The role and performance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Ofsted



1.  Ofsted carries out independent, expert inspections and regulatory visits in order to drive improvement across the full range of its remit, and reports to Parliament annually.[1] Ofsted also produces in-depth studies of curriculum subjects and aspects of provision in social care, education and skills, to advise the Government and inform the public on quality and standards, and to provide evidence to Parliament and its Select Committees.[2]

2.  Local authorities and funding bodies use inspection reports when making their decisions about support for children and learners. Local communities and those using services, including parents, influence inspections and have access to published inspection reports, enabling them to hold services to account.


3.  Ofsted's inspection reports provide learners, parents, employers and the wider community with independent and trusted information. This helps them make informed choices about their schools, nurseries and colleges. Ofsted's website, where around 2,900 new inspection reports are published each month, receives up to 570,000 unique visitors and eight million hits a month.[3]


4.  Inspection should be an agent for change, not just of scrutiny and challenge. Ofsted publishes what inspectors look for during inspections in inspection "frameworks", both to ensure consistency and set out clearly the features of outstanding, good, satisfactory and inadequate provision. Ofsted regularly consults on, and revises, its inspection frameworks to take into account rising public expectations and to drive continuous improvement.[4]

5.  Ofsted's inspection reports contain specific recommendations so that those providing services know what to do to improve. Ofsted also monitors weaker providers more closely to ensure they know what to focus on and that appropriate steps are being taken. Ofsted draws on its findings to highlight what is working well, and shares good practice so others can learn from it.

6.  Ofsted has a regulatory role in relation to childcare and some children's social care services. When inspecting these providers, Ofsted checks that the government's minimum standards are being met and takes proportionate enforcement action to ensure children are safe and well looked after.[5]


7.  The creation of the new Ofsted in April 2007 brought together the work of four predecessor organisations into a single inspectorate for children and learners.[6] There are always challenges involved in implementing and embedding a large organisational merger, but Ofsted has continued to deliver and improve the full range of its inspection and regulatory activity whilst achieving significant savings. Ofsted has consistently met its inspection and regulatory targets.

8.  The majority of education, children's services and skills providers inspected by Ofsted report they are satisfied with Ofsted's work. For example, since September 2009, around nine out of 10 headteachers responding to post-inspection surveys said they were satisfied with the way their inspection was carried out and that the inspection had identified clear recommendations for improvement. A similar number of children's home managers responding to a survey in 2010 said they thought Ofsted's inspections helped them improve what they do, and every college inspected in 2009-10 agreed that the Ofsted inspection report provided a sound basis for action and development.

9.  Inspection develops over time, and since April 2007 Ofsted has introduced improvements across the full range of its remit, including:

  • increasing the time spent directly observing services for children and learners. Under the school inspection framework introduced in September 2009, for example, inspectors are spending around twice as much time in classrooms as under the previous framework. New unannounced inspections now directly observe child protection arrangements in local authorities.
  • focussing on the experiences of children, young people and adult learners, and in particular those who are amongst the most vulnerable: those who are looked after by, or leaving the care of, local authorities.[7]
  • making inspections more proportionate to risk. Under the current school inspection framework, for example, all schools are inspected at least once in a five year period, but weaker schools are inspected with greater frequency. Ofsted is currently working on new proposals to cease routine inspections of outstanding schools and colleges unless there are concerns about their performance.
  • making it easier for front-line staff to tell us when things are going wrong. In 2009, for example, Ofsted introduced a new whistle-blowers' hotline to enable council employees and others working with children and young people to raise concerns about safeguarding practices and procedures. In addition, new surveys of social workers and those working in the third sector were introduced in 2010.
  • bringing together some inspections, such as of education and welfare in boarding schools, reducing demands on services and making more efficient use of resources.

10.  Ofsted has continued to reduce its overall expenditure whilst meeting its inspection and regulatory targets. It now costs the taxpayer around a third less to carry out its work when compared to the cost of the predecessor organisations carrying out those functions in 2003-04, a saving of around £80 million.

11.  Savings have been made through a combination of: more proportionate inspection; re-tendering outsourced school and college inspection contracts (in September 2009) and outsourcing early years inspections (from September 2010); and efficiencies brought about through restructured and streamlined corporate support services. Ofsted is a leader in the use of outsourced provision in the public sector. At the same time, Ofsted has continued to ensure its staff has the learning and development necessary to deliver high quality inspection and regulation and was awarded Investors in People status in 2008.


