The role and performance of Ofsted: Responses from the Government and Ofsted to the Second Report of the Committee, Session 2010-12 - Education Committee Contents


Appendix 1


Government response

1.   Introduction

1.1  The Government welcomes the Select Committee's report. We are grateful to the Committee for conducting the inquiry diligently and fairly and for their careful consideration of the evidence and suggested recommendations. The challenges put to us by the Committee are thought provoking and will inform our thinking as we make changes to inspection policy. We are committed to reforming inspection so that it focuses on the issues that matter most. We are determined that inspection should encourage and support improvements by those responsible for delivering services, so that we develop stronger and more effective schools and children's services, whilst operating with significantly fewer financial resources.

1.2  Reform of the accountability system for schools, including the role of school inspection, is central to our plans for the education system. We want to give parents a greater opportunity to send their children to a good school, which has strong discipline in the classroom, high standards, excellent teaching and effective and inspirational leadership. We also want parents, community groups and others to come together to improve the education system by starting new schools. We will promote and assist 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.

1.3  The Government is committed to re-focusing inspection on the things that really matter: recognising the achievements of the highest performers by 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 needed most. 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. Already, we have made arrangements for the complete removal of the centrally prescribed Self Evaluation Form (SEF) for schools; taken steps to free outstanding schools and Further Education colleges from routine inspection; and have announced our intention to end the annual assessment of local authority children's services at the earliest opportunity.

1.4  We are also committed to promoting decentralisation and democratic engagement; reducing top-down government and reducing the overall cost and bureaucracy associated with inspection. Whilst our aim is to encourage greater local accountability, centrally supported, independent inspection can help headteachers, senior managers of services, governors, local authorities and local communities to assess service effectiveness. For example, many parents look to independent inspection reports to enable them to make informed choices about appropriate schools or nurseries for their children. Inspection information also supports and encourages 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.

1.5  The Government believes, firmly, that inspection must change, if it is to continue to help to improve the education system. That is why we have made clear already our intention to shift to a more risk based and proportionate approach, targeting inspection resources particularly on the weakest performers. Where there is failure, we will ensure that appropriate improvement action is taken. Primarily, inspection will be to assure parents and others about the quality of schools and children's services. These principles provide the context within which public service inspection needs to operate in future and have informed our response.

2.   THE ROLE AND REMIT OF OFSTED (REPORT CHAPTER 2)

The breadth of Ofsted's remit

We believe that having a single children's inspectorate has not worked well enough to merit its continuation. The expanded Ofsted has lost the elements of specialism associated with its predecessor bodies, at senior and operational levels. Ofsted has not adequately communicated its non-schools remit and, as such, is still seen by the public as an education-focussed organisation. Moreover, different inspection regimes are needed for the very different sectors Ofsted deals with. In order to focus greater attention on children's services and care, and to ensure inspection is respected by its customers, we recommend that the Government splits Ofsted into two inspectorates. (Paragraph 20)

The Inspectorate for Education should hold responsibility for the inspection of education and skills, including nurseries, schools and colleges, adult education, secure estate education, and teacher training, and local authority commissioning of schools. The Inspectorate for Children's Care should focus entirely on children's services and care, including children's homes, adoption services, childminders and CAFCASS. The two inspectorates should, for the sake of financial efficiency, consider how best to share administrative functions, and should of course work closely together—most particularly in conducting joint inspections of nurseries and children's centres—but should retain different elements of expertise and separate Chief Inspectors. The Chief Inspectors should demonstrate, in their annual reports, how the two inspectorates are working together. We are convinced that this division will not only raise the quality of inspection experience, but also the profile of what is currently Ofsted's non-education remit. With the recent formation of the Coalition Government, and a new direction of policy concerning young people, as well as the impending retirement of the incumbent Chief Inspector, now is a good time to begin this move. (Paragraph 21)

We acknowledge that the Ofsted Board cannot intervene in inspection judgments, and do not suggest any change to that. However, any non-executive Board needs to command the confidence of its organisation and of the general public. We therefore recommend that the new Inspectorates of Education and Children's Care have, on their non-executive Boards, members whose experience is directly relevant to the remit of the inspectorate, to inspire confidence in their leadership and scrutiny, and that make it clear precisely what their duties are, as agreed with the Secretary of State for Education. Similarly, we recommend that—in the event of the creation of new inspectorates—the legislation from which the Board's functions derive is reviewed. (Paragraph 69)

2.1  The Government has looked carefully at the key recommendation and supporting arguments from the Select Committee, to split Ofsted into two inspectorates.

2.2  The Committee has expressed important concerns about the need for inspection arrangements to distinguish sufficiently between each of the sectors that Ofsted inspects and so ensure that inspection arrangements for each sector are both appropriate and effective. We share those concerns. The Government accepts fully that improvements can always be made and is keen to make them. We agree with the Select Committee about the importance that must be given to the issues of leadership and quality in inspection, which is why we have embarked already on a programme of inspection reforms that put these concerns at the centre. We also agree that inspection teams should have appropriate experience in the areas they inspect. High quality inspections are clearly vital to the credibility of the inspectorate. We will continue to work closely with Ofsted's leadership to deliver these reforms as quickly and safely as possible.

