The role and performance of Ofsted - Education Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by CfBT, Tribal and Serco


Ofsted has operated an outsourced inspection model successfully for seventeen years. The current Education, Learning and Skills inspection contracts commenced in September 2009, following a rigorous procurement process that delivered substantial savings to Ofsted. Of the three successful bidders, two were incumbent providers (CfBT and Tribal) and one (SERCO) was new. The contracts cover inspection not only of maintained and independent schools but also learning and skills (L&S), including FE colleges and work-based learning, and initial teacher education (ITE).

This paper is a joint submission from those three Inspection Service Providers (ISPs). The sections completed are those which focus on the delivery of the contract and where there is unanimity of view.

What the purposes of inspection should be (relating not only to schools but to all organisations, settings and services under Ofsted's remit)

1.  We believe inspection needs to:

(a)  Contribute to school, organisational, setting or service improvement and pupil or student achievement through clear identification of poor performance and how to put it right and through the sharing and best use of good practice.

(b)  Provide public accountability (ie assurance to Ministers and the public including parents, employers and other stakeholders) and report in public in ways that are useful to different audiences.

(c)  Generate information and intelligence for decision-makers (eg for Ministers).

(d)  Be demonstrably independent of those institutions that teach children and young people or, like local authorities and other bodies, support and challenge those institutions.

(e)  Stimulate schools and service providers to deliver good value and ensure that inspection itself provides good value for money.

The impact of the inspection process on school improvement

2.  The inspection and regulatory regime has become increasingly complex and extensive. In so doing, the focus has broadened and its impact and cost effectiveness become harder to measure. In some cases, this has led to duplication of quality assurance functions (eg the range of audits, awarding body verifications and inspection in FE) and, in others may have led to a reduction in provider numbers (eg in childcare). The relationship and accountabilities between the organisations and individuals with roles in school improvement (eg SIPs, local authorities, accredited providers and schools and other education providers such as FE Colleges) is not always clear - and, therefore, nor is the route from inspection to improvement.

3.  Ofsted has already initiated a move towards a more proportionate approach to inspection. In the new policy climate, with greater institutional autonomy, there is scope to increase this markedly. A move to a lighter-touch regime for schools graded "good" and minimal involvement for schools graded "outstanding" creates new opportunities to increase the impact of inspection on raising standards in those schools that have stubbornly remained satisfactory year on year. However unless deeper, fuller inspections and post-inspection support to schools graded "satisfactory" or lower is specifically pursued, the opportunity to raise standards in these schools through inspection will be lost. We would also recommend a firmer judgement on the school's capacity to improve. A failing school is expected to make progress within 12 months - there is no such time pressure on schools that have remained grindingly satisfactory year on year and there should be.

4.  As Ofsted's inspection partners, ISPs believe there is potential to increase the impact of inspection on improvement by engaging differently with stakeholders and school managers, following through more fully with weaker schools, better exploiting the information on good practice available from inspections, equipping more headteachers with inspection skills and reporting more fluidly post inspection with more focused and different reports for the main target recipients of school and parents.

5.  Where governors, the leadership team, teachers and parents have a more in-depth understanding of the basis for the judgements about the school they are more likely to be committed to ensuring improvements are made. Involvement in school inspections could include extending the inclusion of an institutional nominee to the inspection team (with due care to maintain the independence of the inspection process). They are already used to good effect in college inspections. A greater focus on the extent to which governing bodies are effective in challenging the leadership team would help drive the impetus for change in poorer performing schools.

6.  The current level of engagement of parents is low. This is particularly significant in the poorly-performing institutions. It is generally accepted that parental involvement and pressure is a significant driver of improvement and greater depth of inspection in satisfactory and inadequate settings would allow for more opportunities to meet parents and others during inspection. A parent report which helps set a local agenda for them to consider would be of more assistance than the present arrangements.

7.  Similarly, research[31] as well as experience indicates the value of tailored feedback - with more attention and greater prescription in the case of weaker schools. This would be helpful in re-setting parental expectations where, even in schools performing badly many parents profess themselves to be satisfied with the school.

8.  In an environment which places increasing trust in competent institutions to manage themselves, post-inspection support needs to be differentiated appropriately. It is clear that academies such as Mossbourne and chains such as those led by Ark and Haberdashers are raising standards in the deprived areas. At the same time, there is little evidence that School Improvement Partners have had a rapid or sustained impact on school improvement. There is evidence that Grade 3 visits to some schools deemed inadequate have generated significant gains. For example in one region, G3 schools which had an interim monitoring visit increased their capacity to improve judgement to good or better from 13% at first inspection to 54% at subsequent inspection. It is questionable whether local authorities will have the capacity to carry out a school improvement role that can stimulate such improvement.

