The role and peformance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents


With one in three people in England using the services which it inspects or regulates, Ofsted is a major entity in the English education and children's care systems today. It has grown substantially since its creation in the early 1990s and is now responsible for inspection of maintained schools, some independent schools, childminders, children's services and social care, children's centres, adoption and fostering agencies, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), further education, initial teacher training, adult skills, and prison learning.

Ofsted has grown too big to discharge its functions as efficiently as smaller, more focussed and specialist organisations might. At the heart of our report, therefore, is the recommendation that Ofsted should be divided into two new organisations—the Inspectorate for Education and the Inspectorate for Children's Care—which we consider will make a marked difference to the value of inspection in this country.

At the same time, we believe that inspection itself needs to be more clearly defined. From inspectors, practitioners and parents, there is clear confusion as to whether the existing Ofsted is a regulatory and inspection body, or an improvement agency. We agree with the Government that education and care inspection require different approaches, and we recommend that the new inspectorates establish these with clarity early in their existence. Crucially, that clarity needs to be clearly articulated for the benefit of the wider public as well as inspectors themselves. We do believe that inspection has an important role to play in improving young people's life chances, but we agree with the Government that—for schools inspection—this should increasingly focus on the worse-performing institutions.

We maintain that the new inspectorates should, like Ofsted, be independent of the Department for Education, but we share some witnesses' concerns that the Department may not be making best use of inspection information. For that reason, we recommend the Government considers creating two new positions within the DfE—the Chief Education Officer and the Chief Children's Care Officer—who would be seasoned front-line practitioners working alongside the Chief Inspectors to ensure that policy is informed by evidence and by recent and relevant experience of schools through a method other than consultation.

With a remit as broad as Ofsted's, communication is key, and we believe there is more the inspectorate could do to ensure a positive online experience for visitors to its website. Similarly, although many inspection reports are already well-written and balanced, we believe they could be more parent-friendly and at the same time contain a greater depth of intelligence useful to practitioners. Clearly, reports need to be published on time, which it seems is not consistently the case. Furthermore, we recommend that Ofsted does more to engage parents, young people and learners throughout the inspection process, as well as improving contact with school governors.

Ofsted's savings programme to date has been significant and we were reassured by the further plans outlined by the Chief Inspector, and by the financial data which is accessible to the public. The same accessibility is not true, however, concerning the contracts with and performance of the three companies who undertake inspection on Ofsted's behalf, and we recommend greater transparency in that arena. This, we feel, would aid greater public confidence in the inspectorate, as would greater specialist knowledge on any future non-executive Board.

We agree with the witnesses who told us that there are many excellent inspectors. However, too few of these have recent and relevant experience of the types of settings they inspect, which diminishes the organisation's credibility. Our report recommends that more is done to ensure that inspectors can develop their skills and experience at the front line, but also that more practitioners are seconded into Ofsted, perhaps with such secondments built into senior local authority and school leaders' job descriptions.

We are not convinced that there is a definite or systemic difference in quality between Her Majesty's Inspectors and Additional (contracted) Inspectors. However, we do believe that greater transparency over the provenance of inspectors would aid their credibility with the front line.

We are convinced that unannounced inspections are the preferable model, and we recommend that this becomes the norm as far as possible, whilst recognising that there are certain barriers to this. Perhaps a more urgent area for reform is the Voluntary Childcare Register, the current operation of which is misleading to parents.

Our report is more positive, however, about the direction of schools inspection laid out by the new Government. Urgent articulation is needed by the Department for Education on what its plans are for the remainder of Ofsted's current remit, as the new Government's current inspection policy has focussed almost entirely on schools. We support the cessation of inspection for outstanding schools, as well as the new "stuck" grade for persistently satisfactory schools. We also welcome the new, streamlined, proposed framework for schools inspections, although we would similarly welcome greater clarity on what the four categories might include. We believe that, once the new framework is in place, there will be no call for limiting judgments, and these should therefore be abandoned.

The less teachers are constrained by bureaucracy, the better. However, the inspectorate should continue to provide a school self-evaluation form (which we agree should be non-compulsory), as well as guidance, so that heads and governors can use this model if they choose. Finally, we welcome reassurances that the new framework will look at progression as well as raw attainment, and we think it is essential that the Inspectorate prioritises its reporting on efforts made for, and progress made by, pupils across the full range of ability groups. The Department should give these measures prominence comparable to other key measures such as 'five good GCSEs' and the new English Baccalaureate.

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