The role and peformance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

4  The quality and consistency of inspectors

The variability of inspector performance

70.  Of the 77 inspectors who responded to the Committee's questionnaire for this inquiry, almost 60% judged the performance of their peer inspectors to be variable at best, although very few thought that the majority of inspection teams performed poorly, and many inspectors said that inconsistency was often caused by newly-recruited inspectors finding their way.[96] Other evidence we have taken agreed with the inspectors' self-verdict that, in the words of one, "inspection teams often contain inspectors with little knowledge of the phase or aspects they are inspecting and often with limited experience of inspection itself."

71.  There is little doubt, as the National Association of Head Teachers told us, that "there are many excellent inspectors working in the field"[97] or that, as SCORE (Science Community Representing Education) reported, "subject inspectors within Ofsted are often hugely knowledgeable".[98] However, the evidence we have heard also leaves little doubt that there are, in the words of teacher Dr Steve Austin, "inspectors who do not have any recent and relevant experience of the kind of school that they are inspecting."[99] David Singleton OBE, a former Deputy Director of Education at Ofsted, is clear that, on the education side of the house, "too many inspectors have been too long out of schools... Too many are not fully up to date; they have little notion of the pressures on modern teachers."[100] Baroness Perry, a former Chief Inspector, supported this in her evidence to the Committee, stating categorically that there are "inspectors who have never taught a day in their lives".[101]

72.  The picture does not appear to be vastly different away from schools inspections. Robert Tapsfield, who leads the Fostering Network, reported that agencies have been inspected by people "with very little experience of fostering and that has caused a problem."[102] Jonathan Stanley, whose expertise is in children's homes, agreed that inspection works best when the team has "some knowledge, skills, expertise and experience of the setting in which you're working", before adding that this "is clearly not the case in all residential child care inspections."[103] The British Association of Social Workers which, as a representative body, has a national perspective on such issues, reported that some inspectors "appear to have very little understanding of the work of the sector they are inspecting."[104] Special school heads appear to feel "very passionately" that "inspectors have some experience in the area of special needs education that they are looking at".[105]

73.  Ofsted has acknowledged that secondment out of the organisation is a "valuable developmental tool" and that "increasing the proportion of inspectors who have recent and relevance experience of the schools sector" is a major benefit of such secondments.[106] However, of the six outward secondments listed in the Departmental Report for 2008-09, only one was to the front-line (with a local authority); the others were to other Governmental or central organisations.[107] We believe that this lack of recent and relevant experience of the front-line has contributed to a loss of faith in the inspection system. As one commentator has written, "inspectors have to be trusted and recognised as expert" if they are to command "the respect of the profession [they] seek[s] to regulate".[108] Urgent reform is needed to ensure that the new Inspectorates of Education and Children's Care have credibility within their respective sectors, which will in turn bring the "mutual trust and respect"[109] on which successful inspections rely.

74.  Furthermore, we believe this ties closely to the Government's desire—articulated in the recent White Paper The Importance of Teaching—to focus inspection more on observation than on data:

We will ask Ofsted to return to focusing its attention on the core of teaching and learning ... [allowing] inspectors to get back to spending more of their observing lessons, giving a more reliable assessment of the quality of education children are receiving.[110]

We heard evidence that in some inspections there is "an over-reliance on data".[111] Research by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that "many [schools] would prefer an even greater emphasis on observations of teaching and learning, and less emphasis on data and systems."[112] We will return to the new framework in Chapter 6, but this specific issue relates directly to our recommendations below concerning the experience and expertise of inspectors, as more observation would appear to imply that inspectors need a greater appreciation of the settings they are visiting.

75.  At the same time, a number of inspectors accepted that the front-line values experience of inspection as well as experience of the sector. There is a fine balance to be struck between the two. Inspecting is itself a great skill, and those with sustained inspection understanding and experience are as valuable as their colleagues who have been at the front-line more recently as well. Inspection teams need to achieve this mix in order to command the respect of teachers and other professionals.

76.  There are too many inspectors lacking recent and relevant experience of the settings they investigate. The Inspectorate of Education should extend and develop mechanisms—such as outward secondments to the front line—for ensuring that its inspectors remain in touch with the system and changes therein. The Inspectorate of Children's Care, which we envisage would operate on a more improvement-based model, will need to ensure that alongside its 'practitioner inspectors' it has inspectors who, by contrast, have experience of inspection practice over a longer time period. We feel it is essential that inspectors have regular opportunities for professional development, most particularly to keep up-to-date with practice at the front-line.

