports, pupil attainment and progression data, school and local authority targets, predictive pupil data and soft intelligence from, for example, colleagues in the National Strategies. This gives us the evidence base to monitor individual schools and authorities and develop new policy programmes eg National Challenge and the Coasting Schools strategy.

38.  Local Authorities have a role to play in supporting and challenging all of their schools. The new legal framework introduced in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 requires local authorities to be more proactive in preventing underperformance and to act more decisively when it occurs. We are challenging and supporting those local authorities with rising numbers of schools causing concern to use more sophisticated risk analysis to identify potential challenges and to prevent these by earlier use of warning notices and their own intervention powers eg applying to the Secretary of State for permission to replace a governing body with an Interim Executive Board.

39.  In addition, all Academies are directly supported and challenged by DCSF. This support and challenge is being intensified as part of the National Challenge for the relevant Academies, with the principles and key elements of the National Challenge programme applying to Academies in the same way as to other schools. The majority of Academies are making very good progress, despite starting from a much lower base than other schools.

40.  DCSF is also proposing to take a new legislative power to enable the Secretary of State to direct a local authority to consider the use of a formal warning notice when this would be clearly justified by the school's performance. This proposed power is included in the Fourth Session Bill which is currently before Parliament.

41.  The system as a whole is stronger at identifying underperformance in the area of standards than in wider well-being, but the development of new well-being indicators should help to address this. The annual Ofsted risk assessment will seek to spot deterioration, and in future there will be more emphasis on the performance of schools in the "satisfactory" category, and inspectors will spend more time in classrooms, assessing the quality of teaching and learning.

How effective has the classification of "schools causing concern" (special measures or improvement notice) been in supporting improved performance in the schools concerned?

42.  The Government does not want any school to fail which is why we expect local authorities to take preventative action in relation to such schools. However, when a school is placed in special measures or is required to make significant improvement (by being given "notice to improve"), that judgement is often a catalyst for making the changes that are required to improve the standard of education for the pupils. The quality of the leadership and management and teaching and learning are often key areas. In some instances a school may need to be closed or federated with another school. Others may be replaced by an Academy.

43.  Schools are now spending less time in special measures than previously. During the 2007-08 academic year, the average length of time which an individual school spent in the category was 18 months for primary schools and 20 months for secondaries. In 1997-98, the equivalent figures were 23 months for primary and 28 months for secondaries.

44.  In addition, Ofsted have published figures which confirm that, of the 1,694 schools placed in special measures between 1 April 1998 and 1 April 2008, only 42 (2.5%) have been placed into the category for a second time. The significant improvement (notice to improve) category has been successful in that over 90% of schools reinspected after 12-15 months have been removed from the category because they were once again providing a standard of education deemed to be at least satisfactory.

Have School Improvement Partners been of benefit to schools?

45.  The School Improvement Partner (SIP) was introduced as part of the New Relationship with Schools (NRwS) framework in January 2004, in order to streamline and improve the relationship between the Department, local authorities and schools. As part of the NRwS, a SIP was assigned to each school, to act as a "critical friend"; to conduct a "single conversation" with the school about its development priorities, targets and support needs; and to act as the conduit between central government, the LA and the school.

46.  Surveys of head teachers by the National Strategies indicate that 80-90% of heads think that their schools benefit from having SIPs. The same surveys indicate that around 90% of heads feel that SIPs have had a positive effect on their performance management and have resulted in them having sharper and more focused objectives than previously. A similar proportion feel the SIP process is more effective in challenge and support to schools than the previous system.

47.  The two-year independent evaluation of the New Relationship with Schools, which reported in summer 2008, concluded that the challenge and support provided through SIPs had supported the development of more evaluative and accountable school structures and culture, as well as the development of challenging but realistic targets.