9.  Inspectors are already trained, understand school improvement and could provide greater professional input where there is poor performance, moving on from making judgements to working in partnership with schools to enable them to plan effectively and signposting them to sector-led support. We propose that schools graded 3 be required to follow-up their inspections by participating in "Capacity to Improve Workshops" led by inspectors. These would build on feedback and the inspection report to help groups of schools (represented by the head and governor representative) develop sharply focused, measurable action plans. ISPs would be well-placed to monitor the implementation of school action plans and update their assessments cost-effectively, since they would already know the settings.

10.  The plans could include identification of sources of further advice and support with an emphasis on what works. The plan should also set a target of moving from satisfactory to good in targeted steps over a maximum period of three years. There is potential for making the way in which inspection links with improvement more sophisticated yet cost-effective. Data gathered via inspection represents a rich seam of good practice which, if signposted effectively, could be used to support school-wide and school-led improvement, directing schools towards others who have handled similar challenges successfully. A further source will be of individual schools and groups of schools who are prepared to make their expertise available. It may also be appropriate to review the current HMI link role with local authorities to assess whether this can be delivered in a different way as part of a restructured set of services.

11.  We know from monitoring our serving practitioner inspectors (mainly headteachers) that inspection expertise carries real benefits to their own schools. The most significant impact is very clearly school improvement. This is evident in leadership and management, teaching and learning and the curriculum. A common theme among the responses to a study of these practitioner inspectors by one ISP was that their training and inspection work had sharpened their school's self review abilities, making their own improvement planning sharper and of greater impact.

12.  We have demonstrable success in training large numbers of inspectors to high standards, using a cost-effective mix of IT-based distance learning and practical training. We could easily provide training for school leaders in the broad framework of inspection evaluation criteria, lesson observation and self-evaluation. This would increase the capacity of schools to bring about their own improvement. One ISP currently has around 1000 practitioners awaiting just such training.

13.  While the drive to simplify inspection reports is understandable, we believe there is a need to review the inspection report format to ensure feedback and reporting better meet the needs of the main recipients:

(a)  Providers require a more detailed educational analysis than currently given. Their report needs to offer a clear diagnosis of areas for improvement, together with guidance on actions required to address the deficits. If the discussions have been sufficiently comprehensive during the inspection, it would be reasonable to set targets for improvement, laying a firmer foundation for subsequent monitoring. (Evidence suggests that a more directive approach is required for weaker institutions.)[32] This report should be publicly available.

(b)  Parents may want little more than a report card incorporating clear statements and grades against key elements but where a poor performing school is required to improve within a specified timescale parents should have a copy of the school's action plan to achieve that and termly reports on progress from the governing body. (Bearing in mind the fuller report would be available.)

(c)  We question the value of a separate letter to pupils/students.

Ofsted's performance

No response.

The consistency and quality of inspection teams in the Ofsted inspection process

14.  ISPs provide approximately 60% of the lead inspectors for all school inspections and 75% of total inspection days. HMI currently lead all L&S and ITE inspections and 75% of secondary school inspections. An analysis of data by Ofsted and by the ISPs shows little discernible difference in quality and performance between the Ofsted and ISP inspection workforces, with School Inspection Survey return data for 2009-10 showing similar satisfaction rates, in excess of 90% for AI and HMI led inspections. The performance management regime for the contracts, which includes financial penalties for under-performance, requires that ISPs achieve 100% performance against a range of measures relating to the quality and efficiency of processes and judgements.

15.  A number of other mechanisms are in place to assist in the achievement of consistent inspector performance. For example, each of the ISPs operates rigorous performance management arrangements based on collation of evidence collected from inspections, inspectors and the inspected. Joint working groups are established in which HMI and ISP quality assurance personnel work together and from which advice to all inspectors is derived. Together with the contract management measures, such activities underpin a high level of consistency and quality.

16.  However that is not to say there is no scope for further improvement or greater efficiency. There is, for example, duplication of activity between HMI and ISP quality assurance inspectors in monitoring inspections and managing reports to publication. Ofsted has successfully operated a partially outsourced inspection model for 17 years with successive competitive re-procurements driving down costs as workforce issues, processes and technology are refined and improved. This has been achieved in tandem with improvements in quality. We believe value for money and consistency in inspection delivery would be further increased by moving to a more fully outsourced model with ISPs taking responsibility for contracting and signing off inspectors, delivering inspections and quality assuring output.