2.3  Whilst, as with all Arms Length Bodies, the Government will continue to keep the justification and remit for Ofsted under review, we do not agree with the Select Committee that the concerns they have highlighted support the argument for splitting the current inspectorate. We agree with the witnesses who have observed that structural change is less important than quality of personnel and inspection methods. Structural change is costly (in terms of time, as well as money) and disruptive. Prioritising it would divert attention and resources from the more critical and urgent task of pursuing and securing the inspection reforms we consider to be vital. We are not convinced that making structural changes would address directly the improvements to the leadership and quality of inspections that the Select Committee has rightly identified.

2.4  As the Committee has recognised in setting out its evidence, there remain arguments, supported by key stakeholders, for continuing with a single inspectorate. The current system in England is built around single points of accountability in local authorities, under the control of Directors of Children's Services and the Government has no current plans to change this.

2.5  We agree with the Select Committee that the Government's new policy direction for inspection presents an ideal opportunity for us to pursue many of the proposed improvements it has identified. The Secretary of State for Education has recently appointed a new Chair to Ofsted's non-executive board and is in the process of making additional appointments to bring to it further appropriate experience, sector knowledge and understanding across the breadth of Ofsted's remit. Also, the ongoing process to recruit a new Chief Inspector is expected to conclude by the end of the summer, so that the new arrival can take up post from October 2011. Ofsted has indicated already that, in the light of an appointment decision, it may consider whether it should appoint someone in a deputy role who has a professional background that complements that of the new Chief Inspector (for example, a deputy from a children's social care background if the new Chief Inspector is from an education background). We welcome this initiative and will work with Ofsted's new leadership team on the reforms we intend to bring about to ensure that inspection activity is focused on what really matters and is conducted more proportionately.

The definition of inspection

The Committee is clear, from the evidence it has taken, that different models of inspection are needed for different settings, which is reflected in our desire for Ofsted to be split. The role of the Education Inspectorate should be, firstly, to inspect institutions and to provide judgments and recommendations which can drive better outcomes for individual children, young people and learners; and, secondly, to provide an overview of the education system as a whole. It should not aim to be an improvement agency, although inspection should of course hold up a mirror to an institution's failings and recommend areas for improvement without dictating how that improvement should come about. Similarly, it should continue Ofsted's work disseminating best practice, not just through inspections but through its website and publications as well. (Paragraph 32)

The Children's Care Inspectorate should more actively support service improvement, including a focus on the quality of practice and the effectiveness of help. This is largely because many of the remits it will inspect—such as childminders and adoption agencies—may not have easy access to the partnership-based improvement model which applies to schools, not least because of the size and scope of their activities. The Children's Care Inspectorate should ensure that its workforce has experienced practitioners who command the respect of social workers and childcare professionals, and who can promote and support improvement as well as regulating for statutory purposes. Inspectors should, for example, sit in on case conferences and attend visits to observe practice. (Paragraph 33)

2.6  The Government agrees with the Select Committee about the need for different inspection approaches for different sectors and that inspection should encourage improvement in inspected settings. We have asked Ofsted to propose new arrangements for inspecting local authority children's services and early years and childcare settings, in line with our reform intentions. Ofsted is developing its proposals and will consult on them later this summer. Once the new arrangements are confirmed, Ofsted will publish its new inspections frameworks. Subsequently it will publish related inspection reports that will continue to identify areas for improvement and contribute to Ofsted's assessment of best practice.

2.7  Professor Eileen Munro has recently published a report and recommendations, following her Review of Child Protection, commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education. Amongst her specific proposals, Professor Munro recommends that 'inspection should examine the effectiveness of the contributions of all local services, including health, education, police, probation and the justice system to the protection of children'. Professor Munro argues strongly for a 'child-centred system', highlighting the need for professionals from different agencies to work together effectively to meet a child's needs and for a move from 'compliance to a learning culture', which supports the development of professional confidence and judgement. She considers this is key to driving service improvement. Linked to this Professor Munro recommends that inspection should examine the child's journey and the effectiveness of help provided, informed by the views of children and young people themselves.

2.8  Dame Clare Tickell recently published a report and recommendations, following her review of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). She has concluded that the EYFS framework should continue to apply to all providers working with children in the early years and that Ofsted should continue to work with local authorities to be clear about how it will inspect in this area.

2.9  DfE Ministers are considering the reports and the Government will respond to both later this year. Inspection policy reforms will be informed by the Munro and Tickell reviews. The Government considers it will be important to allow time for policy developments recommended by the reviews to work through and to review at a later stage their impact and the influence of new inspection approaches on the quality and effectiveness of service provision in that context. As we move forward, whilst Ofsted will need to continue to report as it finds, the Government will look to Ofsted to be celebratory, just as much—if not more—than it is condemnatory, and to recognise and reflect more overtly in its practice, the Chief Inspector's statutory duty to perform functions for the general purpose of 'encouraging the improvement' of the areas it inspects.

Both the Education and Children's Care Inspectorates need clearly-articulated mission statements easily available to parents, professionals and the wider public, as well as to their own staff, along the lines established above. These should also explain how the two organisations work together, and where. At present, inspection's role in improvement is not clear, leading to a variety of views within and without Ofsted's own walls, and thence to inconsistent experiences and expectations of inspection. (Paragraph 36)

2.10  Although the Government does not agree with the Select Committee's recommendation to split Ofsted into two inspectorates, we agree with the Committee that a clearly articulated and appropriately differentiated mission statement, made available to parents, professionals and the wider public, is desirable. The recent appointment of a new Chair for Ofsted's non-executive board and the planned appointment, later this year, of a new Chief Inspector, provide a timely opportunity for the inspectorate to consider this. Ofsted has separately confirmed its commitment to refreshing its communications arrangements and its revised website will provide a good platform for it to communicate its mission statement and the purpose and focus of its operational activity.

