3 The performance and independence
of Ofsted |
Ofsted and the Department for
41. In his oral evidence to the Committee, David
Sherlockformerly Chief Inspector of Adult Learningpraised
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.
Baroness Perry, a former Chief Inspector of Schools,
argued that Ministers need to make better use of that expertise
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...
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 Educationas it was before 1992, and as Baroness Perry
and Professor Tony Kelly advocated to the Committeewould,
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.
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
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.
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
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."
44. On the other side of the argument, however,
it is important that Ofstedwhich has a unique overview
of the education and well-being of children across the countryis
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 proposalput forward
by Baroness Perry and Dr John Dunfordfor 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 alongsiderather than replacethe
[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.
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
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
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",
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.
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 Departmenta
Chief Education Officer and a Chief Children's Care Officeralong
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
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."
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",
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".
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 complaintboth about inspectors and about
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"
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."
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." 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
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". 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."
Professor Nick Foskett, a leading academic and former teacher,
told us that some reports are also lacking in evidence to support
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."
56. There are some problems, too, with the engagement
of foster carers and of young people themselvesnot 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."
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.
60. In her oral evidence, the current Chief Inspector
told us that "the contractors are, seriously, all performing
well at the moment".
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 providersand on the performance over the past
year, which is really important."
She went on to explain that satisfaction reports from schools,
following inspections, are also taken very seriously.
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
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."
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 bewe have made plans
for this alreadyover a third reduction in back office support
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.
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",
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
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
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."
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."
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.
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.
68. Concern has been expressed in the appointment
of Baroness Morgan of Huyton as Zenna Atkins' successor.
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?"
Ministers told us that there is no conflict of interest, not least
because the Board cannot interfere in the inspection process itself.
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 thatin the event of the creation of new inspectoratesthe
legislation from which the Board's functions derive is reviewed.
58 Q 37 Back
Q 119 Back
The Importance of Teaching-The Schools White Paper 2010,
p. 69 Back
de Waal, A., Inspection, Inspection, Inspection! (The Institute
for the Study of Civil Society, 2006), p. ix Back
Q 242 Back
Ev w83 Back
Q 340 Back
Q 240 Back
Q 119. The Department of Health has six professional officer posts,
details of which are available at http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Aboutus/Chiefprofessionalofficers/index.htm.
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
Ev w236 Back
See Q 120 Back
Q 419 Back
Ev w14 Back
Ev w74 Back
Ev w78 Back
Ev w69 Back
Q 401 Back
Q 313 Back
Q 187 Back
Q 315 Back
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
Q 390 Back
Q 391. See Ev 134 and Ev 138 for further information provided
to the Committee by Ofsted and the Inspection Service Providers Back
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
Q 266 Back
Q 432 Back
Ofsted Departmental Report 2008-09, p. 49 Back
Idem., p. 67 Back
Independent Performance Evaluation of the Ofsted Board by The
Results Partnership, May 2009, p. 9 Back
Idem., p. 6 Back
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
See, for example, 'Ofsted chair and academy adviser, but DfE denies
conflict of interest for Morgan', The Times Educational
Supplement, 18 February 2011 (http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6070578)
See Q 470-Q 476 Back