- Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-489)


8 JULY 2009

  Q480 Mr Chaytor: How many types will the Department list?

  Jon Coles: I suppose the main categories will be community school, foundation school, voluntary controlled school, voluntary aided school and academy.

  Q481 Mr Chaytor: But here it is defined by its admissions policy, rather than by its legal status.

  Jon Coles: I am sorry, but I do not have the details because the Minister has taken the copy of the card I had in front on me, so I will check how that looks on the card. [Interruption.] Thank you for giving me your copy, Graham.

  Chairman: What a gentleman.

  Jon Coles: This is simply the data that would be produced in the tables as they are now, so it would be just as we now identify selective schools, comprehensive schools and other schools.

  Q482 Mr Chaytor: So it will be exactly as it is on the card?

  Jon Coles: This is just the same as in the achievement and attainment tables.

  Q483 Mr Chaytor: So a school that selects 10 % by aptitude in languages, music or maths and science will still be described as comprehensive?

  Jon Coles: As in the tables at the moment.

  Chairman: You get the last question, Graham, for being such a sterling fellow and giving that information to Jon.

  Mr Stuart: Teacher's pet. I shall have to send a note of congratulations to the Chairman more often during meetings, because it is obviously a fruitful course to follow.

  Jon Coles: I wonder if that would work for me.

  Q484 Mr Stuart: As too often with my questions, this will probably sound more like a statement than a question. Going back to the Chairman's remarks earlier, Ofsted is supposed to be an independent inspector, and the report card is, arguably, a useful tool for accountability—there is some evidence to suggest that—so why couldn't the Department just let it alone? Why couldn't the Department say, "Dear independent inspector, whom we will try not to meet too often because the very act of meeting you will affect you too much and stop your independence happening. Here's an idea. Have you thought of looking at it? Love, respectfully and from far away, the Department"? Instead, you are forcing its logo on here and on the draft document. It utterly looks as though you are trampling all over the central, core function of Ofsted. It says on page 5, "our intention is that the indicators that underpin the school report card will form the core of the process of risk assessment that Ofsted will use to select schools for inspection". Who wrote that?

  Jon Coles: That is Ofsted. This is not us forcing Ofsted's logo on to the document; this is genuinely a joint document.

  Q485 Mr Stuart: But there is no choice, because you are trampling all over the area of its core competence. What if it did not get on board? When we had Christine Gilbert here, she sounded very distant from it, and I have got a letter back from the Secretary of State protesting again and again how closely we are now working with Ofsted; I thought, "I bet you are." It does not feel very independent.

  Jon Coles: I think it is quite important for schools in the system—talking about the impact on schools—to see a single, unified accountability system and that, as far as possible, they are not subject to two totally different accountability processes. Therefore, in looking at how we will move on and get beyond our current achievements and attainment tables, and produce something that is a more effective way of holding people to account using all that data, there seemed, I think, to both us and Ofsted, a benefit in having that as an integrated system where this could work for Ofsted. If at any stage Ofsted takes the view that this report card will not work as the core of its risk assessment process, it will decide not to use it. That is the nature of its independence.

  Q486  Mr Stuart: But the Government can trample on anyone's independence if they want to. The only way independence works is if Government resist and recognise the territory that they must not occupy. You have invaded that territory. You say that Ofsted can say, "We are not going to participate," but there you are with your report card which you are driving through—it will look foolish if it does not work with the card, so it has no choice. A body like Ofsted is not going to come here and shout from the rooftops that the Government's doing things to it—it never, ever does; it just suffers in silence while its independence is eroded. That is not because the people there are bad; it's because you are careless of their independence.

  Jon Coles: I think we take great care of that independence and do, in the way that we work with Ofsted, seek to make sure always that we respect its independence. Actually, the chief inspector does have the option of saying in public that this is not the right thing to do, or that, although it might be fine for the Department to do it, Ofsted does not wish to take part in it. That is entirely within the gift of the chief inspector, and she does have that level of independence. In working together to design this, we have been seeking to make it the best quality product to hold schools to account in the best quality way.[3]

  Q487  Mr Stuart: Why couldn't Ofsted do it by itself? To go back to my original question—I am sorry I have taken so long—why couldn't you just have said, "Ofsted, it's for you to do, and we're staying out of it"? Couldn't Ofsted have done all this without having worked jointly and closely together to develop the school report, and so fulfil its role?

  Jon Coles: The current position is, of course, that we produce the achievement and attainment tables. We do that because the data are our data, rather than Ofsted's. Those data are at the heart of the school report card, so if one party was to do it independently, it would probably have to be us, simply producing the school report card. It seemed to us, and it seemed to Ofsted as well, that there would be advantage in making this work for different purposes if possible. That is the basis on which we have done it. I completely recognise that it is absolutely vital that it doesn't look like we are compromising Ofsted's independence.

  Q488 Chairman: Jon, if you were sitting doing a report card on the various quangos that exist around the education sector, where would you put, out of 10, the independence of Ofsted?

  Jon Coles: Sorry?

  Chairman: How independent is Ofsted?

  Jon Coles: Completely independent—10 out of 10 independent.

  Q489 Chairman: How independent was or is the QCA?

  Jon Coles: Significantly less than that. Ofqual is being established to be as independent as Ofsted is, and the QCDA will be much more a delivery agency of government. That is a distinction that has been very specifically made.

  Chairman: Thank you for your attendance, Jon. You were all on your own at the end, but we have very much valued your attendance.

3   See Ev 214 Back

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