The role and peformance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

6  The future direction of inspection policy

The need for clarity

112.  The recently-published White Paper The Importance of Teaching lays out the Department for Education's broad policy concerning schools inspection. Whilst we do broadly welcome the direction of travel laid out by the White Paper and, as shall be seen, agree with some of its key proposals, its complete non-mention of the majority of Ofsted's remit does provide us with considerable cause for concern. We appreciate absolutely that The Importance of Teaching is a schools-centred document; nonetheless, we cannot help but agree with Sir Paul Ennals' comments at the last National Children's Bureau annual conference:

Virtually nothing on early education, on extended services, on promoting wellbeing, on supporting families. The vision is fine as far as it goes—but our vision is wider. Ours is a vision of schools at the heart of their communities, meeting the diverse needs of children and families...[168]

More specifically, Kate Groucutt of the Daycare Trust reiterated to the Committee that the children's sector would "certainly welcome clarification" on "whether the arrangements announced for schools will also apply to early years."[169]

113.  Attempts by the Committee to clarify the position have so far borne little fruit. The Committee Chair asked a written question of Department for Education ministers on whether the cessation of inspection for outstanding schools would apply to other settings, and was told in response that "consideration is currently being given to the appropriateness of extending the principle... to other areas of Ofsted's remit."[170] Tim Loughton MP, the responsible Minister, told us in his oral evidence that "it would [be] inappropriate for us to say definitively what we were going to do" until the Munro Review had been published.[171]

114.  We believe the Government needs to articulate, as clearly as it has explained its inspection policy for schools, its plans for the other settings currently inspected by Ofsted. The current focus on schools in Department for Education pronouncements on Ofsted alone does not reflect or respect the breadth of the inspectorate's influence, or show enough concern for the many settings which are not schools and which are understandably keen to know how their inspection arrangements are likely to change. This is particularly important in light of our earlier recommendation to split Ofsted, in which case some early steers for the Children's Care Inspectorate would be welcome.

Cessation of inspection for outstanding providers

115.  The Importance of Teaching advocates a "highly proportionate approach to inspection", with more focus on lower-performing schools and cessation of routine inspection of schools and colleges previous judged to be outstanding. Subject to legislation, this exemption will apply to primary and secondary schools, and sixth-form colleges, from autumn 2011, although the White Paper also announces the Government's intention to extend this to special schools and Pupil Referral Units. Ofsted and the Government will work together to develop triggers for re-inspection.[172]

116.  Broadly, however, the inspectors we took evidence from were against the policy of no inspection for outstanding schools. We were told that heads of those schools "want to be inspected and held to account", and that this view had been shared with inspectors. More frequently raised was a concern that "schools can change almost overnight" and that outstanding grades do not therefore 'stick' even from one inspection to another. This is supported by Ofsted's own statement in the 2009-10 Chief Inspector's report:

55% of the 220 schools previously judged outstanding and reinspected on the basis of risk were no longer outstanding in their inspection this year.[173]

Furthermore, as one inspector pointed out to us, many outstanding schools do well "because of the high ability and motivation of the students" rather than "as a result of the high quality of provision and teaching". With a new proposed framework focussing more than ever on the quality of teaching, that evidence is enough to give pause for thought over the complete cessation of inspection for outstanding schools.

117.  A number of inspectors also shared concerns voiced by Professor Tony Kelly in his oral evidence:

I am not sure good schools need to be inspected, but I think all schools need good schools to be inspected... The system needs to know where its leading edge is, as what the good schools are doing can be replicated across the system... the inspectorate and the practitioners themselves [need to] know what the leading edge is doing.[174]

One inspector told us that "inspectors themselves benefit from seeing the best possible practice to disseminate to others", and another queried how inspectors would "now identify where current best practice is located" if the best schools were not routinely visited. Professor Chris Husbands, now Director of the Institute of Education, was clear that "one consequence of outstanding schools and colleges not being inspected is that we will know considerably less about what is happening in the best parts of the system than we have known over the past 15 years."[175]