The case for abolition of inspection

Whilst we fully agree that local partnership and self-evaluation are important mechanisms for school accountability and improvement, and support increased autonomy for heads and schools, we do not accept the case for the complete abolition of school inspection at this point. However, we support the principle of proportionate inspection and more focus on lower-performing schools. The Education Inspectorate should see as part of its mission a role to support the development of robust self and peer evaluation through appropriate partnerships. The expectation would be that over time the role of the Education Inspectorate would reduce, as a mature model of self-improvement based on trust becomes embedded. (Paragraph 40)

2.11  The Government welcomes the Committee's conclusion that there is a place for both inspection and for local partnership and self evaluation as part of accountability and improvement. This is relevant to schools and to other aspects of Ofsted's remit. As more mature models of self improvement become embedded in different sectors, the Government will continue to seek to extend the principle of increased proportionality in inspecting these sectors. For example, work is currently taking place with sector representatives to develop capacity for self-improvement in relation to local authority children's services, including consideration of a sector led approach to improving services. Reforms to the inspection of these services will need to be informed by these wider developments. Our aim is to encourage providers to take greater responsibility for improving their services, whilst reducing the overall burden and cost of inspection.

3.  THE PERFORMANCE AND INDEPENDENCE OF OFSTED (REPORT CHAPTER 3)

Ofsted and the Department for Education

Ofsted's independent status is broadly valued by inspectors, by professionals, and by the public, and we strongly support the retention of that status. However, the Committee is concerned that there is no front-line voice within the senior echelons of the Department for Education, working alongside the inspectorates and Ministers to ensure that policy is informed by recent and relevant experience through a more direct means than consultation. We recommend that the Department considers appointing two new senior advisers within the Department—a Chief Education Officer and a Chief Children's Care Officer—along the lines of the chief professional officers of other Government departments. These roles would in no way replace the Chief Inspectors of Education or Children's Care; nor would they seek to replace the important existing relationships between civil servants, senior inspectors, and special advisers. Rather, they could work alongside those people within Government, ensuring that the inspectorates can retain their independence. (Paragraph 48)

3.1  The Government agrees with the Select Committee that it is important to have appropriate senior front-line voices advising the Department for Education and is committed to accessing the best, most current expertise. There are different ways to achieve this. For example, the Secretary of State recently announced the appointment of an Expert Adviser on Behaviour, who has been an experienced front-line headteacher and is a behavioural specialist. Following her child protection review, Professor Eileen Munro has recommended that Government creates a Chief Social Worker, whose remit may include adults' social work and who may report to both the Department for Education and the Department for Health. The Government is considering all Professor Munro's recommendations and will respond by the summer.

3.2  The Select Committee's example in regard to health professionals is an interesting approach, but mirroring it would need to involve a number of experts covering different areas of specialism within the education and care professions. The Department for Education currently has access to various sources of advice about professional issues, including professional advisers. Our view is that a single professional operating as a 'figurehead' for each of the broad areas of education and children's care could not cover all the professional interests within those two territories. We also consider that an advisory 'front line voice' to provide recent practical experience to inform inspection and related policy development is a different proposition to an adviser operating as a 'head of profession' giving advice on professional and related policy issues. We do not think we would achieve additional benefits from a new, parallel structure within the department.

3.3  Dame Clare Tickell's review of the EYFS, which the Government has welcomed, has recommended that the principles of integrating care and education in the early years should continue. The Government's recent Green Paper, Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability, commits to strengthening the integration of educational and social care provision rather than separating them. The Munro Review has also focussed on 'early help' and multi-agency cooperation and contributions, including from schools, to child protection. We support the broad principle of the Select Committee's suggestion that we secure advice from appropriate 'front-line voices' to inform policy, but consider that alternatives to Chief Officer appointments would work more effectively for our purposes.

Communicating and engaging with the public

We agree with the incumbent Chief Inspector that the current Ofsted website needs considerable revision to ensure a positive user experience for all of its visitors. The new Chief Inspectors of Education and Children's Care should consult with the public and with front-line professionals in their relevant fields to ensure that the new websites, and in particular their search facilities, are more accessible than the current model. The new websites should include clearer articulation of the inspectorates' complaints procedures. (Paragraph 52).

3.4  The Government supports the Select Committee's conclusions and recommendations about the need to improve Ofsted's website. This website is one of the most widely used in the public sector. It provides important information for government, providers and service users. Ofsted has confirmed that a new website is imminent and we look forward to seeing improved accessibility and signposting within it, so that the benefits of Ofsted's inspection reports and other publications are promoted clearly and their use maximised. The Department is also encouraging Ofsted to explore more creative ways for parents and carers to make their concerns heard about issues in schools and early years settings, or arising from their experiences with children's services. Ofsted will consider these concerns alongside other relevant evidence to decide whether to intervene.

