The role and peformance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  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. As the state inspectorate in England for education, skills and children's services, its remit includes the scrutiny not just of schools, colleges and local authority children's services but also a wide range of other settings including children's homes, education on the secure estate, nurseries, adoption and fostering agencies, and adult learning establishments. By Ofsted's own reckoning, its work touches millions of people; indeed, it receives more than seven million hits to its website every month.[1]

2.  As a non-Ministerial Department, Ofsted has an Accounting Officer—Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Skills and Children's Services—who reports to Parliament on the organisation's work. Under the Chief Inspector, an executive board of seven directors is responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation, as well as for the delivery and development of inspection across Ofsted's broad remit. The Chief Inspector also sits on Ofsted's non-executive board, chaired by Baroness Morgan of Huyton, which sets Ofsted's strategic direction, targets and objectives, and ensures the Chief Inspector's functions are performed "efficiently and effectively".[2] The role of the Board is discussed in Chapter 3 of this report, and a basic organisation chart for Ofsted can be seen at Annex 3. Ofsted's own workforce numbers around 1,500, including around 400 Her Majesty's Inspectors. Around 2,700 Additional Inspectors are employed by the three Regional Inspection Service Providers who undertake inspections on Ofsted's behalf.[3] Their roles are discussed more in Chapters 3 and 4. In 2009-10, Ofsted's estimated total public spending was over £201m.[4]

3.  Perhaps inevitably for an organisation with the scope to touch so many lives, Ofsted is a source of much controversy. Despite the Government's recent abolition of several high-profile agencies and arms-length bodies—including the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) and the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA)—Ofsted has remained intact on the grounds that it is "performing a technical function which requires impartiality":[5] a sure sign of the Government's own regard for the role the inspectorate plays. Ofsted's own surveys emphasise how valued its work is by the public as well: the Chief Inspector told the Committee that "nine out of ten [responses] are very positive", based on the thousands submitted. Independent evaluations commissioned by Ofsted—for example by BMG Research—suggest similar figures.[6]

4.  By stark contrast, evidence from the teacher unions shows a very different picture regarding Ofsted's performance. For example, in a recent poll conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) of its members, almost a quarter of the 1,500 respondents described Ofsted's performance as inadequate; only three respondents called it "outstanding".[7] Similarly, Ofsted's children's care inspections have come in for considerable criticism, not least in the wake of the death of baby Peter Connelly.

5.  It is in the context of this enormous scope and influence that the Committee undertook its inquiry into the role and performance of Ofsted. Our terms of reference aimed to examine the very reasons for Ofsted's existence, its impact on improvement in the settings it scrutinises, the breadth of its remit, and its performance—at both strategic and operational levels. In light of the formation of the Coalition Government and its principles of professional and institutional autonomy, the terms of reference also called for evidence on Ofsted's role in inspecting a system with greater localised freedom, as well as on existing frameworks and inspection processes. Additionally, in Chapter 6, we consider key policies of the new Government relating to Ofsted, including its proposal for the new schools inspections framework.

6.  We received 120 written submissions from a spectrum of witnesses including parents, teachers, retired inspectors, local authorities, universities, Members of Parliament and unions, as well as from various settings inspected or regulated by Ofsted. The Committee then heard oral evidence from ten panels, where witnesses ranged from former Chief Inspectors to academics to front-line practitioners.[8]

7.  The Committee also advertised, via the Times Educational Supplement and online, for serving and retired inspectors to attend a seminar at the House of Commons, and was very pleased to receive 219 responses. Of these, twelve—representing the breadth of Ofsted's remit, as well as a good geographical spread—were selected to attend the seminar. All the other applicants were sent a questionnaire, and the 77 responses provided very useful information for the Committee's inquiry.[9]

8.  Finally, ever-keen to learn from international practice, five Committee members undertook an official visit to Finland, consistently ranked as one of the world's finest and fairest education systems despite its complete lack of formal centralised school inspection.[10]

9.  We are grateful to all witnesses for taking the time to contribute to this important inquiry—whether in writing or in person—and especially to those who travelled substantial distances to take part in panels in London. We are particularly grateful to Gerard Kelly, Editor of the Times Educational Supplement, for advertising our seminar; to Matthew Lodge, Her Majesty's Ambassador to Finland, and Mark Armstrong and Susanna Eskola at the British Embassy in Helsinki; and to officials at Ofsted and the Department for Education for their assistance and knowledge.

10.  Finally, special thanks are due to the Committee's standing advisers, Professor Alan Smithers and Professor Geoff Whitty, and to the specialist advisers for this inquiry: Dame Denise Platt and Dr David Moore CBE. The Committee has benefited greatly from their combined expertise.[11]

1   See Back

2   See  Back

3   These figures were provided by Ofsted staff for the purposes of this inquiry Back

4   Ofsted Resource Accounts 2009-10, HC 302, p. 72. See Chapter 3 of this report for further detail on Ofsted's savings targets Back

5   Explanatory Notes to the Public Bodies Bill, HL Bill 25-EN Back

6   See Q 396 Back

7   Ev 111 Back

8   A list of witnesses and written evidence received can be found at the back of this report Back

9   A note of views expressed at the seminar can be found at Annex 1. The questionnaires were conducted on a non-attributable basis and, therefore, comments quoted from those are not referenced Back

10   A note of the visit can be found at Annex 2 Back

11   Specialist Advisers have declared the following interests: Professor Geoff Whitty declared interests as Director of the Institute of Education and Trustee of the University of London, until 31 December 2010, and as Trustee of the IFS School of Finance; Dame Denise Platt declared interests as a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, as a Trustee of the NSPCC, as a Governor of the University of Bedfordshire, as a Trustee of the Adventure Capital Fund, as Chair of the National Aids Trust, as a member of the Independent Review Board Cheshire Fire and Rescue Services, and as a member of the Commission on Assisted Dying; she is also a former Chief Inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate and former Chair of the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Dame Denise took no part in the development of the NSPCC's evidence to this inquiry Back

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Prepared 17 April 2011