The role and peformance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

3  The performance and independence of Ofsted

Ofsted and the Department for Education

41.  In his oral evidence to the Committee, David Sherlock—formerly Chief Inspector of Adult Learning—praised the combined knowledge and evidence of inspectorates:

In a way, they are monster think-tanks. They gather together a large amount of educational expertise together in one place, which can deploy in a variety of different ways.[58]

Baroness Perry, a former Chief Inspector of Schools, argued that Ministers need to make better use of that expertise in policy-making:

I really do think Ministers need that regular contact with Ofsted, both to hear in a much more rounded way what is happening in the school system and for Ofsted to be able to raise real problems... [We] need to [have] the good evidence base that we all want to see... round the Secretary of State's table, at Ministers' ears, so that they have good evidential back-up for their policies...[59]

42.  We are certainly keen to support the principle and practice of policy which is fully grounded in evidence, from a variety of sources. However, moving Ofsted back into the Department for Education—as it was before 1992, and as Baroness Perry and Professor Tony Kelly advocated to the Committee—would, we feel, create as many problems as it would solve. The independence of Ofsted is valued by inspectors and by the public at large, and we agree with the Government that, in the past, Ofsted "has been required to focus too much on inspecting schools against government policies"—a renewed danger if it sat within the Department for Education.[60] Anastasia de Waal, who, in her book on Ofsted, has accused the organisation of being a "government lapdog" which "forces schools to comply with the latest and ever-changing fads from Whitehall",[61] agreed that Ofsted's independence was valuable:

[W]hat is very important is that Ofsted should have credibility in its own right, and not as part of the Department... We want to see an inspectorate that is not too friendly with the Department and is not afraid of it, but it is equally important that the Department does not have to take on board everything that Ofsted says.[62]

43.  As Buckinghamshire County Council told us, schools' confidence in the inspection process is diminished if frameworks are "over-responsive to and driven by governmental demands."[63] We believe that the same is true for parents, as Kate Groucutt of the Daycare Trust told us: "Parents can certainly have more confidence in the judgment of an independent regulator that is a distinct voice from the Department."[64]

44.  On the other side of the argument, however, it is important that Ofsted—which has a unique overview of the education and well-being of children across the country—is a serious voice in the policy-making process, and that its evidence is considered fully by Ministers. As one inspector summed it up, "If we are to have an inspection system that is independent of political influence, then the least that can be done is to listen to....the reports that are made by it!" The Committee, for that reason, sees merit in the proposal—put forward by Baroness Perry and Dr John Dunford—for a new "Chief Education Officer" role to be created within the Department for Education. Dr Dunford outlined to us what that role would entail, and how it would sit alongside—rather than replace—the Chief Inspector:

[The Chief Education Officer] will be the senior professional voice in the policy-making process with direct access to the Secretary of State, as the chief inspector used to have, and use evidence from Ofsted. Ofsted's role should then be to stand between the Government on the one hand and individual institutions on the other, reporting without fear or favour, on the performance of not only the institutions, but of Government policy, and feeding that back into the chief educational officer's advice.[65]

45.  Furthermore, the Committee is inclined to agree with Baroness Perry that the Department for Education, in lacking such a figure at present, stands alone within central Government:

The only major Government spending Department which does not have a chief officer to help it with policy is the Department for Education. The Department of Health has a chief medical officer... and a chief nursing officer. The Home Office has chief officers in all its various range of expertise. The Department of Education... does not have a chief education officer, which seems very strange to me.[66]

46.  In light of our recommendation to split Ofsted into two new inspectorates, we feel that this proposal has significant merit, but should be applied not only to the education aspects of the Department's remit. These two professional officers, whilst playing no part whatsoever in inspection judgments and therefore in no sense replacing the important roles of the Chief Inspectors of both inspectorates, would act as senior policy advisers to the Secretary of State, using inspection findings alongside other evidence to ensure that Ministers had access to recent and relevant experience of the settings they are dealing with around their table in Whitehall. There is no reason why these appointments could not, in the interests of financial efficiency, be either part-time or advisory, if the Department is so inclined. They could even be current senior practitioners on secondment from their own institutions.