48.  The same report found that 80% of secondary head teachers and 70% of primary head teachers agreed their SIP had been able to provide informed challenge to the school. Most head teachers agreed that reports produced by SIPs were of significant value to their schools. 60% of secondary heads agreed or strongly agreed that their SIP had supported them to raise standards of achievement.

49.  Most head teachers also agreed that SIPs had effectively identified their support needs. However, head teachers were less convinced that SIPs had effectively brokered the support to meet these needs. The National Strategies are currently working to make guidance clearer for SIPs so that they are more aware of the practical steps they can take to broker effective support. DCSF will also be exploring further the role of the SIP in the forthcoming White Paper on 21st Century Schools.

Is the current procedure for complaints about inspections adequate?

50.  DCSF believes that the current procedure for complaints about inspections is adequate. The proportion of inspections triggering complaints which lead to external adjudication is less than 0.1%. A new adjudication service provider has recently been appointed for Ofsted. Most complaints are raised by schools seeking to overturn judgements made about their own school. Any system which allowed a third party to overturn judgements would undermine the independence of the Chief Inspector.

How are local authority areas assessed and inspected?

51.  Arrangements for area level assessment and inspection are on the point of change. From April 2009, local authorities will be assessed and reported on through the new Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA), undertaken by six inspectorates including Ofsted. The inspectorates published their framework for CAA on 10 February. CAA will report each November. It will set out outcomes in the area, including for statutory early years and attainment targets and national indicators. It will assess councils as organisations. It will also assess how the council and its partners together contribute to improvements on priorities in the area, including assessing partnership working for example through Children's Trusts. The CAA report will comment on each ECM outcome.

52.  Ofsted will lead on the assessment of outcomes for children at area level, and the performance of the local authority on children's services. Ofsted published a document, on 10 February alongside the CAA framework, outlining how they will do this. Ofsted will produce a quarterly performance profile. This will summarise evidence from institutional inspections, including of schools, and from the National Indicator Set. Ofsted will also carry out annual unannounced visits of child protection services. This evidence, alongside other available material such as the Children and Young People's Plan, will be used to determine an annual performance rating of children's services, which will be reported in the CAA in November.

53.  A CAA report may include either red flags, signalling that particular key services or outcomes are not good enough and there is insufficient local capacity for improvement; or green flags, signalling outstanding performance. Inspectorates may decide to trigger an inspection where there is a red flag. So, where appropriate, there may for example be inspection of a local area's education services. There will be a programme of inspecting safeguarding and services—including education services—for looked after children, on a three yearly frequency. Evidence from inspections will be taken into account in the next annual CAA report.



54.  In December 2008, DCSF and Ofsted launched a joint consultation to start an ongoing discussion about the content, design and use of the School Report Card. At this early stage, we are consulting about the general principles that should govern the School Report Card. The consultation will run until 3 March 2009 and seeks the views of parents, carers and pupils; the wider community; headteachers, teachers, other school staff and their representatives; governing bodies; local authorities and other children's services; and other stakeholders.

55.  We believe there exists the opportunity to make the school accountability system stronger, sharper and better able to recognise the full range of each school's achievements. To make this possible each school's performance should be reported in a way which is clear, powerful, easily understood and easily used by school governors, parents and the public.

56.  Our intention is that the new School Report Card should be the means by which we achieve this. The School Report Card will set out the range of outcomes for which schools will be held to account, show the relative priority given to each outcome, and provide an indication of the degree of challenge faced by each school.

What aspects of a school's performance should be measured and how?

57.  The School Report Card consultation document recognises that a range of information on schools' performance is currently available, including the Achievement and Attainment Tables (AATs), Ofsted inspection reports, School Profiles and school prospectuses. However, these information sources do not always give a complete picture of a school's performance. The proposals in the consultation suggest that the current information should be retained but also supplemented to give a broader picture of a school's performance and development, and that there should be a transparent means of showing the relative weight of different measures.

