Memorandum submitted by the Institute
of Education, University of London |
1. The Institute of Education is the UK's leading
centre for education research and one of the world's leading such
centres. Over the past two decades its research has contributed
to policy development in a number of critical areas. In relation
to Ofsted, Institute staff have undertaken a variety of research
projects on the nature, scope and impact of inspection, in particular
on the relationship between inspection and school and system improvement.
2. Ofsted was created in order to:
- ensure that inspection was consistent across
- to provide accountability, especially to parents,
as the local authority role receded;
- to drive improvement;
- to shift what could be a "cosy" relationship
between local teams and the head teachers from whose ranks
they had often emerged.
In these respects, Ofsted has contributed to some
very positive changes in the English education system - it is
easy to forget how variable provision was 25 years ago.
In the process, the work of Ofsted has provided a critical
source of fine-grained knowledge about schools and other elements
of the education system and wider children's services. However,
the significant contribution that inspection has made to system
development should not obscure its limitations.
Issues raised by inspection
3. Inspection services are expensive, so it is
important to ensure that they are effective - in terms of providing
an accurate picture of provision and having a positive impact
on the effectiveness of that provision. The hidden costs
of inspection include:
- compliance costs - staff time and other resources
devoted to preparing and managing inspections;
- opportunity costs - beneficial activities overtaken
by preparation and management of inspections;
- avoidance costs - the costs of circumventing
inspection or mitigating its effects;
- displacement costs - activity becoming skewed
towards what is inspected;
- innovation costs - compliance making institutions
more conservative and risk-averse;
- morale costs - the impact of being checked
up on and the workload involved (see Davis et al, 2001
and 2008 on the nature and impact of public service inspection).
4. The English inspection model, which is influential
throughout the world, rests on three assumptions:
- that external inspection against a published
framework provides an independent measure of institutional effectiveness;
- that this institutional effectiveness is best
explored through what might be described as qualitative investigation
drawing on the "informed connoisseurship" of experienced
- that individual inspection findings can be aggregated
to provide a view of system effectiveness.
These assumptions influence the way policy-makers
and practitioners think about the inspection process and its outcomes.
Each is worthy of further investigation.
5. As with any regulatory structure, the Ofsted
inspection framework is susceptible to gaming: some of the schools
rated by Ofsted as 'outstanding' may simply have become adept
at negotiating inspection processes.
6. The focus of Ofsted on school-level accountability
measures ignores the fact that within school variation is a greater
challenge for system improvement than between school variation.
There can be marked variations within outstanding schools.
7. These features are problematic in themselves.
They have become more significant given the increasing use that
is being made of Ofsted inspection outcomes as a basis for policy
decisions. For example, schools with 'outstanding' Ofsted grades
are being regarded as pre-approved for Academy status, and are
to be exempt from further inspection unless there is other evidence
that their performance has dipped. It is impossible for any system
to design in 100% reliability; while the reliability of Ofsted
inspections has improved over the past decade, there remains a
concern that the inspection process is being asked to bear too
great a weight in policy development.
8. The inspection of individual institutions
and local authorities generates only one sort of system knowledge
- inductive, localised and judgemental. Work undertaken by Ofsted
outside school inspection is more effective in generating the
kind of information about system trends and development (e.g.
in relation to subjects or phases) that can usefully inform policy.
The impact on schools
9. There is no doubt that Ofsted inspection has
impacted on the behaviour of schools and local authorities in
a number of respects. In effect, inspection frameworks have served
as compliance models that have driven decision-making and managerial
action - whether in relation to, for example, assumptions about
the relationship between teacher strategies and pupil learning,
between school- and extra-school actions, or the ways local authorities
have developed local improvement strategies. The power of Ofsted
in driving behavioural change in schools should not be under-estimated.
10. One would not expect regulatory frameworks
to reflect up-to-date research knowledge, but where they exert
a powerful influence on behaviour they may act as a brake on the
adoption of desirable practices. In this sense, inspection both
raises the floor and lowers the ceiling. To illustrate: we know
from international research (notably Viviane Robinson's 2008 Best
Evidence Synthesis on school leadership) that the strongest effect
size of head teacher leadership is in promoting and participating
in teacher development. However, the current Ofsted framework
is patchy in its discussion of professional learning. The Leadership
and Management section does not mention professional development
at all, only visioning, planning, target setting and monitoring.
11. We need to understand more clearly how improvement
is achieved in practice, the ways in which inspection regimes
can contribute to improvement by complementing internal drivers
of change, and how effectively inspection regimes interact with
each other and with other policy instruments.
12. There is a research tradition (e.g. MacBeath,
2006) that suggests that self-evaluation is a stronger driver
for successful, local change than external inspection. Ofsted
recognised the importance of self-evaluation and required schools
to complete a self-evaluation form (SEF). However, the SEF itself
became subject to compliance processes, meaning that schools needed
to provide extensive data for Ofsted, which consumed a considerable
amount of senior staff time. In September 2010 the DfE announced
that, in order to reduce bureaucracy in schools, schools would
no longer be required to complete a SEF. This illustrates the
way in which an initiative that is itself a good can become corrupted
by compliance approaches.
A contrasting example
13. An interesting example of a contrasting approach
to school inspection is provided by the system employed in the
14. Dutch schools are inspected annually and
an inspection lasts between half a day and one day. Inspectors
have responsibility for about 100 primary schools or 40 secondary
schools and each school will know its inspectors. There is therefore
a continuing relationship between the school and its inspector.
The inspection framework includes aspects of the teaching/learning
process, the school's results and the school organizational conditions
(eg policies and processes). Inspection findings are published.
When a Dutch school is deemed to be failing or underperforming,
the inspectorate can only take action if the school does not comply
with the legal regulations. Whereas action plans are obligatory
in England, and follow-up school visits in cases of school underperformance
take place regularly, this is not always the case in the Netherlands,
as recent research from the Institute suggests (Earley and Chapman,
15. We now have almost two decades worth of experience
of the impact of regular inspection on the school system. Over
that period, and parallel to it, schools have become more self-confident
about their autonomy and more expert in their own local management.
In reflecting on that experience we would make the following
observations about priorities for the future:
- inspection needs to take more account of context
and local priorities, though must at the same time avoid becoming
patchy and idiosyncratic, especially given the current government's
proposals in relation to the structure of the school system;
- inspection regimes need to do more to discourage
conformity and acknowledge appropriate risk-taking;
- policy-makers need to achieve a greater balance
between the demand for 'early wins' and the pressure for long-term,
'transformational' change, and between spending on external inspection
and investment in new capacity building;
- inspectorates should focus their efforts on those
most in need of improvement, but they should not ignore the importance
of intra-institutional variation;
- inspection regimes must address the accusation
that external inspection tends to focus on style over substance;
- in order to promote an outcomes focus there is
a need to develop more rigorous performance measures at both local
and national level.
Prepared by Professor Chris Husbands, with contributions
from Professors Louise Stoll, Peter Earley and Denis Mongon.
Davis, H and Martin, S (eds) (2008) Public Services
Inspection in the UK, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Davis, H, Downe, J and Martin, S (2001) The Impact
of External Inspection on Local Government - Delivering Improvement
or Drowning in Detail?, London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Earley, P and Chapman, C (2010) School Inspection/External
School Evaluation International Encyclopedia of Education,
vol. 3, 719-725.
MacBeath, J (2006) School Inspection and Self-evaluation:
Working with the New Relationship, London: Routledge Falmer.
Robinson, V. (2008) School Leadership and Student
Outcomes: Identifying what works and why (New Zealand, Best Evidence
Synthesis Iteration [BES]).