As a major vehicle for communication between inspectorates and the general public, inspection reports need to be high quality, and we accept that many are well-written and balanced. However, under the structure which we propose, the new Chief Inspectors of Education and especially of Children's Care would need to ensure that all reports are parent-friendly, and that concise, accurate summaries of settings are given as well as the detail of performance against individual criteria. Reports on care settings, in particular, should be accessible to the young people who use and experience those settings. Reports also need, though, to have a depth of intelligence to make them actively useful to professionals and providers, and need to be delivered on time. The new Inspectorates of Education and Children's Care should publish, annually, the number of reports which are not delivered on time, and manage performance rigorously. (Paragraph 57)

3.5  The Chief Inspector is responsible for inspection reports. The Government notes the Select Committee's conclusions about the quality, accessibility and timeliness of inspection reports, which are used by many different groups of parents, local authorities, young people and service providers. Striking the right balance between the needs of these different groups must be a priority in any planned revisions to inspection arrangements. Reports are also the starting point for inspectors in revisiting schools and other provision and so need, in particular, to set out clearly the aspects of service performance where action needs to be taken to bring about improvement.

3.6  Timeliness in publishing reports is important and successive Chief Inspectors have reduced the intervals between inspection and publication of reports. Speed of publication must not be at the expense of quality, however, and the existing opportunity for providers to comment on reports must not be compromised by any subsequent changes. Adjusting the survey programme content and publication schedule to align it more closely with current policy priorities will help to ensure that the currency and value of Ofsted's reports is not diminished by delays in publishing. We will explore with Ofsted what more can be done to achieve this.

Parents and carers need to be engaged more throughout the inspection process, and we would encourage the new Inspectorates to continue the work begun by their predecessor organisation in that regard. Similarly, parents and carers as well as young people themselves need to be better involved in the feedback process following inspections. The Government might like to consider a consultation with parents and young people on how Ofsted's reports and broader communication could be improved. (Paragraph 58)

3.7  The Government agrees that engagement of parents and carers in the inspection process is important and we agree with the Select Committee that this should remain a priority for the inspectorate. The Committee has acknowledged the inherent tension between the desirability of carrying out inspections with limited, or no notice, and opportunities for engaging with parents and carers. There will be occasions where the urgency of response to an identified need for inspection must take precedence, for example, in following up complaints about safety, or concerns about behaviour and discipline.

3.8   We note the Select Committee's suggestion that the Government might consult parents and young people about improvements to inspection reports and wider communications by Ofsted and we support the principle. Consultation about the quality of inspection reports is a matter for the Chief Inspector, rather than for the Government.

Transparency of contractual information

The Committee is supportive of the Government's drive for more publicly available information and, in that spirit, recommends that Ofsted makes easily accessible its performance assessments of the three Regional Inspection Service Providers, as well as contractual details. We believe this may have the additional benefit of providing more substantive evidence about the relative performance of Additional Inspectors as compared to Her Majesty's Inspectors, about which we have heard contrasting views. (Paragraph 61)

3.9  We welcome the Select Committee's support for the Government's transparency agenda, which includes commitments on procurement and contracting, as set out in the Prime Minister's letter of 31 May 2010, that all new central Government tender documents for contracts over £10,000 will be published on a single website and all new central Government contracts will be published in full from January 2011. These requirements apply to all central Government departments and so extend to Ofsted. Subject to any commercial confidentiality issues, we look forward to seeing Ofsted's plans for increasing the amount of public information it will make available about its inspection service provider contracts, including details of provider's performance.

Financial effectiveness and efficiency

We believe that Ofsted, as it exists now, has made significant savings and has plans to continue that direction of travel. We recommend that the Government is alert to value for money if the inspectorate is divided into two new organisations, and ensures that there is no extra cost to the public purse of any new inspection system. The two inspectorates should be charged to work together to maximise the efficiency of back office support services and continue to reduce costs and deliver improved value for money. (Paragraph 64)

3.10  The Government welcomes the acknowledgment by the Select Committee that Ofsted has already made significant savings as a result of becoming a single inspectorate and that it is on a trajectory to continue to do so. The cost of inspection has been reducing steadily over the last five years. In 2004-05, the notional aggregated cost of the inspection activity that is now within Ofsted's remit was £265 million. Ofsted was set a budget reduction target by the Better Regulation Executive, to deliver inspection services more efficiently—as part of the rationale for bringing the activities together. It has achieved this, reducing its annual expenditure to £183m in 2010-11 (a reduction of 31%). By the end of the Spending Review period 2014-15), Ofsted's expenditure will have fallen by 46% from 2004-05, to £143m.

4.  THE QUALITY AND CONSISTENCY OF INSPECTORS (REPORT CHAPTER 4)

The variability of inspector performance

There are too many inspectors lacking recent and relevant experience of the settings they investigate. The Inspectorate of Education should extend and develop mechanisms—such as outward secondments to the front line—for ensuring that its inspectors remain in touch with the system and changes therein. The Inspectorate of Children's Care, which we envisage would operate on a more improvement-based model, will need to ensure that alongside its 'practitioner inspectors' it has inspectors who, by contrast, have experience of inspection practice over a longer time period. We feel it is essential that inspectors have regular opportunities for professional development, most particularly to keep up-to-date with practice at the front-line. (Paragraph 76)

4.1  Operational issues relating to the selection, training and monitoring of the inspection workforce are matters for the Chief Inspector. This said, we welcome the importance attached by the Committee to ensuring inspectors are effective and agree that it is essential for Ofsted to be seen as credible by those it inspects and those using inspected services. We are reassured by the consistent high levels of satisfaction—over 90%— expressed by settings that have been inspected, in response to survey questionnaires, but recognise that it is necessary to review continually the effectiveness and suitability of inspectors. We will encourage Ofsted to continue to conduct quality assurance work on its inspection activities that can be independently validated.

