Memorandum submitted by the National Association
of Head Teachers |
1. The National Association of Head Teachers
(NAHT) welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Education
Select Committee Inquiry into the work of Ofsted.
2. NAHT currently represents over 28,000 school
leaders in early years; primary; special and secondary schools;
independent schools; sixth form and FE colleges; outdoor education
centres; pupil referral units, social services establishments
and other educational settings, making us uniquely placed to represent
the views of the sector.
3. NAHT supports an effective school inspection
system. The alternative is a data driven, mechanistic approach
to measuring school performance, which would damage the accountability,
effectiveness and morale of the system. We need a system which
rewards those who choose to work in the most disadvantaged communities
and which asks how results are achieved.
4. The purpose of a school inspection system
should be (in order of priority):
(a) To help schools improve their performance;
(b) To provide an independent evaluation of school
performance on behalf of various stakeholders.
(c) It should meet these aims by providing an
external, expert judgement of the school - focused on progress
and rooted in the school's context.
5. We believe that there are certain principles
that an effective school inspection system should meet.
- It should be founded on school self evaluation,
to enable a dialogue between inspector and institution. The school
should have flexibility to choose the method of self evaluation
rather than being constrained by an excessively bureaucratic framework.
- It should be simple, with the minimum of regulation
and red tape.
- It should be proportionate to school performance
in both frequency and scope, but it should be available to all
- Inspection could be triggered by a risk assessment
(and perhaps a randomised sampling) rather than a fixed cycle
- It should be focused on teaching and learning,
and the curriculum, making use of the evaluations of teaching
quality generated by the school's own programme of externally
moderated lesson observation.
- This would eliminate the need for separate subject
inspections, which would be generated from the aggregate of ordinary
inspections; thus saving money.
- It would be helpful to distinguish between "core"
activities, subject to the full investigation, and "enabling"
activities, which would be evaluated on a lighter touch check
- It should make a virtue of expert judgement,
which takes full account of the progress the school is making
given its particular circumstances. It would treat data as a starting
point for enquiry and there would be no limiting judgements.
- It should be developmental. The end result of
an inspection should be a jointly created plan of improvement
- drawing on both the school's perspective and the inspectors'
experience of what works in other similar contexts. An inspection
should be something a school wants and values.
- This would also imply that outstanding schools
should be inspected, in order to generate good practice.
- The tone and conduct of inspectors would also
be critical. It may be helpful to look at the current inspection
categories and alter them so that satisfactory genuinely means
satisfactory - a scale using an odd number of levels would assist
6. Above we have highlighted how we believe inspection
should impact on school improvement. Sadly, we are currently some
way from this position. A recent NAHT poll on the subject of Ofsted
attracted almost 1,500 responses from serving school leaders.
Whilst most agreed that supporting school improvement should be
a key purpose of school inspection, only 16% believed that inspection
accelerated school improvement. The remaining respondents believed
that Ofsted inspections have little or no impact on school improvement
with the largest group (38%) claiming inspection was a distraction
from school improvement and 12% stating that Ofsted actually hinder
7. School leaders are clear about what the problems
are and why Ofsted inspections are failing to deliver what schools
need to drive performance:
8. Ofsted's well documented focus on data (particularly
but not exclusively attainment data) frequently results in schools
coming out of inspection with no new information that they can
use to drive the school forward. It is easy to identify patterns
of performance on paper - it is significantly more difficult to
tackle those problems in the classroom. Ofsted inspectors are
not seen as able (or willing) to provide advice or strategies
to overcome difficulties and improve performance.
9. The tick box culture of inspections continues
to reign supreme. In response schools spend time "jumping
through hoops" which serve only the inspectorate - not the
pupils or staff.
10. Ofsted inspections are seen by many in the
profession as punitive in their approach, not supportive. The
failure of many inspection teams to recognise the contextual factors
affecting schools and the perception that satisfactory is not
good enough, can and does have a devastating effect on staff and
pupil moral. It can take schools months if not years to recover
from a poor inspection experience, setting back the school improvement
agenda immeasurably. This is particularly the case when good schools
have fallen foul of limiting grades.
11. Limiting grades and ever changing requirements
have also been a major setback in the school improvement agenda.
Schools who have worked hard to drive up standards and transform
the learning environment have been prevented from achieving the
grades they deserve and the community expects because of changes
in the inspection framework, so schools that would have moved
from satisfactory to good under one framework, stay as satisfactory
or are given notice to improve under another. This disguises real
school improvement and demoralises students, staff and whole communities.
The performance of Ofsted in carrying out its
work, including the consistency and quality of inspection teams.
12. Only 3 (0.2%) respondents to the NAHT poll
described Ofsted's performance as outstanding, and 17% described
it as good. For the majority (58%), their performance was rated
as satisfactory but worryingly, almost a quarter (24%) described
Ofsted's performance as Inadequate.
13. The most frequently expressed concerns focus
on issues of consistency. 61% of respondents to the NAHT poll
rated Ofsted as inadequate for consistency of inspection teams.
School leaders believe that the quality of inspection is down
to chance - which inspectors turn up on the day.
