The role and peformance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

2  The role and remit of Ofsted

The breadth of Ofsted's remit

11.  Ofsted has been described as "the mergers and acquisitions giant of the education sector", and it is difficult to argue with that verdict.[12] Originally designed in the early 1990s as an inspectorate of schools and colleges, Ofsted has grown extensively and its remit now extends to inspection or regulation of, inter alia, 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.[13] That the current Chief Inspector's very job title has four more words in it than her original predecessor's once did is evidence in itself of the organisation's growth.[14]

12.  By Ofsted's own reckoning, this means that the inspectorate's work "touches the lives of millions of people in England every day."[15] In 2009-10, Ofsted conducted over 31,500 inspections, including of over 6,000 maintained schools, 2,000 children's homes, and 20,000 childcare and early years providers.[16]

13.  The previous Government set great store by the theory and practice of 'joined-up services', particularly with regard to young people, and Ofsted's expanded remit is one visible manifestation of that policy. It is clear to us that there are significant advantages of a single inspectorate, not least that Central Government then reflects front-line practice, as the Local Government Group told us:

We believe [a single inspectorate] is important because, on the ground, front-line services for children and young people are required to act in concert to ensure effective provision and outcomes.[17]

14.  Other witnesses argued that a single inspectorate across education and children's services can "ensure consistent standards and approaches to an issue"[18] and, at a less localised level, share "broadly similar aims".[19] Several organisations, particularly from the non-schools areas of Ofsted's remit, told us that they value the new, larger inspectorate. Kidsunlimited, for example, argued that Ofsted "has been a far more effective instrument for promoting improvement in Early Years and Childcare" than under previous arrangements.[20] Ofsted's own Trade Union Side acknowledged that "there have undoubtedly been problems in creating 'one Ofsted'" but that "the potential benefits to be had from sharing cross-remit expertise are apparent if not yet realised."[21] However, we also heard significant evidence that Ofsted is still seen as an inspectorate of education alone. Kate Groucutt, Policy Director at the Daycare Trust, said in oral evidence that "awareness that Ofsted inspects and regulates child care is very low",[22] and Robert Tapsfield—Chief Executive of the Fostering Network—agreed that "in the public's eye, I'm sure [Ofsted is] seen as a schools inspectorate".[23]

15.  Maurice Smith CB, a former Chief Inspector at Ofsted, rightly pointed out to the Committee that the arguments for or against Ofsted's remit depend on whether you "look at it through institutional eyes [or] through the child's eyes" because "the child doesn't just go to school; it goes to the doctor's, and it may end up in the social care system."[24] Whilst that argument is convincing, Lord Sutherland's rejoinder is perhaps more so—that "the things that affect a child's life are the whole context of the society in which they live... and you're into everything the minute you move from the institution."[25]

16.  Other witnesses argued, again with good reason, that structure is far less important than sound practice within the structure. For example, the General Teaching Council for England explained that "whether there ought to be one or more inspectorates of children's services is... of lesser order than the credibility and expertise of inspection teams in every kind of setting"[26]—a valuable and vital point to which we shall return—and one with which Lord Hill of Oareford, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, appeared to agree. He argued that "the key question is whether the right people are performing the different bits of inspection... provided things are being done properly, I personally would not be too fussed about whether they sit in one big entity".[27] The Fostering Network drew attention to the frequent changes of inspectorate for that sector, and pointed out that such "turnover is in itself a problem—each inspection body requires time to settle down."[28]

17.  Despite these arguments, the Committee was struck, in oral evidence especially, by the number of experts who consider Ofsted's remit to have grown too large to make as profound a positive difference to the sector as smaller organisations might. Many witnesses argued that Ofsted did not have the sufficient expertise at senior levels, as Lord Sutherland explained:

I am disappointed that these additional responsibilities have been given to Ofsted for the purely practical reason that if you are in the seat at the top... it is rather a lot to ask and to find one individual, be it the person who chairs the board or the chief inspector, who carries the can ultimately and who will have expertise in all those areas... it is really a very wide, broad remit to take home to one individual.[29]

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) emphasised that Ofsted "did not appoint anyone in a senior position with a social care background until very recently".[30] Other witnesses drew attention to the lack of non-education expertise at all levels within Ofsted. For example, Sense—the national charity for deafblind people—told us that "different parts of the sector could be better served by either smaller inspectorates with a stronger individual focus... or the enhancement of specialist teams working within the current single inspectorate structure."[31] Others still have argued that the joined-up approach has not, in practice, worked; Baroness Perry, a former Chief Inspector of Schools, told the inquiry that "some of the dreadful cases we have had... have demonstrated that there need to be more communications, but that of Baby P demonstrated that even after you have merged, you do not get any better service."[32]

