The role and performance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by the Department for Education

INTRODUCTION

The Coalition Government believes that it is time for a fundamental shift in decision making from central government to local communities. It is committed to promoting decentralisation and democratic engagement; reducing top-down government by giving new powers to local councils, communities, local services, neighbourhoods and individuals. These principles provide the context within which public service inspection needs to operate in future.

Central to the Department's early plans is the reform of the accountability system for schools, including the role of school inspection.

We want to give parents a greater opportunity to send their children to a good school. Such schools should have strong discipline in the classroom, high standards, excellent teaching and effective and inspirational leadership.

We also want to help parents, community groups and others come together to improve the education system by starting new schools. We will promote the reform of schools to enable new entrants to the state school system to respond to parental demand and to ensure that all schools are held properly to account.

REFORMING INSPECTION

We invest substantially in the delivery of education, training and services for children and young people. Inspection has an important role to play in providing assurance for service users, the public generally and the Government, about service quality and performance. But we see room to improve its direction and efficiency.

We are committed to reforming inspection to focus on the things that really matter to local communities - recognising the achievements of the highest performers and freeing them from inspection burdens; and helping to address inequality and disadvantage and improve standards. We will move away from a universal approach, to one that targets inspection where it is most needed. Inspection will focus around the core aspects of services and we will remove any unnecessary administrative processes, data collection and bureaucracy that get in the way of effective performance.

Whilst our aim is to encourage greater local accountability, centrally supported, independent inspection can help service leaders, governors, local authorities and local communities to assess service effectiveness. Many parents look to independent inspection reports to enable them to make informed choices, for example, in deciding on schools for their children. Inspection information also supports and encourages local improvement and contributes to the analysis of policy effectiveness. Many of the services inspected by Ofsted cater for the needs of vulnerable children and young people. The higher risks associated with this group strengthen the case for continuing to inspect these services.

Inspection must change, though, if it is to continue to help to improve the education system. That is why we have made clear already our intention to move to a more risk based and proportionate approach, giving freedoms from inspection to those schools and colleges that can demonstrate sustained high performance, and targeting inspection resources on others, particularly the weakest performers. Where there is failure, we will ensure that appropriate action is taken. Primarily, though, inspection will be to assure parents and others about their local services.

INSPECTION PRINCIPLES

We need an inspection system which:

  • focuses clearly on core issues;
  • is proportionate and targeted;
  • identifies failure, so that appropriate improvement action can be taken;
  • is consistently of a high standard and contributes strongly to improving services;
  • is transparent so that all who need to can understand the basis on which services are being judged;
  • minimises costs and burdens on service providers;
  • has the confidence of service providers, users and local communities;
  • draws on international evidence in presenting best practice and is recognised internationally for its methodologies and impact;
  • invites constructive challenge and listens to concerns;
  • responds appropriately to concerns raised by parents and others;
  • subjects itself to independent evaluation of its impact.

We want to retain powers to act more proportionately, so that inspection is focused on particular weaknesses or difficulties that we know persist. We also want inspection to drive improvement where local activity has not resolved the issue. The circumstances and types of intervention are still being considered, as are the triggers for it, but inspection will continue to be important for informing our intervention programme.

SCHOOL INSPECTION REFORM

The current school inspection system is too complex and its scope is too broad. That is why we intend to streamline it and target inspection on the core areas of achievement - teaching, leadership, behaviour and safety. We are taking these reforms forward in the forthcoming Education Bill and will outline the context and the specific proposals further in our first Education White Paper, which is due to be published before the end of the year.

The Committee has asked about the role of Ofsted in providing an accountability mechanism for schools that will be operating with greater autonomy, in particular, for Free Schools and Academies. A greater freedom for schools does not mean freedom from accountability; all schools must still achieve high standards and be judged on the same basis in terms of their performance. It is for this reason that our intention is that Free Schools, along with other schools in the Academy family, will be inspected under the same section 5 arrangements as maintained schools. This will enable parents to compare the performance of all publicly funded schools on a consistent basis.

A move to a more proportionate inspection system will bring greater autonomy for some schools, in that the highest performers will be freed altogether from routine inspection by Ofsted. That freedom will remain as long as they maintain their performance and the confidence of parents. These schools will continue to be subject to regular risk assessment by Ofsted. They will also be in scope for Ofsted's thematic and subject survey visits, which will provide a picture of best practice which can be shared with other schools. Information from such visits and any concerns raised by parents about the provision and outcomes for pupils, will also contribute to Ofsted's risk assessment.

Performance of Ofsted in carrying out its work

Any inspection system needs to inspire confidence. The changes we are making are intended to help to achieve that. Ensuring that inspection is focused on areas of greatest importance and that unnecessary work is stopped will enhance its value. Ofsted conducts many thousands of inspections every year and has a longstanding track record of delivery. The consequences of inspection, particularly for those services which fail, mean that, inevitably, there will be criticism. By ensuring that inspection covers the right things, uses appropriate methodologies and is delivered consistently to a high standard, we can build even greater confidence in it.