Secondments into the inspectorate

The Inspectorates of Education and Children's Care which we propose, working with the Department for Education, need to develop ways to increase dramatically the percentage of inspectors who are serving senior practitioners on secondment from the front-line. The targets currently set by the Regional Inspection Service Providers for schools are too low, and we believe a greater proportion would aid the credibility and quality of inspection teams. We suggest that such secondments could be built into job descriptions for practitioners, and would encourage Government, centrally and locally, to consider how that might work. Consideration should continue to be given to other ways to ensure that practitioners are encouraged to become inspectors. (Paragraph 81)

4.2  The Government agrees with the importance attached by the Select Committee to ensuring that the overall 'pool' of inspectors contains significant numbers with current or recent practitioner experience. Whilst the Committee views the current percentage of inspectors who are serving practitioners as too low, we are pleased to note that Ofsted has indicated previously that it is working with its contractors to increase the proportion of inspector practitioners. It will be important for Ofsted to maintain an appropriate balance, though, to ensure its inspector cadre includes sufficient numbers of inspectors with a well developed understanding of effective inspection techniques and good experience of the range of tasks and skills required in undertaking successful inspections, as well as those with recent front-line experience. Suggested arrangements for a secondment programme are certainly worth considering, although care would be needed to avoid a negative impact on schools and other settings, as a result experienced teachers, practitioners and leaders from the management and operation of settings being released to conduct inspections.

The training and role of Additional Inspectors

We are not convinced that there is a definite or systemic difference in quality between Her Majesty's and Additional Inspectors, and are inclined to agree with the inspector who told us that "HMI are not universally better than AI and many AI are certainly better than HMI." We are therefore disinclined to recommend that all inspections are led by HMIs. We do agree, however, that HMIs—who have considerable experience of inspection practice—should continue to be well-utilised in the training of other inspectors. (Paragraph 88)

In line with our earlier recommendation concerning performance-related transparency, we believe that the new Inspectorates should prioritise transparency over the provenance of their inspection teams, including providing fuller biographies and curricula vitae to settings in advance of inspections. This would increase all inspectors' credibility—whether Her Majesty's or Additional—as well as support professional dialogue with settings. Greater transparency over the training of inspectors would also be welcome. (Paragraph 89)

4.3  We welcome the Select Committee's endorsement of the expertise of contracted Additional Inspectors (AI) alongside Her Majesty's Inspectors (HMI). While there is no evidence to suggest that HMI are better than AI—satisfaction levels, from inspected settings, being the same for both groups of inspectors—it is important to recognise that HMI are deployed to lead the more complex inspections. Also, as the Committee has recognised, HMI add significant value to the training of AI. Our principal concern is that all inspections, whether they are led by HMI or contracted inspectors, are delivered to a consistently high standard.

4.4  The Chief Inspector has a legal responsibility to ensure that inspectors have the necessary qualifications, skills and experience to act on her behalf. Ofsted has well developed arrangements in place to enable rigorous selection, induction and training processes so that inspectors have the appropriate experience and inspection skills for the sectors they are assigned to. The Select Committee has reproduced in its report, evidence suggesting that schools being inspected are not particularly interested in the background of the inspectors, providing that inspection arrangements are appropriate and inspections are undertaken effectively. This must be right. The Select Committee's recommendation that Ofsted should provide greater detail about the background and experience of inspectors and their professional training is a helpful one; to improve perceptions about the credibility of individual inspectors and the inspection processes they follow. We will encourage the Chief Inspector to consider it.

5.  EXPERIENCES AND MECHANICS OF INSPECTION (REPORT CHAPTER 5)

Ofsted and stress

It is the responsibility of the inspectorate to ensure that inspection processes are not unduly burdensome, and the responsibility of those being inspected to prepare for a process which may be stressful. The inspectorate and the inspected should do everything possible to minimise any negative impact of inspection on young people and learners. (Paragraph 93)

We suggest that the new Chief Inspectors of Education and Children's Care, whilst having due regard to the financial efficiency of their organisations, consider how best to build further preparation time into inspection schedules. (Paragraph 94)

5.1  The Government recognises that periodic inspection by an independent body, leading to a published report can put pressure on the inspected institution. We also agree with the Select Committee that both Ofsted and those it inspects have a responsibility to minimise the pressure on individuals associated with inspection. We also note the Select Committee's suggestion that the Chief Inspector should consider pressures faced by inspectors. This is an internal matter for the Chief Inspector and Ofsted's inspection providers to consider.

5.2  Making those subject to inspection aware of the basics of the inspection process and the areas that they will be assessed on will help to ensure they can approach inspection with realistic expectations. We will continue to encourage Ofsted to make appropriate information available, so that misunderstandings can be corrected and senior managers in inspected settings equipped appropriately to communicate with their staff about what inspection will involve. Little or no notice of inspection and proportionate approaches to inspection scheduling, alongside effective engagement of staff during inspections and high quality, consistent inspection delivery should all contribute to keeping anxiety about inspection to a minimum.

5.3  The Government has committed to reducing inspection related burdens by announcing its intention that outstanding schools and colleges should be exempt from routine inspections and by ensuring that, in future, inspections hold service providers to account for performance in relation to their core functions, rather than in every aspect of their work. This is an important element of our inspection reform programme.