18.  One convincing argument for the creation of a single inspectorate looking at education for young people and adults, children's services, and children's social care, was that it presented significant savings. However, as Lord Sutherland emphasised to us, back office functions could be shared by a greater number of smaller inspectorates which retained elements of specialism:

If you're looking for savings, look for savings in an accounting context rather than in terms of perhaps reducing the quality of the operation.[33]

Maurice Smith agreed that that was a "perfectly acceptable" value for money argument[34] and certainly it seems that there is no reason why two inspectorates, with the exception of an additional Chief Inspector's salary, should prove substantially more expensive than one.

19.  Perhaps the most convincing evidence provided, though, was that during the inquiry it became very obvious that education and care are, in fact, different beasts which accordingly need to be treated differently. Nowhere was this distinction between the two sides of the remit more apparent than in the evidence given by the two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State from the Department for Education, where they described different inspection systems for the education and non-education sides of Ofsted's remit. These differing purposes of inspection—which are discussed in more detail in the next section— are in themselves strong evidence for the division of Ofsted and its duties. In the words of one inspector who wrote to us, "Education and social care are not easy bedmates."

20.  We believe that having a single children's inspectorate has not worked well enough to merit its continuation. The expanded Ofsted has lost the elements of specialism associated with its predecessor bodies, at senior and operational levels. Ofsted has not adequately communicated its non-schools remit and, as such, is still seen by the public as an education-focussed organisation. Moreover, different inspection regimes are needed for the very different sectors Ofsted deals with. In order to focus greater attention on children's services and care, and to ensure inspection is respected by its customers, we recommend that the Government splits Ofsted into two inspectorates.

21.  The Inspectorate for Education should hold responsibility for the inspection of education and skills, including nurseries, schools and colleges, adult education, secure estate education, and teacher training, and local authority commissioning of schools. The Inspectorate for Children's Care should focus entirely on children's services and care, including children's homes, adoption services, childminders and CAFCASS. The two inspectorates should, for the sake of financial efficiency, consider how best to share administrative functions, and should of course work closely together—most particularly in conducting joint inspections of nurseries and children's centres—but should retain different elements of expertise and separate Chief Inspectors. The Chief Inspectors should demonstrate, in their annual reports, how the two inspectorates are working together. We are convinced that this division will not only raise the quality of inspection experience, but also the profile of what is currently Ofsted's non-education remit. With the recent formation of the Coalition Government, and a new direction of policy concerning young people, as well as the impending retirement of the incumbent Chief Inspector, now is a good time to begin this move.

22.  For the remainder of this report, we will refer to two separate organisations, as our recommendations are sometimes specific to one rather than both of the proposed new inspectorates. Where we refer to 'Ofsted', this indicates the current organisation.

23.  As suggested above, Ofsted has been hampered by its perception as a schools inspectorate. The new Education Inspectorate must ensure that the breadth of its remit is understood from the start, and the current Ofsted and any future inspectorates need to ensure they communicate better than is currently the case. This is discussed further below, and in Chapter 3.

The definition of inspection

24.  One clear disadvantage of a single inspectorate, which reared its head throughout the inquiry, is that its purpose has become increasingly blurred. There is clearly significant confusion amongst parents, front-line professionals and, perhaps most worrying, Ofsted's own workforce, as to what the purpose of inspection actually is.

25.  The debate lies fundamentally in the balance between inspection for the sake of service improvement, and inspection purely as regulation and judgment. Headteacher Lynn Jackson, whose school in Newcastle-under-Lyme is one of the most improved in the country, made it clear that "when somebody comes in we want them to come in to help us to improve",[35] and David Sherlock CBE—formerly Chief Inspector of Adult Learning before that inspectorate's merger with Ofsted—agreed that inspection "is an improvement tool... it should be a developmental process, and if it is, it is welcomed by providers."[36] This view was shared by several inspectors in their questionnaire responses to the Committee: one said that direct improvement work is the part of inspection "most valued by schools". Inspectors' broad overview of the system is part of the reason for this, as another inspector explained:

When Ofsted inspectors... lead training or advice sessions for schools, local authorities and subject associations, their views are greatly valued, because those views are informed by such broad and detailed experience.