58.  The document proposes the following categories (without prejudice) for consultation: attainment; pupil progress; wider outcomes; narrowing the gaps; parents' and pupils' views. In the coming months we will consider which indicators should contribute to the overall categories. These may include existing ones, eg academic outcomes currently included in the AATs, and others which do not currently contribute to AAT categories eg the progress of pupils over the course of each key stage, or the school's degree of success in raising the attainment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our intention is that schools with early years provision will be held to account through reflection of Early Years Foundation Stage Profile results in the School Report Card, and that schools with sixth-form provision will be held to account for that provision through the Framework for Excellence.

How should these performance measurements be reported and by whom?

To whom should this information be made available?

59.  It is expected that performance measurements will be reported in the School Report Card, which will be jointly owned by the DCSF and Ofsted. The consultation document states that an annual update of the School Report Card, in line with current annual publication of the Achievement and Attainment Tables, would be a viable option. However, it will also be necessary to ensure that the most recent Ofsted results are prominently reflected. The system will be web-based and the information will be publicly available at all times.

What is the effect of the current system of public performance reporting (Achievement and Attainment Tables www.dcsf.gov.uk/performancetables/, and the online School Profile schoolsfinder.direct.gov.uk) on a school's performance, including confidence, creativity and innovation?

60.  We believe that the current Achievement and Attainment Tables help to focus the debate on standards through the provision of hard information on achievements, thus strengthening the accountability of schools, colleges and local authorities. As described above in paragraph 15, international research (PISA 2006, OECD) showed there was a significant positive association between schools where achievement data were public and stronger results.

61.  Recent Ofsted Annual Reports have stated that, across schools in England, "in the overwhelming majority of schools, pupils' personal development and well being are at least satisfactory and in most they are good or outstanding"; and that "most schools are responding well to the ECM agenda. Schools ensure that most pupils enjoy their education. There are good opportunities to make a positive contribution to the life of the school and the wider community".

62.  However, we also believe that the current arrangements for reporting school performance and holding them to account could be improved. For example, while we do not believe that the existing AAT arrangements inhibit collaboration, they also do not incentivise it. And there is not a full focus on the progress of every child or on tackling disadvantage. The current consultation sets out the range and purpose of the current accountability regimes eg Achievement and Attainment Tables, Ofsted and the School Profile. We believe that there is an opportunity to make the school accountability system stronger, sharper and better able to recognise the full range of each school's achievements. This will only be possible if each school's performance is reported in a way which is clear, powerful, easily understood and easily used by school governors, parents and the public.

What is the impact on schools of league tables published by the press? How useful is this information to stakeholders, particularly parents?

63.  Tables published by the press provide a reliable and easily accessible source of comparative information, drawing on data published by government. The Government believes that it is vital to make this data on schools' performance publicly available. If the Government did not publish the data, it would be open to accusations of having something to hide. Under Freedom of Information legislation, the data currently published by the Government would in any case need to be provided to anyone requesting it, and in such circumstances and the press would be likely to publish and interpret the data as they saw fit.

64.  Research evidence indicates that parents find the tables useful, but that they use them sensibly and do not view them in isolation as the only measure of a school's performance. A study on Secondary School Admissions (Sheffield Hallam University and the National Centre for Social Research; Research Report No. DCSF—RR020, Jan 2008) indicates that tables were not the most influential factor in parents' choices. Parents can, and do, consider a range of information including inspection outcomes, seeking information from other parents, and making use of local intelligence.

65.  However, DCSF regularly reviews how we present and explain data, and we continue to explore alternatives. The data currently available is heavily weighted towards academic attainment and while data which places pupil and student attainment and progress into context—in particular, Contextualised Value Added—is published by the Government, it is typically not reported by the press, or given much lower prominence than "raw" attainment scores. In developing School Report Cards, the Government hopes to make sure that accountability arrangements are made sharper and more comprehensive.

What might a school report card usefully provide that is not covered by the current performance reporting system?

