Why does the committee want to split Ofsted into two?
“Ofsted has grown too big to discharge its functions as efficiently as smaller, more focussed and specialist organisations might. At the heart of our report, therefore, is the recommendation that Ofsted should be divided into two new organisations—the Inspectorate for Education and the Inspectorate for Children’s Care—which we consider will make a marked difference to the value of inspection in this country,” says the report.
The report says that during the enquiry it became very obvious that education and care “are, in fact, different beasts which accordingly need to be treated differently”. Or, as one inspector wrote: “Education and social care are not easy bedmates.” The committee believes that having a single children’s inspectorate has not worked well enough to merit its continuation, with the expanded Ofsted losing its elements of specialism and still being regarded as an education-focused organisation.
What would Ofsted become?
“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.”
Wouldn’t it cost more to divide Ofsted into two inspectorates?
The committee says Ofsted has made significant savings and says the Government should be “alert to value for money” if it divided the organisation into two, and ensured there was no extra cost. The two new organisations 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.”
What about the purpose of inspection?
The committee’s report says that one clear disadvantage of a single inspectorate “which reared its head throughout the enquiry” is that its purpose has become increasingly blurred. There was “significant confusion” among various groups including (“perhaps most worrying”) Ofsted’s own workforce about what the purpose of inspection actually is.
The committee identifies two sides of the debate as being between inspection for the sake of service improvement, and inspection for regulation and judgement. Headteacher Lynn Jackson told the committee “when somebody comes in we want them to come in to help us to improve,” and the NAHT, representing 28,000 leaders in education, argued for Ofsted’s “focus being much more on a supportive process that is about school improvement and driving that forward.”
However, the committee says some evidence suggests that Ofsted’s impact on school improvement is limited at best and negative at worst. It quotes research from Keele University, the Institute of Education and Bristol University that inspection can have adverse effects on exam performance.
Ofsted inspectors and former Chief Inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson, meanwhile, argued that it would be a conflict of interest for Ofsted to drive improvement directly.
The committee concluded that the role of the Education Inspectorate should be to inspect institutions and provide judgments and recommendations which could provide better outcomes for individual children and to provide an overview of the system as a whole. It should not aim to be an improvement agency, and it should continue Ofsted’s work disseminating best practice.
The committee also recommends “clearly articulated mission statements” for its proposed two new inspectorates to give clarity about exactly what constitutes inspection.
Why does it think continuing school inspection is necessary?
The committee heard witnesses call for the complete abolition of school inspection, including Professor Michael Bassey who said Ofsted had raised awareness of the need for schools to raise standards and now inspections should be replaced by the “more effective” local accountability of schools self-evaluation.
The Committee found this view supported by its trip to Finland, where autonomy by teachers and heads and trust placed in them by government meant there was no call for formal regulation of any kind.
However, the committee thought the large performance variation associated with socio-economic intake in the UK meant there was no case for complete abolition of school inspection now, although it supports the principle of proportionate inspection and more performance on lower-performing schools. “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.”
Why does the committee want a new post of Chief Education Officer in the DfE?
Examining how Ofsted’s knowledge could better inform Government policy-making, the committee rejected the idea of returning it to the DfE, where it was until 1992, because this would “create as many problems as it solved” and Ofsted’s independence was valued by inspectors and the public.
“On the other side of the argument, however, it is important that Ofsted—which has a unique overview of the education and well-being of children across the country—is a serious voice in the policy-making process, and that its evidence is considered fully by Ministers,” it said, and so it “saw merit” in the proposal for a new Chief Education Officer role in the DfE.
Former ASCL general secretary John Dunford, who suggested the idea, said the CEO would be “the senior professional voice in the policymaking process with direct access to the Secretary of State, as the chief inspector used to have, and use evidence from Ofsted. Ofsted’s role should then be to stand between the Government on the one hand and individual institutions on the other, reporting without fear or favour, on the performance of not only the institutions, but of Government policy, and feeding that back into the chief educational officer’s advice.”
The DfE is the only major Government department without such a chief officer and the committee suggests a CEO would help the inspectorates to maintain their independence and “could even be current senior practitioners on secondment from their own institutions.”
What did the committee think about inspection reports?
The committee heard evidence that the quality of Ofsted reports could be “variable” or “inconsistent” and insufficiently parent-friendly. Some witnesses also said that reports were late – Lesley Davies of the Association of Colleges analysed over 400 and found “49% of those reports were published late, some up to 200 days late.”