The National Association of Head Teachers, which represents 28,000 leaders in education, also argued for Ofsted's "focus being much more on a supportive process that is about school improvement and driving that forward."[37]

26.  Some evidence, however, suggests that—despite this preference by some school leaders and certain inspectors for a developmental, supportive improvement-based inspection model—Ofsted's impact on school improvement is limited at best and negative at worst. Research from Keele University has suggested that "Ofsted visits seem to have adverse effects on the standards of exam performance achieved by schools in the year of the Ofsted inspection."[38] More recent research by the Institute of Education and Bristol University argues that, whilst inspection can trigger immediate improvement in failing schools, it is short-lived:

[T]here is a positive causal effect of failing an Ofsted inspection on the school's subsequent GCSE performance. This effect is statistically and substantively significant, but it appears to be transient. It peaks at two years after the inspection but has disappeared by four years after.[39]

27.  Teachers did not generally concur that Ofsted causes direct improvement in schools, despite recommendations in reports which are intended to lead remedial action. 84% of over 1,500 respondents to a National Association of Head Teachers poll were clear that inspection did not accelerate improvement,[40] and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' survey provided a still-high 69%.[41]

28.  Sir Mike Tomlinson, who was Chief Inspector at Ofsted from 2000-06, is adamant that for Ofsted to drive improvement directly would represent a conflict of interest, telling the Committee that "inspecting your own advice is not a particularly objective exercise."[42] It is a view shared by inspectors at various levels within Ofsted. One questionnaire response told us that if Ofsted "were to get more involved in the improvement process then it would lose its objectivity and some credibility as it would be inspecting itself"; another argued that inspection should "provide an organisation with the information it needs to improve" but that it "is the job of other bodies to support these organisations". The current Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, has written that inspectors "do not want to replicate the role of the school improvement partner, nor would it be right for inspectors to advocate particular commercial improvement tools".[43]

29.  David Bell—a successor to Sir Mike as Chief Inspector, and now Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education—felt that the argument was insoluble:

To say inspection causes improvement is fundamentally unprovable. I think there are examples of where you have greater evidence of improvement being brought about by inspection, but again it's still not quite the same as saying it causes it. For example, [Ofsted's] monitoring of schools with special measures is not causing improvement but most head teachers say... that the process of professional debate and discussion with HMI [Her Majesty's Inspectors] brings some real bite to the improvement process.[44]

That view chimes with the oft-quoted inspectors' mantra of "doing good as you go", and indeed one inspector told the Committee that inspectors "are very conscious of not telling providers how to improve but can be very clear on what needs to improve". That distinction is important, and begins to address the confusion surrounding Ofsted's current role in the settings it visits. As Christine Gilbert emphasised in the Times Educational Supplement last year, Ofsted does share the best practice it collects, not least through its publications, and through the dialogue between inspectors and teachers, and therefore plays an important improvement role without directly driving change in schools.[45]

30.  Tim Loughton MP, responsible for children and families policy at the Department for Education, said care inspection was not about "the fact that [social workers] followed all the procedures, which might result in the child still being harmed", and agreed that this was more improvement-focussed than the school inspection system. Mr Loughton said the "improvement advisory role" offered by the old Commission for Social Care Inspection "could be a useful role" for the inspectorate, as did several written memoranda submitted to us. [46] We believe there is an important role for peer review to play in inspections, which is discussed in Chapter 4.

31.  By contrast, Lord Hill—who oversees the schools side of Ofsted's work—portrayed a different ideal system, which is "primarily inspection and seeing what's going on". He acknowledged that "the direction of travel on school improvement more generally is to try and encourage local approaches... and to try to encourage schools to work together and learn from best practice."[47] Such an improvement model is markedly different from the care side of Ofsted's remit, where many inspected settings are in fact individuals or organisations which, for a variety of reasons, cannot form partnerships in the way schools can for improvement purposes, or do not benefit from the same kind of local authority support. We therefore agree with Mr Loughton that social care needs a more improvement-focussed model, whilst continuing to regulate against certain statutory procedures as well.