Notice of inspections

We welcome the intention, in the new framework for the inspection of children's homes, for all future inspections of those settings to be unannounced. Whilst we accept that for certain settings a notice period is appropriate, we recommend that in the future little or no notice to providers should be the norm. We believe that the disadvantages raised by some witnesses are outweighed by the merits of unannounced inspection, particularly in ensuring that inspectors see the setting as it truly is. (Paragraph 101)

5.4  The Government agrees with the Select Committee that little or no notice to providers of inspections should be the norm. This is the case already for most Ofsted inspections. As the Committee has noted, inspections of children's homes are conducted without notice. Ofsted is currently preparing arrangements for a new inspection framework for local authority children's services, which it will consult on later this year. It is likely to propose that these inspections should be unannounced including, in light of the recommendation from Professor Munro, that inspections of child protection are unannounced.

5.5  We share the Select Committee's view that, for certain settings, a notice period may be appropriate. Where this is the case, our view is that the notice period should be minimal. In the case of schools, for example, a short period of notice enables parents and carers to be consulted in advance, so that their views can inform the focus of the inspection visit. Equally, governors, whose volunteered time has to fit with other commitments, need some notice to enable them to become involved. The Select Committee has raised the importance of engaging governors in the inspection process, so an appropriate balance must be struck.

5.6  All of this notwithstanding, even in settings where some notice is the norm, it is important that Ofsted is free to use its powers to inspect without notice where there is a particular reason to do so; for example, where parents or others have raised serious concerns.

The role of school governors in the inspection process

We agree with the National Governors' Association that chairs of governors' attendance at post-inspection feedback sessions should be encouraged by inspectors (and preferably that of other governors as well). This is particularly worthwhile in light of the changing responsibilities governors will have in schools. Outside feedback sessions, the inspectorate should have a clear policy of engaging governors as much as possible throughout the inspection process. (Paragraph 104)

5.7  The Government agrees with the Select Committee that governors should be engaged in the inspection process and encouraged to attend post-inspection feedback sessions. Governors' roles in directing and supporting a school's response to inspection findings are key and we will ask Ofsted to consider how they might mitigate the tension between the desire for little or no notice and the requirement to engage governors. The significance of governors is reflected in the statutory provisions relating to school inspection, which assign them responsibility for matters such as notifying parents about the inspection and distributing the inspection report. These provisions also place an obligation on inspectors, in conducting inspections, to have regard to the views expressed by governors.

Voluntary Childcare Register

We agree with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation that the current set-up of the Voluntary Childcare Register is misleading and in need of very urgent reform. We are concerned that the current procedures, far from providing the public with a reliable system of registration and safeguarding, might mislead parents by suggesting a level of quality assurance that has not been undertaken. We urge the Government to improve the existing Register, through legislation where necessary, and to provide the public with a more reliable system for vetting carers which provides greater scrutiny of applicants. In the meantime, we recommend that Ofsted takes immediate action to improve the existing system—such as adding expiry dates to letters of registration. (Paragraph 108)

5.8  The Government acknowledges the Select Committee's concerns about the operation of the Voluntary Childcare Register and agrees the need for related reforms.

5.9  The Voluntary Childcare Register has been operating since April 2007. It replaced the Childcare Approval Scheme, which had been administered by a private contractor. The purpose of the Voluntary Childcare Register (and its predecessor the Childcare Approval Scheme) is to provide a very basic assurance check on providers not obliged to register with Ofsted. It also serves an administrative purpose, enabling eligible parents to claim childcare tax credits, since the use of registered or school-run provision is a requirement for such claims. The requirement for Ofsted to maintain the Voluntary Childcare Register is set out in the Childcare Act 2006.

5.10  This is just one aspect of early years and childcare inspection and regulation that is currently under review, as part of our overall inspection reforms. DfE officials are currently working with Ofsted colleagues on a range of regulation and inspection issues relating to early years and childcare, in the light of Dame Clare Tickell's review of the EYFS. The Department for Education is planning to make a statement on the Government's policy for the Foundation Years later this summer. Proposals for reforming policy in relation to the Voluntary Childcare Register will be considered in the light of this work.

Inspection of sixth form and further education colleges

We are concerned that the current inspection processes for sixth forms, schools and colleges are not consistent with each other, giving a potentially misleading impression of those institutions' performance. The data used to judge institutions need to be the same for students in the same age groups, and we recommend that this is remedied as swiftly as possible. (Paragraph 111)

5.11  The Government acknowledges that, in recognition of their distinctive purposes and ways of operating, different inspection frameworks are used by Ofsted for the inspection of schools and Further Education (FE) colleges. By publishing Framework for Excellence, we have taken significant steps already to increase the data available to parents and students to help them make important choices about education options. We will continue to enhance the transparency of the system through our plans for the FE public information system and reforms to the 16-18 performance tables. As part of those plans, we have committed to publishing comparable data across the post 16 sector. We expect to have comparable performance measures in place by 2013.