17.  Performance data show that new contracts have bedded in and are building securely on the contract management arrangements in force since 2005. Consequently we believe it would be possible to set a performance threshold for ISPs, within the current key performance indicators, which would enable Ofsted to withdraw from detailed management of outsourced inspections once the delivery threshold had been reached by each ISP. A fully-contracted model would produce savings by eliminating duplication of activities as described above. It would enable clear delineation between the roles of HMI and ISP inspectors, with a small, expert HMI team ensuring performance of the contract. With ISP inspectors leading more inspections, less time spent in direct inspection delivery by HMI would enable them to focus on key national roles including operating as a source of up-to-date professional expertise drawing on knowledge of practice and cutting-edge, international research (eg in relation to changes in the curriculum); analysis and interpretation of national data; and evaluation of policy initiatives (including value for money) through targeted, specialist inspections.

18.  Finally, there is no external evidence that we are aware of to support assertions either of inconsistencies between teams or the three ISPs or between HMI and AI led teams. Complaints are running at very low levels and none, so far as we know, have raised either of these concerns

The weight given to different factors within the inspection process

19.  ISPs support fully the policy to focus future inspections on the quality of teaching and learning; the effectiveness of the leadership team; pupils' behaviour and safety and pupils' achievement. This precision will enable investment of more inspector time in driving school improvement. For example, the narrower focus will permit sharper diagnosis (eg more time for lesson observation to uncover weaknesses in teaching and its effect on learners) and more extensive opportunities for dialogue with school leaders and governors (eg to identify barriers to improvement). Additionally, we would suggest that for all schools currently graded satisfactory the inspection team should, through dialogue with the school, form a view on the efficacy of the support and challenge provided by the local authority and its SIPs. Some schools that have been Grade 3 for years have also for years been in receipt of additional support from their local authority without significant discernible improvement in the quality of the education provision.

20.  The current emphasis on exploring the SEF view can be replaced by genuine pursuit of key evidence of strengths and weaknesses, within the context of the school's self evaluation processes and outcomes.

21.  Appropriate data, used effectively, can already enable inspectors to focus on the right lines of enquiry and use their time effectively. However, there is scope for greater trust in the professionalism and experience of inspectors. This would give them the flexibility to redirect their activities once an inspection was under way, enabling them to tailor their work to the emerging evidence and achieve greater impact while managing risk. It would allow - for instance - inspectors to respond directly to issues raised by employers, parents, pupils or teachers.

22.  A further area for re-establishing inspectors' professional judgement relates to the "limiting judgements" in the current schools framework. Where this occurs, one judgement limits another. Given the widely differing circumstances within individual schools, rigid application of this principle becomes problematic. In our view, inspectors should be free to make their judgements based on the evidence before them.

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

No response.

Ofsted's role in providing an accountability mechanism for schools operating with greater autonomy

23.  We recognise that data should not have primacy over professional judgements. There are, however, rich data sources available. ISPs have considerable experience of carrying out pre-inspection risk assessments. Consequently, they are well-placed to work with government to develop cost-effective, desk-based monitoring and accountability processes for use in reviewing schools judged "outstanding".

24.  We do not believe that schools rated as "outstanding" or those operating with greater autonomy by way of their status should be entirely exempted from the inspection regime. However we agree that they should not normally be subject to full inspection, allowing resources to be focused on lower performing schools. Evidence tells us, however, that "outstanding" schools can experience a rapid decline in both provision and standards in certain circumstances. We thus support a model by which Ofsted and its ISP partners risk assess outstanding schools on the basis of an annual on-line return of information which should be routinely held by them. We propose the following indicators:-

Main indicators

  • Decline in overall standards, English and mathematics, particularly literacy and numeracy, evidenced by pupil performance data from RAISEonline.
  • Decline in standards in specific subjects (secondary schools) evidenced by pupil performance data from RAISEonline.
  • Decline in overall standards relative to other similar institutions evidenced by pupil performance data from RAISEonline.
  • Change in headteacher.
  • Change in status or character.
  • High staff turnover.
  • Significant change in pupil numbers.
  • Increased number of parental complaints.
  • Concerns expressed by local authority.
  • Decline in attendance.

Possible additional indicators

  • Significant budget deficit at year end or evidence of any financial irregularity.
  • Significant increase in exclusions.
  • Inadequate judgements in other provision inspected by Ofsted and managed by the Governing Body.

Where the outcome of the assessment finds there is evidence of significant risk to pupils' future achievement or safety, we would propose a one day visit by a single inspector to assess the need for further intervention by inspectors.

25.  For those schools whose autonomy is vested in their status, a similar regime might be applied with appropriate metrics. An initial assessment of readiness is desirable, as currently the case with "academy pre-registration visits". Thereafter, as a minimum, an annual desk based risk assessment, triggering more in depth inspection if appropriate, would serve the public interest.

October 2010

31   Ehren and Visscher: 2006: Towards a Theory on the Impact of School Inspections.  Back

32   IbidBack

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Prepared 17 April 2011