47.  Furthermore, and conversely, the Chief Officers would be able, where necessary, to temper any indication that Ofsted judgments were being over-used in the policy-making process. The Institute of Education shared a concern with us that "the inspection process is [currently] being asked to bear too great a weight in policy development",[67] for example in the approval of early applications for Academy status, and Professor Tony Kelly agreed that the existing evidence base is not strong enough to support some of the policy burden it is asked to bear.[68]

48.  Ofsted's independent status is broadly valued by inspectors, by professionals, and by the public, and we strongly support the retention of that status. However, the Committee is concerned that there is no front-line voice within the senior echelons of the Department for Education, working alongside the inspectorates and Ministers to ensure that policy is informed by recent and relevant experience through a more direct means than consultation. We recommend that the Department considers appointing two new senior advisers within the Department—a Chief Education Officer and a Chief Children's Care Officer—along the lines of the chief professional officers of other Government departments. These roles would in no way replace the Chief Inspectors of Education or Children's Care; nor would they seek to replace the important existing relationships between civil servants, senior inspectors, and special advisers. Rather, they could work alongside those people within Government, ensuring that the inspectorates can retain their independence.

Communicating and engaging with the public

49.  With such a broad remit, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ofsted's communications came in for criticism during our inquiry, not least from the current Chief Inspector herself. She told the Committee that Ofsted "could do a lot more with our website" and that it "has proved really difficult to create a new and better website that is more accessible, more user-friendly and more intuitive."[69]

50.  Other witnesses were inclined to agree. One group of colleges told us that the Ofsted website "has virtually no search facility of benefit to professionals in the sector seeking to find material to support a quality improvement journey",[70] although such material is available in the form of Ofsted's best practice guides and other publications. Another umbrella body for colleges noted especially that "there is no search facility for specific aspects of practice".[71]

51.  Some similar issues were raised with the complaints system currently operated by Ofsted. The Committee corresponded with the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted, which handles complaints once they have been exhausted through Ofsted's internal processes, and it seems that the recommendations ICASO has made to Ofsted are already having a positive impact on its potentially inflexible existing practice. However, the issue of clear, accessible explanation of the complaints procedure is important, and the new Inspectorates should make sure they articulate these more clearly, so that the public is aware of how to make a complaint—both about inspectors and about individual institutions.

52.  We agree with the incumbent Chief Inspector that the current Ofsted website needs considerable revision to ensure a positive user experience for all of its visitors. The new Chief Inspectors of Education and Children's Care should consult with the public and with front-line professionals in their relevant fields to ensure that the new websites, and in particular their search facilities, are more accessible than the current model. The new websites should include clearer articulation of the inspectorates' complaints procedures.

53.  One London council told us that the "quality of the final reports produced by Ofsted can be very variable"[72] and, in the seminar Committee members held with serving and retired inspectors, the quality of reports was agreed to be somewhat inconsistent, with the language used often being too "technical". It was raised at the seminar that reports were also for the use of parents, not least because school staff receive verbal feedback which parents do not, and yet the Trade Union Side at Ofsted told us of some evidence that "parents rely more on the brief letter to pupils to learn what the school is like than on the main sections of the text."[73]

54.  Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert, in her evidence to the Committee, acknowledged that "the parental issue is a matter of real concern" and that there "are things that we are trying to do in relation to engaging parents more."[74] It seems to us that, as reports are studied by parents as well as practitioners, then these might be good places for the new inspectorates to begin a serious effort to improvement engagement with parents. The Daycare Trust has recommended specific ways to make the reports more parent-friendly, which we think are worthy of attention:

We don't think the reports are particularly parent-friendly. They are quite "dry", with black and white text... There is always more that can be done to put it in plain English, but you have to get past quite a lot of legal jargon at the top and the description of each grade. We would like to see a box really clearly at the top, which says, "This setting is good" or "This means x, y, z". One or two particularly strong features of the setting could perhaps be highlighted... Because realistically, parents aren't going to read the whole inspection report for a large number of settings. So it should be made more useful for parents to use it as a tool for choice in respect of settings.[75]

55.  At the same time, we feel that reports need to be full enough to provide the information needed to support improvement. Lesley Davies, of the Association of Colleges, told us that "reports are not as full and rich as they used to be".[76] She also reported that, based on an analysis of over 400 reports, "49% of those reports were published late, some up to 200 days late."[77] Professor Nick Foskett, a leading academic and former teacher, told us that some reports are also lacking in evidence to support conclusions:

To quote one of my colleagues who has said on a number of occasions, "If the inspection report that was produced on their institution was presented as a master's level dissertation, it would fail because of lack of evidence to support the judgment."[78]

56.  There are some problems, too, with the engagement of foster carers and of young people themselves—not just during the inspection process, but during feedback. Jonathan Stanley, who runs the National Children's Bureau Residential Child Care office, told us that "feedback from the inspection to the young people, in our experience, almost never happens, yet it is about their home."[79]

57.  As a major vehicle for communication between inspectorates and the general public, inspection reports need to be high quality, and we accept that many are well-written and balanced. However, under the structure which we propose, the new Chief Inspectors of Education and especially of Children's Care would need to ensure that all reports are parent-friendly, and that concise, accurate summaries of settings are given as well as the detail of performance against individual criteria. Reports on care settings, in particular, should be accessible to the young people who use and experience those settings. Reports also need, though, to have a depth of intelligence to make them actively useful to professionals and providers, and need to be delivered on time. The new Inspectorates of Education and Children's Care should publish, annually, the number of reports which are not delivered on time, and manage performance rigorously.