118.  We support the cessation of inspection for outstanding schools. We feel that schools should be encouraged to achieve higher levels of performance and then depend on self-evaluation and partnership with other schools as the key drivers to maintain and further improve performance. We disagree with inspectors that knowledge of current best practice will be lost: the inspectorate can still gain and disseminate this through, for example, its surveys and subject reports. These, in turn, will ensure inspectors can stay in touch with best practice across the country and maintain sight of the benchmark of high performance. However if there are signs that performance standards are not being maintained at a school, or if there is a major management change, there should be a trigger mechanism to bring forward inspections at the school school—not just, as proposed in The Importance of Teaching, for special schools and PRUs but for all educational institutions. We have heard that such considerations do in any case influence inspection scheduling, but recommend formalising the triggers, so that parents can be assured the new regime will not lead to any school missing out on the attention it needs. Such triggers may include, for example, a material change in exam results, a change of head, a spike in the number of exclusions, or a major increase in staff turnover.

Differentiation of grading for satisfactory schools

119.  Currently, Ofsted inspections commonly result in one of four grades: outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate.[176] The Committee heard substantial evidence arguing for a new, fifth, grade to be used in Ofsted judgments. Although a few witnesses, such as the Fostering Network, felt that there was little benefit in a new grade—as agencies should be focussed on getting "good" or "outstanding" only[177]—the majority of witnesses questioned on this issue were supportive. Lesley Gannon, Assistant Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told us that the "immediate preference" of her members was for a fifth grade:

It is about splitting that position between "satisfactory", "inadequate" and "good". There is not enough fine grading. When you have an even number, a divide tends to be put somewhere where it does not necessarily lie.[178]

Lord Sutherland, the first head of Ofsted, argued even more strongly for the grade to be between "satisfactory" and "inadequate":

There should be something above failing, above special measures, but that implies there is room for manoeuvre.[179]

Eleanor Schooling, Director of Children's Services in Islington, agreed that a fifth grade would bring benefits for schools if placed as Lord Sutherland argued:

To differentiate between somebody who is stuck and somebody who is improving, who may have quite similar outcomes in all other respects, is very important. If an institution... is starting to make progress and make inroads into the issues and has the capacity, that needs to be described differently from somebody who may still not be achieving good enough standards and is not doing anything about it.[180]

120.  The three Regional Inspection Service Providers—who submitted written evidence together—went furthest in suggesting that pressure be put specifically on schools which have been consistently graded "satisfactory" and show little sign of improvement. They pointed out to us that "a failing school is expected to make progress with 12 months - there is no such time pressure on schools that have remained grindingly satisfactory year on year".[181]

121.  We agree with the witnesses and are therefore supportive of the White Paper's statement on these issues of grading:

Ofsted will differentiate within the broad "satisfactory" category, between schools which are improving and have good capacity to improve further, and schools which are stuck. Schools which are satisfactory but making little progress will be more likely to receive a monitoring visit from Ofsted within the next year, and may be judged inadequate if they have not improved.[182]

122.  The Committee welcomes the Government's decision to divide the 'satisfactory' grade in two, and the extra monitoring for "stuck" schools, but recommends that specific criteria are developed to suggest why a school might be placed in either category (for example, how long a school need be "satisfactory" before it is considered "stuck"), and how the lower of the two grades differs from "inadequate". The categories need to be clearly named to differentiate between them. A similar fifth grade should be developed for "stuck at satisfactory" providers other than schools.

New framework for school inspections

123.  The new Coalition Government has made very clear its views on the framework for school inspections:

The current Ofsted framework inspects schools against 27 headings—many reflecting previous government initiatives. In place of this framework, Ofsted will consult on a new framework with a clear focus on just four things—pupil achievement, the quality of teaching, leadership and management, and the behaviour and safety of pupils... It will allow inspectors to get back to spending more of their time observing lessons, giving a more reliable assessment of the quality of education children are receiving.[183]

124.  Evidence taken for this inquiry suggests that the proposed new framework is broadly welcomed by inspectors. Ofsted's own Trade Union Side wrote to us that