“Professor Nick Foskett, a leading academic and former teacher, told us that some reports are also lacking in evidence to support conclusions: ‘To quote one of my colleagues who has said on a number of occasions, “If the inspection report that was produced on their institution was presented as a master’s level dissertation, it would fail because of lack of evidence to support the judgment.” The committee recommends that under its proposed new structure all reports would have to be parent friendly but with a “depth of intelligence” to make them useful to professionals and providers. The new inspectorates should publish annually the numbers of reports not delivered on time and manage performance rigorously.
How does the committee rate inspectors?
It wants more inspectors to be seconded to “the front line” and more practitioners to be seconded to education teams.
It says there are too many inspectors lacking “recent and relevant” experience of the settings they investigate and the proposed “Inspectorate of Education” should extend and develop mechanisms to address this, including sending inspectors to the “front line”.
“At the same time, a number of inspectors accepted that the front-line values experience of inspection as well as experience of the sector. There is a fine balance to be struck between the two. Inspecting is itself a great skill, and those with sustained inspection understanding and experience are as valuable as their colleagues who have been at the front-line more recently as well. Inspection teams need to achieve this mix in order to command the respect of teachers and other professionals.”
The committee also recommends developing ways to dramatically increase the numbers of senior serving practitioners on secondment (which it acknowledges the inspection service providers are trying to do). It suggests these secondments should be built into job descriptions and encourages local and central government to consider how this might work.
However, the committee acknowledges the problems of this, particularly if the person is from a smaller school and may not want to do too many inspections or have time to write reports quickly.
What about the perceived difference between HMIs and additional inspectors?
“A very common theme in evidence from education institutions was the huge difference in opinion as to whether Her Majesty’s Inspectors offer a better service to schools than their Additional Inspector colleagues. There is a stark contrast in the evidence submitted by the teacher unions with that of Ofsted itself,” says the report.
The NAHT was one organisation which said it had very few complaints about HMI and that the overwhelming majority of the “problem” inspectors were AIs. However, the committee also heard evidence that schools were not aware of who were HMIs and who were additional inspectors.
The committee decided not to recommend that all inspections were led by HMIs but thought they should be used in training other inspectors. It also recommends “transparency” with fuller biographies of the inspection team to be provided before they arrive.
What about the stress of inspections?
“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,” concluded the committee.
How much does the committee think governors should be involved?
Evidence from the National Governors’ Association suggested that “there is some concern that inspectors do not fully understand governance or the role of governors,” and that it is not given sufficient scrutiny in the current framework. “We agree that it would be beneficial for inspectors and schools to have a spotlight shone more brightly on governance arrangements,” says the committee, which also agrees that chairs and other members of governing bodies should be encouraged by inspectors to attend post-inspection feedback meetings and should be as involved as possible in inspection.
What does the committee think about ceasing to inspect outstanding schools?
It says inspectors who gave evidence were broadly against this as the schools themselves wanted to be held to account and because schools could “change almost overnight”. One witness said all schools needed good schools to be inspected to know where the “leading edge” is to replicate it across the system.
The committee supports the end of inspection for outstanding schools, saying that they should depend on self evaluation and partnership with others to maintain and further improve performance.
However, it recommends a trigger mechanism to bring forward an inspection for all educational institutions, and that it should be a formal trigger such as a material change in exam results, a change of head, a spike in the number of exclusions or a major increase in staff turnover.
What does it think about the Government’s decision to divide “satisfactory” into two?
The committee and most witnesses supported this. Lesley Gannon, Assistant Secretary of the NAHT said the “innate preference” of members was for a fifth grade. “It is about splitting that position between “satisfactory”, “inadequate” and “good”.
There is not enough fine grading. When you have an even number, a divide tends to be put somewhere where it does not necessarily lie.”
The Committee “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’.”
What about limiting judgments?
“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.”
Did the committee look at the Self Evaluation Form?
“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.”
What sort of inspections did the committee want to see?
“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.”
Did it look at the processes for inspecting sixth form colleges, schools and colleges?
Yes. The committee was concerned that the inspection processes were not consistent with each other, giving a “potentially misleading impression of these institutions’ performance”. It wanted this “remedied as soon as possible.”