58.  Parents and carers need to be engaged more throughout the inspection process, and we would encourage the new Inspectorates to continue the work begun by their predecessor organisation in that regard. Similarly, parents and carers as well as young people themselves need to be better involved in the feedback process following inspections. The Government might like to consider a consultation with parents and young people on how Ofsted's reports and broader communication could be improved.

Transparency of contractual information

59.  The Committee was pleased to take evidence from the three organisations which act as Regional Inspection Service Providers (RISPs)—CfBT Education Trust, Serco, and the Tribal Group. The RISPs undertake inspections on behalf of Ofsted, with responsibility for different regions of the country, and employ a workforce of Additional Inspectors who are trained by Her Majesty's Inspectors but who, in many cases, can lead inspections in their own right. At the time of writing, there are around 400 HMI and 2,700 Additional Inspectors.[80]

60.  In her oral evidence, the current Chief Inspector told us that "the contractors are, seriously, all performing well at the moment".[81] The Chair asked if performance assessments of the three organisations were available to the Committee, and the Chief Inspector said she was "sure that we can give you something on the performance of the three providers—and on the performance over the past year, which is really important."[82] She went on to explain that satisfaction reports from schools, following inspections, are also taken very seriously.[83]

61.  The Committee is supportive of the Government's drive for more publicly available information and, in that spirit, recommends that Ofsted makes easily accessible its performance assessments of the three Regional Inspection Service Providers, as well as contractual details. We believe this may have the additional benefit of providing more substantive evidence about the relative performance of Additional Inspectors as compared to Her Majesty's Inspectors, about which we have heard contrasting views. (We return to this issue in Chapter 4).

Financial effectiveness and efficiency

62.  We agree with Anthony Douglas CBE, the Chief Executive of CAFCASS (which is inspected by Ofsted), that, when considering inspection, "we have to approach it from the public purse's point of view of what the benefit is of this and what its impact on outcomes is."[84] Ofsted has, like all Government Departments, committed to making savings during this Parliament, and we were grateful to the Chief Inspector for outlining these during her oral evidence:

We have a savings target of 30%, but it is not all for next year; it is to be achieved over the next four years... It is £186 million this year and, in 2014-15, we go down to £143 million... There will be—we have made plans for this already—over a third reduction in back office support services.[85]

Furthermore, Ofsted has already done commendable work in making savings, as Christine Gilbert explained:

Because we were compliant and dutiful and made a 30% saving required by the Better Regulation Executive in creating the new organisation, we made a lot of reductions.[86]

63.  Further financial information is available in the Ofsted Departmental Report for 2008-09, which reveals that the cost of inspection per child or learner "has continued to fall as a result of efficiency savings",[87] and goes on to offer similar breakdowns for the various institutions inspected by Ofsted. The report also includes total public spending on the regulation and inspection of education, children's services, and skills, although it offers no breakdown of costs for those separate areas.[88]

64.  We believe that Ofsted, as it exists now, has made significant savings and has plans to continue that direction of travel. We recommend that the Government is alert to value for money if the inspectorate is divided into two new organisations, and ensures that there is no extra cost to the public purse of any new inspection system. The two inspectorates should be charged to work together to maximise the efficiency of back office support services and continue to reduce costs and deliver improved value for money.

The role of the non-executive Board

65.  An independent review of Ofsted's non-executive board suggested that, whilst its overall performance is outstanding, a number of conventional governance arrangements do not apply to its operation. For example, "whilst the Board has a statutory role in monitoring her performance, HMCI [Her Majesty's Chief Inspector] is not wholly accountable to them."[89] Similarly, "the Board's functions are tightly ring-fenced... so that it does not, for example, have any control over Ofsted's budget and resources."[90] These arrangements, described by one witness to the independent evaluation as "quirky", derive from the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which lays out Ofsted's functions.