The current framework has become too complex and... imposed a level of prescription which is not helpful. A tighter focus on fewer judgments... will give inspectors more time to engage in extended dialogue with teachers and school leaders...[184]

125.  The teacher leader unions were a little more hesitant in accepting the new framework, although the National Association of Head Teachers acknowledged that the categories are the right ones to have "in the foreground".[185] However, the NAHT went on to state that " it very much depends on how those four areas are defined, and the details behind it."[186] The Association of School and College Leaders agreed, posing several specific questions for Government to answer:

We are not quite sure what behaviour and safety will encompass... Does it include safeguarding? Would that come under leadership and management? What will the definition of behaviour be? What will be looked at?[187]

The ASCL also argued that four areas could rapidly expand, asking "whether it will be only four areas, or whether other things will be included where there is a statutory obligation to look at it."[188] Other questions around precisely what would be included in the new framework—and, crucially, the guidance given to inspectors—included take-up of Free School Meals and breakfast clubs and other healthy eating initiatives, which can "be assessed as indications of a school's commitment to disadvantaged children."[189] In the leadership and management category, it is not clear the extent to which that will include the performance of governors. The National Governors Association suggested to us that "governance is not always adequately covered or more importantly understood by inspectors",[190] which is at odds with the Government's stated desire (in the White Paper) to raise the status of school governors.

126.  The Committee heard a variety of evidence on the concept of 'limiting judgments'. These are the grades given to schools for three categories—attainment, safeguarding, and equality and diversity—and which have a limiting effect on the overall grade given to the institution. In our first evidence session, former Chief Inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson said they have "not been a particularly good innovation",[191] and David Sherlock agreed that they are "unfortunate".[192] However, several inspectors argued, in response to our questionnaire, in favour of the limiting judgments, with one stating that they are "absolutely right" and asking "How can a school be performing well without these three factors being taken into account?".

127.  The Committee believes that a slimmer framework for schools inspection is the right, and mature, way to go. However, we agree with witnesses that clarity is needed on precisely what the four categories will include, and we strongly support the recently-launched consultation.[193] We similarly suggest that the leadership and management category makes specific reference to the performance of governors in scrutinising a school as well as the effectiveness of performance within it. We also welcome the new framework's focus on observation: inspectors, if they are highly-qualified and well-trained, should have time to observe practice and form professional opinions rather than focus on scrutinising data against a large number of separate headings.

128.  If schools are inspected against only four categories—and assuming a school's commitment to safeguarding its pupils is covered under the new 'behaviour and safety' or 'leadership and management' headings—we fail to see the continued need for limiting judgments, and therefore recommend that these are abandoned once the new school inspection framework is in place.

The Self-Evaluation Form

129.  The Importance of Teaching announces the Government's intention to make the existing Self-Evaluation Form (SEF) non-compulsory for schools:

The new framework will not require schools to have completed a self evaluation form, allowing governing bodies and head teachers to choose for themselves how to evaluate their work.[194]

Some concerns were expressed to the Committee about this proposal. Lord Sutherland told us that "a decent governing body" would hold a school to account for that information anyway, but we are concerned that that presumes too much about the consistency of governors' scrutiny of schools' self-evaluation across the country. The National Governors' Association itself "is concerned that the abolition of the SEF will lead to a deterioration in the quality of school self-evaluation... [and] believes... that there should be a generic self-evaluation form for schools."[195] However, the NGA did acknowledge that elements of the current SEF are "too long and bureaucratic"[196], whilst Tony Kelly argued that the abolition is "neither here nor there, because good schools self-evaluate" and that inspectors should examine "the extent to which schools are self-evaluating".[197]

130.  We agree with the Government that the less teachers are constrained by bureaucracy, the better. However, we recommend that the inspectorate continues to publish a simplified Self-Evaluation Form, albeit non-obligatory, and to make it—and guidance on good evaluation—easily available to heads and governors.

