The role and peformance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The role and remit of Ofsted

1.  We believe that having a single children's inspectorate has not worked well enough to merit its continuation. The expanded Ofsted has lost the elements of specialism associated with its predecessor bodies, at senior and operational levels. Ofsted has not adequately communicated its non-schools remit and, as such, is still seen by the public as an education-focussed organisation. Moreover, different inspection regimes are needed for the very different sectors Ofsted deals with. In order to focus greater attention on children's services and care, and to ensure inspection is respected by its customers, we recommend that the Government splits Ofsted into two inspectorates. (Paragraph 20)

2.  The Inspectorate for Education should hold responsibility for the inspection of education and skills, including nurseries, schools and colleges, adult education, secure estate education, and teacher training, and local authority commissioning of schools. The Inspectorate for Children's Care should focus entirely on children's services and care, including children's homes, adoption services, childminders and CAFCASS. The two inspectorates should, for the sake of financial efficiency, consider how best to share administrative functions, and should of course work closely together—most particularly in conducting joint inspections of nurseries and children's centres—but should retain different elements of expertise and separate Chief Inspectors. The Chief Inspectors should demonstrate, in their annual reports, how the two inspectorates are working together. We are convinced that this division will not only raise the quality of inspection experience, but also the profile of what is currently Ofsted's non-education remit. With the recent formation of the Coalition Government, and a new direction of policy concerning young people, as well as the impending retirement of the incumbent Chief Inspector, now is a good time to begin this move. (Paragraph 21)

3.  The Committee is clear, from the evidence it has taken, that different models of inspection are needed for different settings, which is reflected in our desire for Ofsted to be split. The role of the Education Inspectorate should be, firstly, to inspect institutions and to provide judgments and recommendations which can drive better outcomes for individual children, young people and learners; and, secondly, to provide an overview of the education system as a whole. It should not aim to be an improvement agency, although inspection should of course hold up a mirror to an institution's failings and recommend areas for improvement without dictating how that improvement should come about. Similarly, it should continue Ofsted's work disseminating best practice, not just through inspections but through its website and publications as well. (Paragraph 32)

4.  The Children's Care Inspectorate should more actively support service improvement, including a focus on the quality of practice and the effectiveness of help. This is largely because many of the remits it will inspect—such as childminders and adoption agencies—may not have easy access to the partnership-based improvement model which applies to schools, not least because of the size and scope of their activities. The Children's Care Inspectorate should ensure that its workforce has experienced practitioners who command the respect of social workers and childcare professionals, and who can promote and support improvement as well as regulating for statutory purposes. Inspectors should, for example, sit in on case conferences and attend visits to observe practice. (Paragraph 33)

5.  Both the Education and Children's Care Inspectorates need clearly-articulated mission statements easily available to parents, professionals and the wider public, as well as to their own staff, along the lines established above. These should also explain how the two organisations work together, and where. At present, inspection's role in improvement is not clear, leading to a variety of views within and without Ofsted's own walls, and thence to inconsistent experiences and expectations of inspection. (Paragraph 36)

6.  Whilst we fully agree that local partnership and self-evaluation are important mechanisms for school accountability and improvement, and support increased autonomy for heads and schools, we do not accept the case for the complete abolition of school inspection at this point. However, we support the principle of proportionate inspection and more focus on lower-performing schools. The Education Inspectorate should see as part of its mission a role to support the development of robust self and peer evaluation through appropriate partnerships. The expectation would be that over time the role of the Education Inspectorate would reduce, as a mature model of self-improvement based on trust becomes embedded. (Paragraph 40)

The performance and independence of Ofsted

7.  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. (Paragraph 48)

8.  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. (Paragraph 52)

9.  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. (Paragraph 57)

10.  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. (Paragraph 58)

11.  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. (Paragraph 61)

12.  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. (Paragraph 64)

13.  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. (Paragraph 69)

The quality and consistency of inspectors

14.  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. (Paragraph 76)

15.  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. (Paragraph 81)

16.  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. (Paragraph 88)

17.  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. (Paragraph 89)

Experiences and mechanics of inspection

18.  It is the responsibility of the inspectorate to ensure that inspection processes are not unduly burdensome, and the responsibility of those being inspected to prepare for a process which may be stressful. The inspectorate and the inspected should do everything possible to minimise any negative impact of inspection on young people and learners. (Paragraph 93)

19.  We suggest that the new Chief Inspectors of Education and Children's Care, whilst having due regard to the financial efficiency of their organisations, consider how best to build further preparation time into inspection schedules. (Paragraph 94)

20.  We welcome the intention, in the new framework for the inspection of children's homes, for all future inspections of those settings to be unannounced. Whilst we accept that for certain settings a notice period is appropriate, we recommend that in the future little or no notice to providers should be the norm. We believe that the disadvantages raised by some witnesses are outweighed by the merits of unannounced inspection, particularly in ensuring that inspectors see the setting as it truly is. (Paragraph 101)

21.  We agree with the National Governors' Association that chairs of governors' attendance at post-inspection feedback sessions should be encouraged by inspectors (and preferably that of other governors as well). This is particularly worthwhile in light of the changing responsibilities governors will have in schools. Outside feedback sessions, the inspectorate should have a clear policy of engaging governors as much as possible throughout the inspection process. (Paragraph 104)

22.  We agree with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation that the current set-up of the Voluntary Childcare Register is misleading and in need of very urgent reform. We are concerned that the current procedures, far from providing the public with a reliable system of registration and safeguarding, might mislead parents by suggesting a level of quality assurance that has not been undertaken. We urge the Government to improve the existing Register, through legislation where necessary, and to provide the public with a more reliable system for vetting carers which provides greater scrutiny of applicants. In the meantime, we recommend that Ofsted takes immediate action to improve the existing system—such as adding expiry dates to letters of registration. (Paragraph 108)

23.  We are concerned that the current inspection processes for sixth forms, schools and colleges are not consistent with each other, giving a potentially misleading impression of those institutions' performance. The data used to judge institutions need to be the same for students in the same age groups, and we recommend that this is remedied as swiftly as possible. (Paragraph 111)

The future direction of inspection policy

24.  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. (Paragraph 114)

25.  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. (Paragraph 118)

26.  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. (Paragraph 122)

27.  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. 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. (Paragraph 127)

28.  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. (Paragraph 128)

29.  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. (Paragraph 130)

30.  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. (Paragraph 134)

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