32.  The Committee is clear, from the evidence it has taken, that different models of inspection are needed for different settings, which is reflected in our desire for Ofsted to be split. The role of the Education Inspectorate should be, firstly, to inspect institutions and to provide judgments and recommendations which can drive better outcomes for individual children, young people and learners; and, secondly, to provide an overview of the education system as a whole. It should not aim to be an improvement agency, although inspection should of course hold up a mirror to an institution's failings and recommend areas for improvement without dictating how that improvement should come about. Similarly, it should continue Ofsted's work disseminating best practice, not just through inspections but through its website and publications as well. We do not envisage the Inspectorate being the sole repository of best practice, as the new 'Teaching Schools' and others will also have a role to play.

33.  The Children's Care Inspectorate should more actively support service improvement, including a focus on the quality of practice and the effectiveness of help. This is largely because many of the remits it will inspect—such as childminders and adoption agencies—may not have easy access to the partnership-based improvement model which applies to schools, not least because of the size and scope of their activities. The Children's Care Inspectorate should ensure that its workforce has experienced practitioners who command the respect of social workers and childcare professionals, and who can promote and support improvement as well as regulating for statutory purposes. Inspectors should, for example, sit in on case conferences and attend visits to observe practice.

34.  It is all very well for those at the top of an organisation to understand its role, but it is equally important for those throughout the organisation and, in the case of a public body, members of the public, to understand what that role is. During the seminar and questionnaires we arranged, it became apparent to the Committee that not all inspectors are signed up to the same mission statement, and that this worrying confusion is transmitting itself to parents and professionals in the settings Ofsted visits. The negative views of Ofsted put forward by the school leader unions may, in part, be due to their members having very differing understandings of what the inspectorate does. Whilst Ofsted does have, on its website and in its publications clear, easily accessible 'mission statements' of its role, there is little clarity offered about precisely what constitutes inspection.

35.  Evidence from a variety of other sources concurs with that of the seminar and questionnaires. Christine Ryan, Chief Inspector of the Independent Schools Inspectorate, told us that there

...needs to be clarity about what you are asking Ofsted to do, and I don't think there is that clarity anymore. For any organisation to be successful, it needs to know what its purpose is and have very clear aims and objectives. I think those aren't clear at the moment."[48]

On the non-education side of Ofsted's remit, the Daycare Trust agreed that "there are clearly issues there about communication".[49]

36.  Both the Education and Children's Care Inspectorates need clearly-articulated mission statements easily available to parents, professionals and the wider public, as well as to their own staff, along the lines established above. These should also explain how the two organisations work together, and where. At present, inspection's role in improvement is not clear, leading to a variety of views within and without Ofsted's own walls, and thence to inconsistent experiences and expectations of inspection.

37.  It is worthy of note that the recommendations concerning school inspection in this chapter are broadly in line with those of our predecessor committee and its report on School Accountability. In particular, we agree with that report that Ofsted does not have an active role to play in school improvement (as did the Government response), and that its role therein needs clarification for the benefit of the whole system. We also note that report's recommendation that "Government should be alert to any sign that the growth of Ofsted's responsibilities is causing it to become an unwieldy and unco-ordinated body"[50]—and the then Government's response that it would "continue to draw on the evidence from the Committee's work in considering this matter."[51] The evidence we have received suggests that Ofsted is moving in that unwieldy and unco-ordinated direction, which supports our call for two new Inspectorates to replace the existing one.

The case for abolition

38.  Some evidence called for the complete abolition of schools inspection. Professor Michael Bassey believes that Ofsted has played a useful role but that that role has now largely expired:

[Ofsted] has certainly raised awareness of the need for schools to [raise standards]. Now that schools are gaining greater autonomy, Ofsted inspections should be replaced by the more effective local accountability of schools self-evaluation supported by partner schools and governing bodies. Ofsted is a quango that has served its purpose. It can go.[52]

Professor Nick Foskett, a former teacher and lecturer, and now Vice-Chancellor of Keele University, similarly told the Committee to "question whether resources channelled into Ofsted might be resources that would be better channelled directly into the education service itself to raise standards in schools and universities."[53]

39.  Professor Bassey is supported by the evidence the Committee saw during its trip to Finland, which has no school inspection at all. Substantial autonomy for teachers and school principals, and significant trust placed in them by central Government, means that there is no call for formal intervention or regulation of any kind. Finland's education system is deemed one of the world's finest, consistently ranked higher than the United Kingdom in international league tables, and one from which the Government has expressed a desire to learn.[54]