14. It is important to stress that there are
many highly-skilled inspectors working in the system and school
leaders value and welcome their assessments. However, questions
remain about the selection, training and support for others within
15. Many are concerned that inspectors have insufficient
knowledge and experience of the sector they are inspecting. Secondary
specialists are inspecting primary and early years settings and
the small teams and single inspectors evaluating Special Schools
often do not have inspectors with senior or up to date leadership
experience - essential with the complex management decisions undertaken
in that context. Others are rightly concerned that some inspectors
have been "out" of education for long periods of time
and have not kept abreast of key initiatives or school based activities
and so are unable to effectively assess their appropriateness.
16. The extent to which inspectors are prepared
to use their discretion when assessing a school's circumstances
is another issue as indeed is the complaints procedure.
17. Feedback from our members suggests that there
is considerable variation in the way that inspectors interpret
the inspection framework and evaluation schedule. Good inspectors,
widely respected by the profession, draw on a wealth of knowledge
and experience and use a combination of professional judgement
and common sense when reaching conclusions about appropriate grades.
Ofsted itself clearly advocates this position. However, too many
inspectors either believe (or use as an excuse) that they have
no choice or discretion in the grades they assign, slavishly following
data-based formula irrespective of the reality of the school's
performance. Sadly, these same inspectors are often perilously
behind with their reading and often oblivious to the most recent
Ofsted guidance on interpretation and application of the framework.
18. The problem of inspectors failing to keep
up with guidance is undoubtedly exacerbated by the volume and
frequency of additions and amendments made to such guidance. Whilst
we value the fact that Ofsted have been responsive to the concerns
of the profession and tried to steer inspectors in the right direction,
the need for so many clarifications undermines confidence and
supports our claim that inspectors do not always proceed correctly.
19. It is worth re-stating, that NAHT believes
there are many excellent inspectors working in the field and would
add that we receive very few complaints about HMI. The overwhelming
majority of the "problem" inspectors described above
are "Additional Inspectors". This in itself points to
on-going selection, training and monitoring issues - within Ofsted's
partner inspection service providers (CfBT Education Trust, Serco
Education and Children's Services, Tribal Group and Prospects
20. There is undoubtedly a significant gap between
the inspection process envisioned and described by Ofsted and
the inspection process delivered by some teams.
21. Despite improvements in recent months, many
school leaders believe that using the complaints procedure is
futile as Ofsted are rarely prepared to change their initial position,
or engage with additional evidence. Ofsted's reluctance to publish
data on the number, nature and outcomes of complaints they receive
does not inspire confidence amongst the profession. Inspectors
are seen as unaccountable, with some individuals notorious within
localities for their unprofessional attitudes, complaints are
made, but in the absence of "evidence" (which is almost
impossible to gather) few are upheld.
The weight given to different factors within the
22. School leaders have significant concerns
about the weighting of the inspection process, and in particular
the use of limiting grades. 65% of respondents to the NAHT poll
believed that the current weightings were inappropriate. Part
of this concern is that the Ofsted weighting appears to be politically
rather than educationally motivated. Many of the targets and
baselines used to assess schools are arbitrary and unhelpful within
the context of some schools - particularly small schools where
percentage based models are notoriously unreliable.
23. The over-use of data and the "domino
effect" of some judgements with the framework leave many
schools believing that an outstanding grade is impossible to achieve,
whatever they do.
Whether inspection of all organisations, settings
and services to support children's learning and welfare is best
conducted by a single inspectorate
24. School leaders are divided on whether a single
inspectorate is the best way to approach the inspection of all
organisations settings and services supporting children's learning
25. "Children's services" are by necessity
complex and inter-related and there are undoubtedly times when
a holistic approach is beneficial to all parties. However, this
is not necessarily best achieved by a one-size-fits-all model.
Many are concerned that the expansion of Ofsted has resulted
in an increase in power at the expense of a dilution in service
quality and scrutiny. Education has undoubtedly suffered from
having the attentions of our Chief Inspector pulled in so many
different areas and failures or shortcomings in one area of Ofsted's
remit inevitably impacts on the faith and confidence that all
services have in the inspectorate as whole.
26. It is clear from the responses of our members,
that what matters most is not the external structure of the inspectorate,
but the operational structures within it. Although there is much
inter-agency work across the sector, it is essential that any
and all inspectors have appropriate, relevant experience in and
knowledge of the sector they are inspecting. Frameworks must have
sufficient flexibility to deal with regional and local variation
of practise and structure and the inspectorate much have sufficient
resources to operate effectively.
The role of Ofsted in providing an accountability
mechanism for schools operating with greater autonomy
27. We believe that all maintained schools should
be subject to the same accountability mechanism. As discussed
above, the role of inspection should be about school improvement
and sharing good practice, areas of intense interest for all schools
whatever level of autonomy they have or aspire to. A separate
system of inspection for Academies or Free Schools would suggest
a two-tier state education system, with one group of schools seen
as being less accountable than others. This, considering the range
of inspection outcomes achieved by existing Academies, would be
unacceptable to NAHT and the wider profession.
28. The more challenging question of course is
whether Ofsted should be that inspectorate or whether a new body
is required for the inspection of all maintained schools. NAHT
would be keen to offer oral evidence to the Committee to further
explore this and other questions.