6.  THE FUTURE DIRECTION OF INSPECTION POLICY (REPORT CHAPTER 6)

The need for clarity

We believe the Government needs to articulate, as clearly as it has explained its inspection policy for schools, its plans for the other settings currently inspected by Ofsted. The current focus on schools in Department for Education pronouncements on Ofsted alone does not reflect or respect the breadth of the inspectorate's influence, or show enough concern for the many settings which are not schools and which are understandably keen to know how their inspection arrangements are likely to change. (Paragraph 114)

6.1  The Government has already set out its timetable for the revision to inspection arrangements for local authority children's services in the DfE's Departmental Business Plan. This timetable is mirrored in Ofsted's Departmental Business Plan. The Department for Education first published its plan in November 2010 and is reporting regularly on progress.

6.2  A new, more streamlined and proportionate framework for such local authority children's services inspections will be developed by December 2011 and is scheduled to be in place for May 2012. For providers of the EYFS, a revised inspection framework is planned for September 2012. The policy on which these new inspection arrangements will be based will be informed significantly by the Munro Review of Child Protection and the Tickell Review of the EYFS.

6.3  Inspection plans for the Further Education (FE) sector build on plans for the school sector. They include the same underpinning principles of high levels of autonomy for all FE providers with high levels of accountability. The requirement in funding agreements for sixth form colleges to complete a self evaluation form has been removed and, as with schools, the Department is progressing plans through the Education Bill to free outstanding FE colleges from routine inspection, which will allow Ofsted to re-focus its attention on weaker post 16 providers. The freedom will also apply to training providers, but this does not require legislation. Exempt FE colleges will be free to request and pay for an inspection if they believe it will add value to the information they hold on their own performance.

6.4  The current FE inspection framework is being reviewed. A public consultation on the proposed changes will take place in the autumn. Changes will result in more focused inspections, with fewer judgements and grades, leading to reports on the most important aspects of the quality of learning and skills provision. Ofsted is also considering what further action should be taken to ensure that providers who are 'stuck' at satisfactory levels take the steps necessary to bring about clear and sustained improvement.

Cessation of inspection for outstanding providers

We support the cessation of inspection for outstanding schools. We feel that schools should be encouraged to achieve higher levels of performance and then depend on self-evaluation and partnership with other schools as the key drivers to maintain and further improve performance. We disagree with inspectors that knowledge of current best practice will be lost: the inspectorate can still gain and disseminate this through, for example, its surveys and subject reports. These, in turn, will ensure inspectors can stay in touch with best practice across the country and maintain sight of the benchmark of high performance. However if there are signs that performance standards are not being maintained at a school, or if there is a major management change, there should be a trigger mechanism to bring forward inspections at the school—not just, as proposed in The Importance of Teaching, for special schools and PRUs but for all educational institutions. We have heard that such considerations do in any case influence inspection scheduling, but recommend formalising the triggers, so that parents can be assured the new regime will not lead to any school missing out on the attention it needs. Such triggers may include, for example, a material change in exam results, a change of head, a spike in the number of exclusions, or a major increase in staff turnover. (Paragraph 118)

6.5  The Government welcomes the Select Committee's support for our plans to exempt 'outstanding' schools from routine inspection by Ofsted. The exemption will free over 3,000 highest performing schools from the burdens of regular inspection and will introduce greater proportionality into the school inspection arrangements.

6.6  Ofsted's evidence shows that over 90% of the outstanding schools inspected since 2005 were judged either good or outstanding when re-inspected. While this is a positive finding, it also demonstrates that not all outstanding schools maintain their performance. The Government is clear that exemption from inspection does not mean that schools will be free from accountability. It is conditional on the schools maintaining their performance, and the confidence of parents.

6.7  Ofsted will continue to assess the risks of all exempt schools on a regular basis. In doing so, it will take account of the full range of available evidence including performance data; the views of parents, local authorities and others, including complaints; and structural changes to school organisation. Where, on the basis of this evidence, the Chief Inspector is of the view that a school's performance has declined, Ofsted will have the necessary powers to re-inspect it. It is not the Government's intention that a re-inspection should be triggered automatically by, for example, a change in headteacher. We want the decision to re-inspect to be a professional judgement, informed fully by risk assessment evidence.

6.8  The Government shares the Select Committee's view that the exemption from inspection should not lead to a reduction in available best practice information. 'Outstanding' schools will continue to be subject to non-routine inspection visits as part of Ofsted's programme of subject and themed surveys. It will continue to be an important element of Ofsted's work programme to identify good practice through its survey and disseminates its findings to schools and others, as appropriate.

Differentiation of grading for satisfactory schools

The Committee welcomes the Government's decision to divide the 'satisfactory' grade in two, and the extra monitoring for "stuck" schools, but recommends that specific criteria are developed to suggest why a school might be placed in either category (for example, how long a school need be "satisfactory" before it is considered "stuck"), and how the lower of the two grades differs from "inadequate". The categories need to be clearly named to differentiate between them. A similar fifth grade should be developed for "stuck at satisfactory" providers other than schools. (Paragraph 122)

6.9  In the schools White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, we proposed that Ofsted should differentiate within the broad 'satisfactory' category between identifying schools with a good capacity to improve and those that are 'stuck'. The Government also proposed that 'satisfactory' schools that are making little progress should be more likely to receive follow-up monitoring visits by Ofsted within the next year. We welcome Ofsted's positive response and its plans to re-inspect sooner, where monitoring indicates that a 'satisfactory' school is making inadequate progress.

6.10  We welcome the Select Committee's general endorsement of this approach. The Government agrees that the inspection framework and guidance documents that are currently being developed by Ofsted should provide schools and inspectors with a clear understanding of the differences between categories of 'satisfactory' schools. That clarity should also extend to inspection reports.

