Memorandum submitted by the Department
for Education |
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
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.
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
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.
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
- invites constructive challenge and listens to
- responds appropriately to concerns raised by
parents and others;
- subjects itself to independent evaluation of
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.
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
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
- 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.
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
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