Annex 1: Note of the Committee's Seminar
with Ofsted Inspectors, 1 February 2011|
These notes are a general account of the opinions
expressed by a group of Ofsted inspectors, including those from
the Regional Inspection Service Providers (RISPs), as described
below, who met Committee members for an informal discussion.
The inspectors were sifted from over two hundred
applications received by the Committee, in response to advertisements
in the Times Educational Supplement and online. All inspectors
not selected to attend were invited to complete a questionnaire
asking four broad questions about Ofsted and relevant to the Committee's
Comments in double inverted commas indicate a direct
verbatim quotation, although these are not attributed.
The role and remit of Ofsted
There was a general agreement from inspectors that
the role of Ofsted needed clarification. There was some disagreement
within the group as to whether Ofsted should be focussed primarily
on judgement, regulation and inspection, or on direct improvement
of the services and settings it inspects. One inspector commented
that the danger of fulfilling too many roles is that you could
end up "not doing any of [them] well enough".
It was noted that Ofsted is still seen, predominantly,
as a "schools inspectorate", and that this could be
partly because of the composition of the senior inspectors and
leaders in the organisation, who are largely from education backgrounds.
However, the comment was also made that "restructuring isn't
necessarily the solution". One serving inspector noted that
Ofsted is widely regarded as the "best [inspection][ system
in the world", but there was acknowledgement that its non-schools
remits need to be taken more seriously.
There was consensus that, even if it is an improvement
agency, Ofsted should not be responsible for 'after-care' or 'operational'
matters for schools, and that there were "perverse conflicts
of interest" inherent in inspecting your own advice. Another
inspector commented that the organisation having any improvement
function was "muddying waters". It was noted that the
role of local authorities has changed significantly since Ofsted's
creation, and that the support function has not been replaced
with as tangible a system now. However, the crucial role that
can be played by School Improvement Partners (SIPs) and school
partnership working was noted. "Developing a school's capacity
to improve"or the HMI mantra of "doing good as
you go"was seen by one inspector as a good compromise
between working as a direct improvement force and offering no
Inspections processes and frameworks
It was broadly agreed that setting leaders (for example
head teachers) should be directly involved in the inspection process
and the discussions around itindeed, that this "dramatically
improves" the inspection process. Giving advice was seen
as a trademark of the very best inspectors, but managing to do
this without being "cosy". Indeed, the follow-up support
given to 'inadequate' schools was seen as "particularly effective"
by inspectors, who would "hate to see it disappear".
This is, not least, because inspectors have a "bird's-eye"
view of similar settings across the country, whereas a head's
view may be more localised.
One inspector commented that the slimming down of
the framework was "crucial" in improving the focus on
lesson observation. One inspector felt it would be "fantastic"
if a new limiting judgement were proposed that every 'outstanding'
school had to form a partnership with a weaker school, but there
was general dissent from this view. However, separate inspections
of partnerships' working practices were suggested as an alternative.
On self-evaluation, there was a view that a "good school
will do [it] anyway".
Giving teachers feedback was seen as a very beneficial
exercise, but one inspector argued that there is not currently
time to do this effectively, because inspections have become shorter.
One inspector also suggested that, to offer feedback which is
helpful, an inspector needs to have seen the teacher in action
for a significant period of time.
The difficulties of gathering accurate data were
emphasised. Edubase is often out-of-date, and inspectors' assessment
of risk (relating to settings' performance) is therefore patchy
across the country and across Ofsted's remit. It was suggested
that a technical solutionsuch as linking Ofsted's data
and the Department for Education's more exactlywould be
a major saving in the longer term. It was suggested that 'outstanding'
schools, which are now to be exempt from regular inspection, should
nonetheless be closely risk assessed. There was a concern that
reliance on the 'outstanding' grade could lead to self-satisfaction
and slipping standards in schools, and that inspectors might lose
sight of the benchmark.
The quality of inspectors
The credibility of inspectors, in the eyes of practitioners
and the public, was seen as very important. Some examples were
given of very poor knowledge by inspectors, although one attendee
commented that, "By and large... inspectors do have the experience
and specialisms... The incompetent are the minority." There
was broad consensus that deployment is more of an issue than the
breadth and quality of individual inspectors, and that deployment
could be strengthened by Ofsted and the RISPs, although training
and experience are also important.
The need "to recruit more serving practitioners
into the inspectorate" was acknowledged, as was the current
situation that "we would never have enough specialists to
put one in every specialist area". The view that Her Majesty's
Inspectors could be allowed to inspect any setting purely by dint
of their seniority was seen as "dangerous". Conversely,
effective practitioners did not necessarily, or always, have all
of the skills to be good inspectors. Weekend training was suggested
as one way of ensuring more serving practitioners became inspectors
(because they cannot give up weekdays during term-time as easily),
which can also improve the teacher's performance in-school as
The perceived difference (primarily by teacher unions)
between HMIs and Additional Inspectors was noted, although the
meeting's view was that Ofsted's own data was reliable and correct
in recognising very little difference in complaint levels between
the two groups. However, the different standards of treatment
within Ofstedfor HMIs and AIswas noted by some inspectors
present, an, for this reason, it was suggested that there is a
potential value-for-money case for using more AIs in inspection.
It was argued that, in this regard, Ofsted could learn from best
practice within its own walls as well as from outside them. Others
present, however, argued that there is no actual double standard,
and that all inspectors' expenses are carefully scrutinised.
The question of who reports are written for was discussed,
with a general agreement that they were for parents. However,
the current style of writing was seen as "too technical"
by some inspectors, but lacking in detail for the needs of teachers.
It was suggested by one attendee that "Ofsted
does not focus enough on children from vulnerable groups",
and by another that the focus should be entirely on outcomes for
individual pupils rather than for institutions. It was suggested
by one attendee that Ofsted reports should comment specifically
on how the school is delivering for its most vulnerable 25% of