Secondments into the inspectorate

77.  Broadly, then, we agree with the inspector who told us (and the many others who agreed) that a sizeable percentage of the inspectorate workforce "should be experts drawn from their fields." However, we acknowledge that there are many barriers to that, which Janet Tomlinson, Managing Director of Inspections at Tribal Group, outlined for us:

For very small schools, it can be difficult to release people. Also, we find that serving practitioners, particularly from smaller schools, are reluctant to leave their schools too often in a year. Maybe they only want to leave to do one or two inspections, and then it's hard for them to keep up to speed with what's going on in the inspection world. It's harder for them to write the reports quickly—to do whatever they need to do quickly—because they are not accustomed to doing it that often.[113]

78.  We also acknowledge that the Regional Inspection Service Providers (RISPs)—CfBT, Serco and Tribal—are currently making concerted efforts to increase the numbers of serving practitioners who are also inspectors, although they are doing so from very low baselines. All three told us that currently 10% of their schools workforce is serving practitioners, and they are aiming to increase that to 20-30% over the next three years; in learning and skills, the increase will be to a far more impressive 50% (from a baseline of 40%). However, as Janet Tomlinson explained, "With learning and skills, it's easier, because you've got colleges that are so much larger that it's easier for staff to be released to go on inspections."[114]

79.  We were pleased to hear the methods outlined by all three RISPs for increasing those figures, including training programmes, conferences, taster courses and peer support.[115] We agree with the inspector who suggested that "secondments directly to Ofsted or to the contractor could ensure more practitioners for a longer time", and are pleased that Ofsted already encourages this.[116] Eleanor Schooling, Director of Children's Services for Islington, argued that—for this to become more normal practice—it would "need to be part of my job and of my job description that there is an expectation that I would go to do peer review and sector-led support for other local authorities",[117] which might be one way of addressing the barriers outlined above.[118]

80.  Furthermore, we are convinced not only that inspectors have more credibility when they are serving practitioners, but also that there are benefits to be gained for the inspection service itself as well as for the settings inspected. Christine Ryan, Chief Inspector at the Independent Schools Inspectorate, told us what those are:

Within our system, the team inspectors are themselves current, serving practitioners. We deploy around a thousand of these a year to go into and inspect other schools. The exchange of information and the opportunity to see the most effective practice and to take it back into their own institutions... is phenomenal. The inspectors themselves frequently comment that it is the best professional development that they get, as well as the benefit to the sector as a whole.[119]

Professor Nick Frost, whose expertise is in the social care side of Ofsted's remit, agreed that peer review would help to "spread good practice and good practice models."[120]

81.  The Inspectorates of Education and Children's Care which we propose, working with the Department for Education, need to develop ways to increase dramatically the percentage of inspectors who are serving senior practitioners on secondment from the front-line. The targets currently set by the Regional Inspection Service Providers for schools are too low, and we believe a greater proportion would aid the credibility and quality of inspection teams. We suggest that such secondments could be built into job descriptions for practitioners, and would encourage Government, centrally and locally, to consider how that might work. Consideration should continue to be given to other ways to ensure that practitioners are encouraged to become inspectors.

The training and role of Additional Inspectors

82.  A very common theme in evidence from education institutions was the huge difference in opinion as to whether Her Majesty's Inspectors offer a better service to schools than their Additional Inspector colleagues. There is a stark contrast in the evidence submitted by the teacher unions with that of Ofsted itself.

83.  Teacher unions have been calling for some time for all inspections to be led by Her Majesty's Inspectors, who are the full-time workforce employed directly by Ofsted. In an article in the Times Education Supplement in March 2010, the National Association of Head Teachers explained its rationale:

The thing about HMIs is there is the quality assurance in terms of training and standards which we don't necessarily believe is there with other inspectors, although there are some very good teams out there.[121]

In its evidence to this inquiry, the NAHT maintained its position, arguing that "we receive very few complaints about HMI" and that the "overwhelming majority of the 'problem' inspectors" are Additional Inspectors.[122] The National Union of Teachers also raised concerns "about the performance and behaviour of inspectors employed by inspection service providers", although "approval ratings of HMI... have consistently been relatively high."[123] For the Association of School and College Leaders this is because "there is a clear rigorous assessment process on appointment of HMIs" which is lacking for Additional Inspectors.[124]

84.  By contrast, Ofsted's own evidence suggests that there are "more complaints about HMI-led inspections of schools than [there are about] additional inspector-led ones."[125] Janet Tomlinson of Tribal offered an explanation of this contrast in evidence:

One of the things that our inspectors find, in schools particularly, is that schools are not really aware of who are HMIs and who are additional inspectors—they get very confused. We find—sometimes to our embarrassment, sometimes to Ofsted's - that schools get confused between what is Ofsted and what is Tribal. As far as they are concerned, they are having an inspection; they do not always mind or care who is doing it, as long as those people are doing it well.[126]

85.  This issue was tackled by our predecessors on the Children, Schools and Families Committee, which recommended in its 2010 report on School Accountability that:

We believe that Ofsted should aspire to have HMIs lead all inspections. Schools causing concern should always be inspected by a team headed by an HMI.[127]

That recommendation was not accepted by either Government or Ofsted, with the former arguing that there "are many effective and highly qualified additional inspectors who have delivered very good inspections and reports"[128] and the latter agreeing that there would not "be any great advantage to having all inspections led by HMI—especially if this diminished their critical role in quality assurance."[129]

86.  That final point does raise concerns about the principle of HMIs leading all inspections. As a smaller, full-time and more costly workforce than their Additional Inspector colleagues, HMIs have an important role in overseeing the training of Additional Inspectors, and we are convinced by Ofsted's evidence that this is a better deployment of their expertise than having them lead every inspection. However, we also agree with Janet Tomlinson that transparency around the provenance and experience of inspectors may be partly responsible for the wildly different evidence submitted by Ofsted and the unions.

87.  On the subject of training, we also acknowledge the evidence submitted to us by the NASUWT union:

For all inspectors, effective training and development remain key concerns. It is for this reason that the NASUWT remains concerned that the nature, scope and quality of Ofsted's training programmes are not open to independent scrutiny.[130]

88.  We are not convinced that there is a definite or systemic difference in quality between Her Majesty's and Additional Inspectors, and are inclined to agree with the inspector who told us that "HMI are not universally better than AI and many AI are certainly better than HMI." We are therefore disinclined to recommend that all inspections are led by HMIs. We do agree, however, that HMIs—who have considerable experience of inspection practice—should continue to be well-utilised in the training of other inspectors.

89.  In line with our earlier recommendation concerning performance-related transparency, we believe that the new Inspectorates should prioritise transparency over the provenance of their inspection teams, including providing fuller biographies and curricula vitae to settings in advance of inspections. This would increase all inspectors' credibility—whether Her Majesty's or Additional—as well as support professional dialogue with settings. Greater transparency over the training of inspectors would also be welcome.

96   The questionnaire asked "In your experience of working as an inspector, are inspection teams uniformly high quality?" as part of an open-text question. Of those who directly responded to that question (74 out of 77 responses), 41% said that teams were broadly or consistently high quality; 54% said quality was variable; and 5% said that generally the quality was low Back

97   Ev 111 Back

98   Ev w125 Back

99   Ev w3 Back

100   Ev w12 Back

101   Q 92 Back

102   Q 327 Back

103   Q 307 Back

104   Ev 148 Back

105   National Association of Head Teachers, Q 141 Back

106   Ofsted Departmental Report 2008-09, p. 55 Back

107   See list, ibid. Back

108   Kelly, G., 'Woodhead wants Ofsted closed down...', The Times Educational Supplement, 12 February 2010 Back

109   Association of School and College Leaders, Q 141 Back

110   The Importance of Teaching-The Schools White Paper 2010, paras 6.17 and 6.19 Back

111   Ev 154 Back

112   Ev w108 Back

113   Q 358 Back

114   Q 358 Back

115   See Q 360 Back

116   See Ofsted Departmental Report 2008-09, p. 55 Back

117   Q 266 Back

118   The Committee's attention has been drawn to the Australian practice of 'Long Service Leave' where employees are entitled to additional, accumulated leave based on their length of service. Some Australian citizens choose to spend this additional leave on secondment to other organisations or visiting similar workplaces abroad. The entitlement is nationwide, but administered regionally; more information on the system in Victoria, for example, can be found at Such a model might provide an interesting starting point for any Governmental consideration of how a "secondments entitlement" might work in this country Back

119   Q 209 Back

120   Q 274 Back

121   'Heads' union demands that all inspections are HMI-led', The Times Educational Supplement, 19 March 2010 Back

122   Ev 111 Back

123   Ev w155 Back

124   'Heads' union demands that all inspections are HMI-led', The Times Education Supplement, 19 March 2010 Back

125   Q 426 Back

126   Q 361 Back

127   School Accountability: First Report of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Session 2009-10, HC 88-I, para 21 Back

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

129   Idem., p. 26 Back

130   Ev w199 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 17 April 2011