Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

63.  Memorandum from the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED)

  Thank you for your letter of 21 March and for including OFSTED in your inquiry into whether there is a need for a Human Rights Commission for the United Kingdom.

  I have examined the seven questions posed on the second page of your letter and have corresponded with Divisional Managers within OFSTED to assist in formulating this response.

  OFSTED is, as you say, a body with responsibilities for inspecting, auditing and monitoring the performance of public authorities. These would include maintained schools, non-maintained and independent schools with pupils funded by public authorities, nurseries with pupils funded by public authorities, local education authorities, colleges, teacher training organisations and any organisations of a public nature to whom we subcontract, for example, LEA school inspection units.

  In answer to your specific questions I would answer as follows:

Question 1

  Compliance with human rights does not currently form one of the criteria by which OFSTED assesses the performance of the public authorities with which it deals. The criteria by which we assess performance of schools, LEAs, etc derive from HMCI's statutory remit. Our remit for school inspections, for example, is set out by Section 2(1) of the School Inspections Act 1996. Inspectors' comments on performance against the criteria ought to pick up on any relevant human rights issues. Inspectors also comment on the way bodies fulfil their own statutory duties. The Framework for LEA inspections, for example, draws attention to the need to inspect whether an LEA is complying with its equal opportunities obligations. LEAs would, of course, be expected to be human rights compliant, as would other public authorities whom we inspect.

Question 2

  The establishment of a culture of human rights does not currently form one of the criteria by which OFSTED assesses the performance of the public authorities with which it deals (see response to question 1).

Question 3

  We cannot answer this question in the light of responses given to questions 1 and 2.

Question 4

  Because we do not inspect against these as specific criteria, we do not maintain records of performance against them.

Question 5

  We do not offer advice and assistance to bodies we inspect. We do, however, publish overarching reports on our inspection findings and they will often contain examples of good practice. We do highlight key issues in individual inspection reports and there are statutory requirements for schools, for example, to produce action plans. Schools that need assistance to improve can seek advice from their local education authority.

Question 6

  Whilst we would not describe this as "advice", we do follow up where schools become subject to special measures, or are designated as having serious weaknesses or are underachieving. OFSTED's School Improvement Division (SID) schedule regular visits by Her Majesty's Inspectors (HMI), senior professional school inspectors employed by OFSTED. The focus of these visits is on the quality of education provided, in particular the quality of teaching and learning, the effectiveness of leadership and management and the pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, reflected in their attitudes, behaviour and attendance. A second focus of SID's visits is the progress being made in implementing the school's action plans and addressing the key issues from the previous inspection.

Question 7

  We have no plans currently to use human rights as an assessment criterion, though we would be willing to look at any specific suggestions for strengthening the human rights dimension in any of our existing inspection Frameworks.

30 April 2002

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