12.  Independent evaluations have found that inspection has a significant impact on school improvement, especially in the weakest schools. Inspection can act as a catalyst for improvement and helps ensure schools are focusing on the right areas for development. Over the four years of school inspections ending in 2008-09 there was a steady increase each year in the proportions of good and outstanding schools, with this figure reaching 69% of schools inspected in 2008-09.[8]

13.  The areas on which Ofsted focuses in inspection frameworks can help target improvement. For example, safeguarding arrangements have markedly improved since Ofsted introduced a more rigorous approach to this area. In 2006, an Ofsted study found that 32 of the 58 schools inspected were not acting in accordance with the government's safeguarding requirements. Ofsted subsequently introduced a greater emphasis on this area, and during 2009-10 less than 2% of schools were judged inadequate for safeguarding.

14.  The National Foundation for Educational Research (NfER) evaluated Ofsted's impact between 2006 and 2009.[9] NfER emphasised the importance of classroom observation, high quality feedback and clear, specific and straight-forward recommendations in published inspection reports. Teachers, in particular, reported that inspection helps identify where change is needed. Nearly 90% of teachers responding to the NfER survey stated that they thought inspection helped schools to set new priorities for the future and 85% agreed that inspection led to improvements in teaching and learning.[10]

15.  Ofsted has an important role in driving improvement in the weakest schools. When a school is placed in "special measures", for example, Ofsted holds a school improvement seminar with the headteacher, the governing body and a representative of the local authority to discuss the improvements needed. Ofsted inspectors then carry out monitoring visits of the schools, at a frequency of up to three visits a year, to support and check on progress.

16.  Since September 2005, 83% of schools improved sufficiently to have special measures removed by the time of their fifth monitoring visit. School leaders, teachers, and local authorities will have brought about the necessary improvements but headteachers of schools coming out of special measures say that Ofsted monitoring visits had a major impact.[11] The Ofsted visits helped the school to focus on the right areas, kept the school on track, and imbued a rapid pace.


17.  All Ofsted's HMI and social care regulatory inspectors undergo rigorous selection, induction and training processes, and all have experience and skills relevant to the sectors they inspect.

18.  Ofsted employs HMI to undertake and quality assure inspections of schools and colleges, and contracts with three private inspection service providers (CfBT Education Trust, Serco Education and Tribal Group) to supply Additional Inspectors. There are tight contractual arrangements in place with the inspection service providers, with key performance indicators setting stringent quality standards.[12] Ofsted has worked with private inspection service providers since its creation in 1992 and has a comprehensive programme of quality assurance in place.

19.  HMI quality assure the work of the Additional Inspectors on their team and check the suitability of new Additional Inspectors before signing them off for further deployment. Most of the current cohort of Additional Inspectors have substantial experience of inspections, often working with HMI since 2005. Some Additional Inspectors are serving headteachers. HMI continue to lead many of the most complex inspections, including 75% of secondary schools and 85% of schools causing concern.

20.  Ofsted employs Social Care Regulatory Inspectors to carry out inspections across the range of children's social care settings. Social Care Regulatory Inspectors must have a recognised social work qualification or at least a level four professional qualification relevant to working with children. They must also have significant experience of leadership and management in a social care setting or service for children and young people or at least three years post-qualifying experience as a fostering or adoption social worker.

21.  Ofsted also employs expert HMI (Social Care) who in addition to leading inspections of social care settings and welfare in boarding schools, inspect and evaluate safeguarding, child protection and looked after children services in local authorities. They are also responsible for evaluating serious case reviews and are all qualified and registered social workers with appropriate senior leadership and management experience.

22.  As with school and college inspections, Ofsted has a dedicated quality assurance process to ensure children's social care inspection standards are met and reports are consistent. Local authority children's services are surveyed following either a full inspection of their safeguarding and looked after children's services or an unannounced inspection of child protection referral and assessment arrangements. In 2009-10 all but one local authority reported satisfaction with the way the inspection was carried out, and not one expressed concerns about the skills and experience of the inspection team.[13]


23.  Ofsted inspections are designed for the particular service or sector inspected. Some of these, such as independent schools and children's homes, are defined by the need to ensure that providers are meeting legal requirements and minimum standards; others, such as schools and colleges, are more focused on evaluating quality.