  66.  It is intended that there should be a simple, clear and accessible single source of performance information for all aspects of accountability. The consultation proposes that the School Report Card, with an overall score, should be the means by which we achieve this. It seeks to explore how the report card will complement rather than compete with Ofsted inspection reports and form the core of the process by which Ofsted selects schools for inspection. The School Report Card will underpin a school's dialogue with its School Improvement Partner and its governors. At the same time, the School Report Card will incorporate information currently presented in the Achievement and Attainment Tables, supplement it with other available information to provide a broader picture of each school's performance, and present it in a way that is fair, balanced, comprehensive and easily understood by parents and the general public. The School Report Card will also set out the range of outcomes for which schools will be held to account, show the relative priority given to each outcome, and provide an indication of the degree of challenge faced by each school.

67.  To achieve this, in addition to the categories proposed above (attainment; pupil progress; wider outcomes; narrowing the gaps; parents and pupils views) the consultation is proposing the inclusion in the School Report Card of the school's most recent Ofsted report outcomes; direction of travel; involvement in partnership working; and the quality of Early Years Foundation Stage and sixth form provision, as appropriate.

Are there any issues which the school report card should avoid or seek to inhibit?

  68.  One of the key underlying principles of using a range of indicators for each of a number of categories on the School Report Card is that it should avoid excessive focus on a single performance indicator, eg the 5 A*-C GCSE measure. In addition, we believe that all schools should have the same opportunity to achieve a top "rating" regardless of their individual circumstances. The detailed design work on the School Report Card will take place over a phased pilot period from September 2009 onwards, and careful attention will be paid during this phase to ensuring that the design minimises the possibility of creating perverse incentives.

Is the school report card potentially a sound basis for:

    informing parents;providing a set of prioritised outcomes for schools;

    providing a starting point for Ofsted inspection; and

    providing a management tool for government?

  69.  The consultation document on the School Report Card sets out the aims and advantages we envisage for it. Our aims are that:

  For parents, it will:

    — provide a clearer, more balanced and comprehensive account of each school's performance, which complements Ofsted's inspection reports;

    — inform parents' choice of school and improve schools' accountability to parents; and

    — provide information in a more easily understandable format, which is accessible to a wider audience.

  For schools it will:

    — provide a single, clear and prioritised set of outcomes against which schools will be judged by all parts of the system, with predictable consequences for both excellent or poor performance;

    — recognise the value of schools' work for all children and across all outcomes (but only hold schools to account for those outcomes they can influence); and

    — provide a balanced account of outcomes achieved and the degree of challenge faced by each school.

  For Ofsted:

    — Ofsted reports and the School Report Card will be complementary;

    — the School Report Card will support the school inspection process; and

    — School Report Card indicators may form the core of Ofsted's new risk assessment.

  For government it will:

    — provide a means of achieving the vision for 21st century schools; and

    — help to hold schools predictably and consistently to account for what is most important; and incentivise schools in the right way, and remove perverse incentives.

Could the school report card appropriately replace some Ofsted reporting?

  70.  We believe that the School Report Card should complement rather than compete with Ofsted inspection reports. Ofsted inspections include rich and detailed information which could not adequately be captured through the School Report Card. However, it is proposed that the School Report Card will form the core of the process by which Ofsted selects schools for inspection. As part of the new inspection arrangements to be introduced in September 2009, Ofsted intends to introduce an annual "risk assessment" for every school. Its purpose is to inform (but not determine) the selection of schools for inspection, by assessing the probability that a school, if inspected, would be judged good or outstanding.

71.  The consultation explores in principle whether and how the proposed indicators that will underpin the School Report Card should form the core of Ofsted's risk assessment. This would help to ensure that schools whose performance, as shown on their School Report Cards, was excellent might have their inspections deferred; while those whose performance caused concern would be likely to receive an early inspection. As well as performance data, however, Ofsted's risk assessment will also need to take account of further, qualitative information that it would not be appropriate or relevant to include in the School Report Card.

February 2009

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