The Select Committee's role is important in holding Ofsted to account for its performance. We welcome this and look forward to the conclusions of this particular inquiry, to assist the Government in taking decisions about future inspection and wider accountability arrangements. The Committee will be aware of two external reviews; the Munro review of child protection and the Tickell review of the Early Years Foundation Stage. Both will inform future thinking about Ofsted's work. We will make announcements in due course, in the light of the conclusions from these reviews, about changes to related inspection approaches.

HM Chief Inspector is responsible overall for the effective and efficient delivery of Ofsted's regulatory and inspection systems. Ofsted's Board, established in April 2007, has a statutory responsibility to hold the Chief Inspector to account for the way in which she discharges her functions. We are in the process of appointing a new non-executive Chair and will be looking to the Chair and the Board to ensure that this aspect of their remit is given appropriate priority.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 sets out the requirements of Ofsted and HM Chief Inspector, with regard to their respective functions. It requires that the functions are conducted efficiently and effectively and in such a way as to encourage improvement. The Act also requires HM Chief Inspector to ensure that inspectors, including those contracted, have the necessary qualifications, experience and skills to enable them to perform their inspection duties in an effective manner. These requirements are fundamental to a robust and credible inspection system that helps to raise standards and that enjoys the confidence of front-line staff and the public.

We believe that many of the criticisms of the current school inspection system stem from the fact that the framework generates too many detailed judgments, obscuring central messages. Currently, at least 27 judgments are made on all schools - more for those with sixth forms or early years provision. That is why we want a sharper focus on the core responsibilities of the school. A more streamlined approach will reduce burdens and distractions on schools and should also mean that inspectors are better placed to deliver high quality inspections, covering the areas that matter most. We plan to achieve this by asking Ofsted to reorganise school inspection reports under four key judgments.

An increased focus on direct observation of professional practice, the teaching of pupils in the classroom and the support to children through social care services, will require inspectors of a high calibre and an up to date understanding of policy and practice. We are working with Ofsted on the requirements and will look to the Chief Inspector to ensure that all inspectors are suitably qualified and experienced.

Our commitment to less central prescription is demonstrated by the Secretary of State's announcement, on 23 September, that the school self evaluation form will be abolished next year. Not only will this save considerable time for schools, it will also enable school leaders to develop their own innovative approaches to evaluating their performance.

A SINGLE INSPECTORATE

The report by the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, in January, acknowledged the importance of being alert to any sign that the growth of Ofsted's responsibilities might cause it to become unwieldy.

The creation of the new Ofsted provided the opportunity to develop more integrated approaches to reflect the way in which services for children, young people and students were delivered. Many providers that had previously been subject to separate inspections by different inspectorates have seen a move to more joined up and integrated inspections. The unification into a single inspectorate, of previously separate inspection functions, has also produced a significant efficiency dividend, with overall inspection cost reductions of up to 30%.

We know however that the creation of the new Ofsted has not been universally popular and has brought some criticism in terms of the approach taken in inspecting some services. There has also been some concern expressed from those inspected that Ofsted should do more to advise on improvement, in the light of its findings. All of this needs to be addressed in the context of significant financial constraint and the need to maximise the value of inspection investment.

The work we are doing to streamline and refocus inspection activity, making it more proportionate, will help to ensure that we can cover adequately all the areas of greatest concern, despite the financial pressures. There are many factors to take into account as we move forwards and continue to keep inspection policy under review and assess, in the light of full information, whether there should be further structural reform relating to Ofsted's current remit. Key considerations include:

  • whether any of the functions could be delivered more effectively and efficiently by another body;
  • the implications for providers, eg some currently experience joined up inspection of different services which might otherwise be separate and therefore increase the costs and burdens on providers;
  • the costs of transitional arrangements and setting up new structures;
  • the potential impact on the implementation of the core business of inspection and regulation.

As we implement inspection reforms, we will be careful to ensure that no area of importance is neglected. We want to consider our options in full, along with the findings from the external reviews already underway and the findings from the Select Committee inquiry, as part of any further consideration about the role of the inspectorate.

IMPACT OF INSPECTION ON SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT

It has always been difficult to separate and make distinct the role of inspection from other factors that contribute to school improvement. What is clear is that inspection has the most impact where there is greatest need. Sharply focused and robust recommendations on what a school needs to do to improve are also important. We believe that streamlining inspection will help to bring clarity to how it can best support an improvement in standards.

The model of regular monitoring visits, which is used for schools in special measures, is often acknowledged by schools as being one where inspectors are of most benefit to them. We are interested in exploring whether there is scope to develop this model to strengthen the contribution of inspection to improvement in schools.

October 2010


 
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