24.  The weight given to different factors within the inspection process depends upon the type of inspection but Ofsted's inspection frameworks normally have overall judgments on: "Overall effectiveness" (often informed by a judgement on "capacity to improve"); "Quality of provision"; "Outcomes for children/learners"; and "Leadership and management".

25.  In relation to the school inspection system introduced in September 2009 children's achievement, and in particular their learning and progress, is the driving factor in determining a school's overall effectiveness, with a lesser link to raw attainment. In the first two terms of the new school inspection framework, in over a quarter of the schools judged to be outstanding and half of the schools judged good, pupils' attainment was not above average for the country.

26.  Under this current inspection framework, if a school is found inadequate for safeguarding or promoting equal opportunities of pupils' achievement, it is highly likely to be judged inadequate overall. Serious weaknesses in either of these areas usually reflect more general serious weaknesses in the school. In the first two terms of the new inspection arrangements, Ofsted undertook 3,990 school inspections and no school was found inadequate solely as a result of minor safeguarding concerns.[14]

27.  In learning and skills inspections, Ofsted's inspection frameworks have a similar focus on improvement, particularly the outcomes for, and the needs of, different groups of learners including underachieving groups and those in vulnerable circumstances. Ofsted's inspection arrangements encourage services to focus on the interests of learners and employers who use them. Learning and skills providers tell us they value the inspection of sector subject areas. These are sampled and graded on all inspections and offer a specialist view for the benefit of learners and employers. There is also an emphasis on the judgement on "capacity to improve", recognising the Further Education and Skills sector's drive for increased self-regulation.

28.  Ofsted introduced new arrangements for the inspection of services for safeguarding and looked after children in the summer of 2009.[15] The arrangements have two main elements. The first is the annual programme of unannounced two-day inspections of front-line child protection contact, referral and assessment arrangements in local authorities. The second element is the full two-week rolling programme of inspections of safeguarding services and of services for looked after children held over a three year timeframe.

29.  Both types of inspection consider front-line practice and place emphasis on the quality and impact of the service. During the unannounced inspections, inspectors spend their time observing work coming in, how it is responded to, and how it is prioritised and managed in real time. Inspectors talk to front-line staff and managers about their experience and perspectives and they examine a sample of cases in detail with the workers involved. In the full inspections, HMI look at the whole range of ways in which local authorities and other services deliver their responsibilities for keeping children safe, both as individual agencies and in partnership.

30.  The new inspections have been well received, and Ofsted is working with the Association of Directors of Children's Services to improve the arrangements and make sure they are fully proportionate.[16]

Whether inspection of all organisations, settings and services to support children's learning and welfare is best conducted by a single inspectorate

31.  Ofsted has demonstrated that it is possible for a single inspectorate to carry out high quality inspections of individual learning and welfare services by using expert inspectors. Having these carried out by a single inspectorate brings a number of attendant advantages, including:

  • being able to investigate themes relating to both welfare and learning, such as poverty, special educational needs or outcomes for looked after children and produce insightful reports sharing best practice and making recommendations for improvement.
  • being able to look across services for children and learners in local areas to see how well they are joining up in a way that was not done before; for instance, in its reports on safeguarding and looked after children's services in local authorities.
  • creating efficiencies for providers and local authorities. Ofsted can carry out "single inspection events", for example where schools also run registered childcare, thereby reducing demands whilst making judgements on the full range of services on offer in one location.
  • reflecting local and national government structures and helping ensure coherent accountability mechanisms.

32.  Having a single inspectorate has also resulted in efficiency savings as mentioned above. This has included reductions in the per capita cost of in-house staff such as research, IT and administrative teams.[17] The creation of the new Ofsted in April 2007 resulted in immediate savings of around £15 million, principally through economies of scale and sharing back-office functions.

The role of Ofsted in providing an accountability mechanism for schools operating with greater autonomy

33.  Ofsted inspection has an important role to play for schools operating with greater autonomy. Independent, expert inspection will enable such schools to be held accountable, will encourage their continuing improvement and give parents the information they need to compare all schools on a consistent basis.