40.  Indeed, our visit has persuaded us that there are important lessons to be learnt from the Finnish system, including with regard to inspection. For example, a lack of inspection means a lack of the stress associated with it (see Chapter 3 below), and this in turn can mean that schools have productive and amiable relations with central and local Government, of which we saw evidence in Finland. Similarly, the autonomy given not only to heads but classroom teachers as well, when they are free from any form of external scrutiny, is a probable factor in the popularity of teaching among Finnish graduates.[55] However, despite these lessons and others, there are major differences between our education system and Finland's which do support the retention of school inspection in this country. Perhaps foremost amongst these is that there is the variations in school performance and the extent to which socio-economic background is responsible for that, as the 2009 PISA results explain:

In Finland [and other countries], differences in the socio-economic background of schools account for less than 30% of the already-small performance differences between schools. In the United Kingdom [and others], the between-school performance variance explained by the socio-economic intake of schools is larger than 70%...[56]

As inspection measures progression as well as attainment—which we consider in further detail in Chapter 6—we believe external evaluation therefore remains important in this country.[57] Whilst we fully agree that local partnership and self-evaluation are important mechanisms for school accountability and improvement, and support increased autonomy for heads and schools, we do not accept the case for the complete abolition of school inspection at this point. However, we support the principle of proportionate inspection and more focus on lower-performing schools. The Education Inspectorate should see as part of its mission a role to support the development of robust self and peer evaluation through appropriate partnerships. The expectation would be that over time the role of the Education Inspectorate would reduce, as a mature model of self-improvement based on trust becomes embedded.

12   Baker, M., 'Ofsted-big, bland and bureaucratic?', BBC News, 28th November 2009 (at Back

13   See full list at Back

14   Stewart Sutherland, now Lord Sutherland of Houndwood KT, was the inaugural head of Ofsted: Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools. Christine Gilbert CBE, who has led Ofsted since 2006, is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Skills and Children's Services Back

15 Back

16   Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills 2009-10, p. 7 Back

17   Ev 155 Back

18   Ev w99 Back

19   Ev w75 Back

20   Ev w48 Back

21   Ev w69 Back

22   Q 297 Back

23   Q 331 Back

24   Q 70 Back

25   Q 71 Back

26   Ev w193 Back

27   Q 455 Back

28   Ev 147 Back

29   Q 2 Back

30   Ev w102. The Chief Inspector, in her evidence, noted that "things are very different from when that comment was made", but the NSPCC submitted its evidence in late 2010, specifically for this inquiry. At the time of this report's publication, only one Development Director at Ofsted-John Goldup, the Director of Development for Social Care-has a background outside education Back

31   Ev w63 Back

32   Q 95 Back

33   Q 69 Back

34   Q 70 Back

35   Q 78 Back

36   Q 7 Back

37   Q 122 Back

38   Rosenthal, L., 'The cost of regulation in education: do school inspections improve school quality?' (Department of Economics, University of Keele, 2001), quoted in MacBeath, J., 'A New Relationship with Schools?', in de Waal., A. (ed.), Inspecting the Inspectorate (Civitas, 2008) Back

39   Ev w93 Back

40   Ev 111 Back

41   See Ev w221 Back

42   Q 28 Back

43   Writing in 'We strive to do better, too', The Times Educational Supplement, 19 February 2010 Back

44   MacBeath, J., School Inspection and Self-evaluation (Routledge, 2006), quoted in MacBeath, J., 'A New Relationship with Schools?', in de Waal., A. (ed.), Inspecting the Inspectorate (Civitas, 2008) Back

45   See 'We strive to do better, too', The Times Educational Supplement, 19 February 2010 Back

46   See Q 453 and Q 454 Back

47   Q 453 Back

48   Q 207 Back

49   Q 297 Back

50   School Accountability: First Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Session 2009-10, HC 88-I, para 20 (and see other recommendations) Back

51   School Accountability: Responses from the Government and Ofsted to the First Report of the Committee, Session 2009-10: Third Special Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Session 2009-10, HC 486, p. 10 Back

52   Ev w32 Back

53   Q 167 Back

54   See The Importance of Teaching-The Schools White Paper 2010, p. 3 Back

55   Figures supplied to the Committee by the Finnish National Board of Education show that, in 2010, there were almost 7,000 applicants for admission into class teacher education in Finland, of which around12% were admitted to training. Back

56   PISA 2009: Overcoming Social Background (OECD, 2010), Volume II, p. 86 Back

57   A note of the Committee's visit to Finland can be found at Annex 2 Back

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