66.  Annex 3 to this report shows the current organisation of Ofsted and the present composition of the Board. Its members are drawn from various walks of life, and include a former Chief Executive of a local authority (Chris Trinick) and a Director in a Primary Care Trust (Jane Roberts). However, we note the recommendation of the 2009 independent evaluation concerning the Board's membership:

There are...specialist areas in which the Board's familiarity might be deepened as further opportunities arise. Examples are education (currently well addressed by the co-option of Sir Alan Steer), social care and criminal justice.[91]

67.  Some inspectors were less hesitant to suggest Ofsted's Board did not have enough understanding of the inspectorate's work: one wrote that the Board is "largely irrelevant" with "a membership completely divorced from the work of inspectors"; another wrote that its role is "a mystery to the workforce". Controversial comments reported in the press have not aided to the Board's standing within or without the organisation.[92]

68.  Concern has been expressed in the appointment of Baroness Morgan of Huyton as Zenna Atkins' successor.[93] Baroness Morgan, a former Director of Government Relations under Tony Blair, is an Adviser to Absolute Return for Kids (ARK, which runs several academies, including one of which she is a governor) and to the New Schools Network. The NASUWT union, amongst others, has questioned the appointment, with General Secretary Chris Keates arguing that "The chair has to be able to comment without fear or favour. How can she do that when she's simultaneously advising the board of a body that has a vested interest in the expansion of academies?"[94] Ministers told us that there is no conflict of interest, not least because the Board cannot interfere in the inspection process itself.[95]

69.  We acknowledge that the Ofsted Board cannot intervene in inspection judgments, and do not suggest any change to that. However, any non-executive Board needs to command the confidence of its organisation and of the general public. We therefore recommend that the new Inspectorates of Education and Children's Care have, on their non-executive Boards, members whose experience is directly relevant to the remit of the inspectorate, to inspire confidence in their leadership and scrutiny, and that make it clear precisely what their duties are, as agreed with the Secretary of State for Education. Similarly, we recommend that—in the event of the creation of new inspectorates—the legislation from which the Board's functions derive is reviewed.

58   Q 37 Back

59   Q 119 Back

60   The Importance of Teaching-The Schools White Paper 2010, p. 69 Back

61   de Waal, A., Inspection, Inspection, Inspection! (The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 2006), p. ix Back

62   Q 242 Back

63   Ev w83 Back

64   Q 340 Back

65   Q 240 Back

66   Q 119. The Department of Health has six professional officer posts, details of which are available at Several Government Departments have Chief Scientific Advisers, including the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Home Office. Other professional advisers across Government include the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser at the Department for Communities and Local Government Back

67   Ev w236 Back

68   See Q 120 Back

69   Q 419 Back

70   Ev w14 Back

71   Ev w74 Back

72   Ev w78 Back

73   Ev w69 Back

74   Q 401 Back

75   Q 313 Back

76   Q 187 Back

77   Ibid. Back

78   Ibid. Back

79   Q 315 Back

80   The 2007-10 Ofsted Strategic Plan refers to "approximately 2,700 staff across England", of which "over half are inspectors", and goes on to say that "In addition, our partners in the private sector, the regional and national inspector providers, deploy a further 1,100 inspectors" (p. 22). More recent figures sent to the Committee by Ofsted for this inquiry suggest that there are just over 400 Her Majesty's Inspectors, and around 2,700 employed by the regional providers. The total Ofsted workforce, in the same correspondence, was set at around 1,500 (including 400 HMIs) Back

81   Q 390 Back

82   Q 391. See Ev 134 and Ev 138 for further information provided to the Committee by Ofsted and the Inspection Service Providers Back

83   Ofsted tells us that, in an independent survey carried out by Ipsos MORI in 2009, "only 9% of parents said they were not in favour of school inspection". (Ev 106, footnote 3) Back

84   Q 266 Back

85   Q 432 Back

86   Ibid. Back

87   Ofsted Departmental Report 2008-09, p. 49 Back

88   Idem., p. 67 Back

89   Independent Performance Evaluation of the Ofsted Board by The Results Partnership, May 2009, p. 9 Back

90   Ibid. Back

91   Idem., p. 6 Back

92   See, for example, 'Ofsted chief: we need useless teachers', The Daily Telegraph, 12 July 2010. Zenna Atkins, former Chair of Ofsted, was quoted as saying that, "One really good thing about primary school is that every kid learns how to deal with a really **** teacher... I would not remove every single useless teacher because every grown-up in a workplace needs to learn how to deal with the moron who sits four desks down without lamping them and to deal with authority that's useless... I would like to keep the number low, but if every primary school has one pretty naff teacher, this helps kids realise that even if you know the quality of authority is not good, you have to learn how to play it." Back

93   See, for example, 'Ofsted chair and academy adviser, but DfE denies conflict of interest for Morgan', The Times Educational Supplement, 18 February 2011 (  Back

94   Ibid. Back

95   See Q 470-Q 476 Back

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