Measuring progression and attainment

131.  The Committee was heartened to hear the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools emphasise that attainment is not the only measure of a school's success:

Children come in different shapes and sizes and schools have different intakes, and to judge solely on the basis of attainment when children come from a range of different prior achievements does not seem to be a very subtle measurement of how the school is doing.[198]

We were similarly encouraged to read, in the Chief Inspector's most recent Annual Report, that a school's role in progressing its pupils was considered by Ofsted:

Low attainment alone does not prevent schools from being judged as good. Furthermore, in 15% of primary schools and 20% of secondary schools judged to be outstanding overall, attainment was broadly average... Typically, their pupils make good or outstanding progress from their low attainment at entry.[199]

Similarly, the Chief Inspector has written that pupil progress is already treated more importantly than attainment alone:

I want to make it clear that the driving factor in determining a school's effectiveness is the difference it is making for its pupils, not raw exam results.[200]

132.  This approach could, perhaps, be seen as at odds with the Government's intention to raise the 'floor standard' for schools, as well as the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, both of which highlight further a school's performance based on exam results. However, Lord Hill explained to us that the English Baccalaureate is "separate from the Ofsted process... it is another light that shows us how schools are doing."[201] He argued that "you need to have progression, but you also need to see how children are doing in terms of whether they are getting some qualifications at the end of it."[202]

133.  The Government has also announced its intention to abolish the existing 'contextual value added' measure:

The measure is difficult for the public to understand, and recent research shows it to be a less strong predictor of success than raw attainment measures. It also has the effect of expecting different levels of progress from different groups of pupils on the basis of their ethnic background, or family circumstances, which we think is wrong in principle.[203]

134.  The Committee supports more publicly available information on schools, including more comprehensive attainment tables. We think it is essential that the inspectorate prioritises its reporting on efforts made for, and progress made by, pupils across the full range of ability groups (including both those in the very highest or 'gifted and talented' group, and those with the lowest incoming test scores or assessment), and those with special educational needs. The Department should seek to give these progress measures prominence comparable to other key measures such as 'five good GCSEs' and the new English Baccalaureate.

168   Reported in Children and Young People Now, 30 November 2010 Back

169   Q 336 Back

170   HC Deb, 1 March 2011, col. 347W Back

171   Professor Eileen Munro was commissioned in June 2010, by the Secretary of State for Education, to conduct an independent review into children's social work and frontline child protection practice. Back

172   See paragraph 6.21 of The Importance of Teaching-The Schools White Paper 2010 Back

173   Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills 2009-10, p. 31 Back

174   Q 88 and Q 89 Back

175   Q171 Back

176   There are some exceptions to this basic grading structure. For example, between 1 October 2010 to 28 February 2011, an interim framework was in use for inspections of CAFCASS, where one of three grades was awarded: 'good progress', 'satisfactory progress', and 'inadequate progress'. That interim framework can be found at Similarly, some inspection judgments are not graded. For example, unannounced inspections of contact, referral and assessment for children in need and children who may be in need of protection do not result in a graded judgment, but rather in a letter to the relevant Director of Children's Services outlining the inspectors' findings. More information can be viewed at Back

177   See Q 311 Back

178   Q 157 Back

179   Q 33 Back

180   Q 287 Back

181   Ev 129 Back

182   The Importance of Teaching-The Schools White Paper 2010, para 6.22 Back

183   Idem., paras 6.18-6.19 Back

184   Ev w68 Back

185   Q 156 Back

186   Ibid. Back

187   Q 155 and Q 156 Back

188   Q 155 Back

189   Ev w143 Back

190   Ev 122 Back

191   Q 58 Back

192   Ibid. Back

193   Ofsted launched a consultation on changes to school inspection on 21 March 2011. See for more information Back

194   The Importance of Teaching-The Schools White Paper 2010, para 6.19 Back

195   Ev 122 Back

196   Ibid. Back

197   Q 108 Back

198   Q 458 Back

199   Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Skills and Children's Services 2009-10, p. 39 Back

200   Christine Gilbert, HMCI, in a letter to The Times ('It is important to look beyond exam results'), 9 June 2010 Back

201   Q 461 Back

202   Q 460 Back

203   The Importance of Teaching-The Schools White Paper 2010, p. 68 Back

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