6.11  The decision as to how best to achieve differentiation of grading for satisfactory schools is primarily a matter for Ofsted. What concerns the Government is that schools and parents must be left in no doubt about which category a school is judged to fit into and that appropriate action is taken to follow-up those schools judged to be 'stuck'.

New framework for school inspections

The Committee believes that a slimmer framework for schools inspection is the right, and mature, way to go. However, we agree with witnesses that clarity is needed on precisely what the four categories will include, and we strongly support the recently-launched consultation. We similarly suggest that the leadership and management category makes specific reference to the performance of governors in scrutinising a school as well as the effectiveness of performance within it. We also welcome the new framework's focus on observation: inspectors, if they are highly-qualified and well-trained, should have time to observe practice and form professional opinions rather than focus on scrutinising data against a large number of separate headings. (Paragraph 127)

6.12  The Government welcomes the Select Committee's endorsement of our plans to slim down and to re-focus the schools inspection framework on the core areas of responsibility: pupil achievement; teaching; leadership and management; and pupils' behaviour and safety.

6.13  We agree with the Select Committee that school inspectors should take appropriate account of the performance of governors in challenging the school to improve and ensuring that it does. In that context, we welcome Ofsted's proposal to retain this as a key consideration in relation to the judgement about the effectiveness of a schools' leadership and management.

6.14  A benefit of a narrower inspection framework is that inspectors will have the opportunity to look in more detail at the central aspects of school performance. This should provide even greater scope for inspectors to form professional judgements, informed, but not determined, by data. We share the Select Committee's view that a stronger focus on observation, by well qualified and trained inspectors, should further improve inspection quality and consistency.

If schools are inspected against only four categories—and assuming a school's commitment to safeguarding its pupils is covered under the new 'behaviour and safety' or 'leadership and management' headings—we fail to see the continued need for limiting judgments, and therefore recommend that these are abandoned once the new school inspection framework is in place. (Paragraph 128)

6.15  The Government is inclined towards the Select Committee's view that there should be no need for 'limiting' judgements under the new school inspection framework. We want inspectors to have space to make professional judgements about the performance of individual schools. Equally, we appreciate the need for there to be some consistency in the inspection approach, so that schools know where they stand. Achieving the right balance between these two aspects will be a key consideration for Ofsted as they develop the new school inspection framework.

The Self-Evaluation Form

We agree with the Government that the less teachers are constrained by bureaucracy, the better. However, we recommend that the inspectorate continues to publish a simplified Self-Evaluation Form, albeit non-obligatory, and to make it—and guidance on good evaluation—easily available to heads and governors. (Paragraph 130)

6.16  The Government believes that school self-review is most effective when it forms an integral part of a school's plans for development. It should not be a distracting and overly burdensome process, nor should it be performed with the exclusive aim of responding to requirements associated with Ofsted school inspection, perceived or otherwise.

6.17  We welcome the Select Committee's endorsement of our drive to reduce unnecessary constraints and burdens on schools and note the Committee's view that Ofsted should continue to publish a simplified self-evaluation form, which should be non-obligatory. While we accept that this approach would go some way to addressing our concerns about the current arrangements, it would not, we believe, go far enough. The Government has committed to complete removal of the centrally prescribed school self-evaluation form, and has no plans to move away from this position.

6.18  There is a tendency for simple documents and forms to become appended and grow increasingly complex over time, often through pressure from Government itself. Completion by schools of the current, lengthy, self-evaluation form is not obligatory, but almost all schools complete it and perceive they should do so. We believe that only through ending central prescription of school self-review will we give schools clear autonomy to really reflect on what effective self-review means and so develop their own innovative approaches and confidence, tailored to their specific needs and priorities. Naturally, schools will want to give some consideration to areas that will be assessed during an Ofsted inspection, but should not be constrained by a prescribed format for doing so.

Measuring progression and attainment

The Committee supports more publicly available information on schools, including more comprehensive attainment tables. We think it is essential that the inspectorate prioritises its reporting on efforts made for, and progress made by, pupils across the full range of ability groups (including both those in the very highest or 'gifted and talented' group, and those with the lowest incoming test scores or assessment), and those with special educational needs. The Department should seek to give these progress measures prominence comparable to other key measures such as 'five good GCSEs' and the new English Baccalaureate. (Paragraph 134)

6.19  The Government welcomes the Select Committee's support for our plans to increase publicly available information on schools and agrees with the Committee that progress measures should be given suitable prominence within the accountability arrangements.

6.20  The schools White Paper set out our intention to put greater emphasis on the progress of every child, with more prominence given to this dimension within performance tables. Progress measures will be used within floor standards to ensure that they are as fair as possible. Where pupils make better than average progress between the relevant key stages, the school will be exempt from falling below the floor.

6.21  Progress measures will encourage schools to take particular responsibility for the progress made by all pupils, across the full range of ability groups. This policy is further supported by a proposal in the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Green Paper for new indicators relating to the progress of the lowest attaining pupils (between Key Stages 1 and 2, and Key Stages 2 and 4, in English and mathematics) to be included in the performance tables.

6.22  We agree that the progress made by different groups of pupils should be an important consideration within the new school inspection framework. Current legislative proposals require inspectors, in reporting on the four core areas, to consider how well schools meet the needs of the range of their pupils.


 
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Prepared 28 June 2011