34.  Ofsted has been introducing increasingly proportionate inspection over the last few years to ensure there is a strong focus on underperformance. A move to no longer routinely inspecting outstanding schools will build on this. Ofsted will continue to undertake essentially desk-based assessments of the performance of such schools so that concerns can trigger an inspection. Ofsted will also continue to carry out survey inspections in these schools to ensure others can learn from the very best.

35.  There is no conflict between Ofsted's inspection role and schools having greater autonomy in terms of management and curriculum. This is already reflected in the inspection arrangements for academies. Ofsted judges schools on the basis of the quality of their provision and the outcomes for their pupils, not by compliance with statutory requirements or particular models of provision. Ofsted recognises that different approaches to leadership and management can work equally well in different contexts. What matters is the impact of leaders and managers on the quality of teaching and learning, and the outcomes for the school's pupils.[18]

October 2010

1   The latest of which is The Annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills 2008/09, Ofsted, 2009.  Back

2   In 2009-10 Ofsted carried out around 38,500 inspections, including nearly 3,800 inspections of children's homes; over 18,000 childcare providers, over 6,300 schools, 167 colleges, 122 prisons and secure estate settings, and 98 inspections of local authority child protection contact, assessment and referral centres. The 2009-10 Annual Report will be published in November 2010. Back

3   In an independent survey carried out by Ipsos MORI in 2009, only 9% of parents said they were not in favour of school inspection, with most valuing the information it provides and saying it stops schools from coasting and/or helps them improve. Back

4   Ofsted's inspection frameworks and associated guidance for inspectors are published on Ofsted's website, Back

5   Ofsted also looks into complaints about regulated childcare and social care providers. In 2008-09, for example, Ofsted looked into 7,200 complaints about childcare provision and required action to bring about improvement in 31% of these cases. (Ofsted Annual Report 2008-09). Back

6   The new Ofsted brought together: the work of the Adult Learning Inspectorate, the children's work of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the inspection of Cafcass from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Court Administration and the Office for Standards in Education. Back

7   See, for example, Ofsted's Annual Report 2008-09. Ofsted is able to draw on the inspection of individual providers; its new inspections looking at looked after children's services within local authorities and the work of the Children's Rights Director, who is based within Ofsted.  Back

8   The proportion of schools found good or outstanding since September 2009 was lower than this. However, this is in the context of a more-risk based approach to inspection where more satisfactory, inadequate and declining schools were selected for inspection. Back

9   The NfER evaluations of the impact of section 5 inspections are available on Ofsted's website, Back

10   Independent survey conducted by NFER, Teacher Voice Survey 2009, available on Ofsted's website, Back

11   78% of the headteachers surveyed reported that their schools would not have made the same progress at the same rate without the monitoring visits; 16% responded that they would have made the same progress but not at the same rate. [Impact of special measures monitoring: headteacher perspective, Internal briefing, Ofsted (2007)].  Back

12   In the period April-June 2010, none of the 1152 inspections conducted required formal intervention by Ofsted to secure the judgement and none of the additional inspectors presented for sign-off failed to meet the criteria. During the same period there were only four upheld complaints about the manner in which inspections were conducted (1 in 288). Back

13   Of the 35 post-inspection surveys carried out, 32 local authorities agreed or strongly agreed that the skills and experience of the inspection team matched the areas inspected (one did not respond and two neither agreed nor disagreed).  Back

14   Ofsted published an FAQ section on its website in response to myths arising around the time of the introduction of the new school inspection framework that made it clear that schools would not be found inadequate for minor safeguarding issues. Back

15   Ofsted consulted extensively on these new arrangements and published its initial proposals in September 2009. Back

16   As noted at paragraph 22, feedback from those inspected about these inspections has been overwhelmingly positive. Back

17   Had Ofsted existed in its current form in 2003-04, its staffing would have been 3,082. At the end of March 2010, the new Ofsted's headcount was 2,142. And with the outsourcing of early years in September 2010 it is as of 1 September, 1,539. Back

18   Ofsted is working on new school inspection arrangements for consultation in 2010 and introduction in 2011. This will focus on the quality of teaching; the effectiveness of leadership; pupils' behaviour and safety, and pupils' achievement.  Back

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Prepared 17 April 2011