Reforms on the way


Christine Gilbert is to leave Ofsted in June this year.

Although her initial appointment was criticised by some Tories because of her perceived closeness, and that of her husband, to the Labour party-there is no evidence that she was anything but impartial in the way she has conducted herself in her job  and indeed many Ofsted reports, during the last Government, were hard hitting and embarrassing to the Government . She didn’t pull any punches in her personal  comments, or observations  either .

Warwick Mansell  has claimed that Ofsted inspections have, in recent years, focused heavily on statistical indicators of school quality that are largely based on exam performance. Some schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas, claim to  add real value which is impossible to gauge by simply monitoring exam results.

Ofsted now argues robustly that inspections aren’t now as dependent on test/exam data as has commonly been perceived. This is particularly the case since the introduction of the latest version of the Ofsted framework, in September 2009, which places  more emphasis on lesson observation.

Ofsted stresses that it is also not the case, as is sometimes thought, that schools are being pre-judged, before inspection visits, on the basis of their previous  results .Inspectors  do, they claim  enter schools with an open mind.

Opinion on the schools inspection system varies. Certainly it has both supporters and detractors.  Given its scope and resources    it is probably working reasonably well and it has forged an effective relationship with those companies it contracts to undertake inspections. Many of the inspections are now  undertaken by Additional Inspectors (AI),  ie companies, from both the for profit and not for profit sectors. The tight contracts ensure that no conflicts of interests arise .In evidence to the Select Committee  the Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert expressed her confidence in the current inspection arrangements  and the quality of the work undertaken by these contractors and the sharing of best practice.

It would be rash to claim, though, that Ofsted doesn’t have its critics. Most of the criticism though is targeted at its size and charges that it is too big, unwieldy and bureaucratic and cant possibly undertake all the tasks it is given up to the required standard. There have been particular concerns over its inspection of childcare and social services in which services have been given a clean bill of health by Ofsted only for a child abuse scandal and serious deficiencies  to be subsequently exposed within months of an inspection.

The Education Select Committee want to split Ofsted in two: one to cover education, the other children’s care, such as child-minding and social services. “Ofsted’s remit has grown substantially, since its inception but this has come at the expense of a more specialised service,” claimed Graham Stuart, the committee’s Conservative chairman on the release of the Committees  report on Ofsted  last month. Splitting Ofsted, it is thought, would raise confidence that the inspection of all settings is being carried out by inspectors with relevant training and experience. Different approaches to inspection would flourish, and the profile of Ofsted’s non-education remit, which the committee says Ofsted has not adequately communicated and of which many people are unaware, would be given a welcome boost.

Graham Stuart MP, added : “Ofsted’s reach is vast and its remit has grown substantially since its inception, but this has come at the expense of providing a more specialised service. We need a radical shift in how inspection operates in this country, with a more proportionate, specialist and focussed approach. Ofsted has, of course, made a great impact on the quality of provision across the country, but the evidence clearly shows that smaller, more focussed organisations could do even more so.”

The committee says it is essential that the new Education Inspectorate prioritises reporting on progress made per pupil across the full range of ability groups and the Department for Education should seek to give these progress measures prominence comparable to other key measures, such as ‘five good GCSEs’ and the new English Baccalaureate.

Too few inspectors have recent and relevant experience of the types of settings they inspect. Frontline expertise is vital, says the Committee, and current targets for the percentage of school inspectors who are serving senior practitioners on secondment should be raised. The report states ‘We believe that this lack of recent and relevant experience of the front-line has contributed to a loss of faith in the inspection system. As one commentator has written, “inspectors have to be trusted and recognised as expert” if they are to command “the respect of the profession [they] seek[s] to regulate”.[108] Urgent reform is needed to ensure that the new Inspectorates of Education and Children’s Care have credibility within their respective sectors, which will in turn bring the “mutual trust and respect”[109] on which successful inspections rely. Furthermore, the Committee believe this ties closely to the Government’s desire—articulated in the recent White Paper The Importance of Teaching—to focus inspection more on observation than on data:

We will ask Ofsted to return to focusing its attention on the core of teaching and learning … [allowing] inspectors to get back to spending more of their observing lessons, giving a more reliable assessment of the quality of education children are receiving.[110]

Under Government reforms, envisaged in the Education Bill currently nearing the end of its Commons passage,  Ofsted will refocus inspection on schools’ core educational purpose, and will release outstanding schools from all routine inspection.

Ofsted is consulting on a new framework with a clear focus on just four things – pupil achievement, the quality of teaching, leadership and management, and the behaviour and safety of pupils. The Government believes that the new inspection framework will help to make sure that there is a better focus on the needs of all pupils, including the needs of pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or disabilities.

The new framework will come into force in Autumn of this year – 2011.

Ofsted will cease routine inspection of schools and sixth form colleges previously judged to be outstanding. The new regime will exempt primary schools, secondary schools and sixth form colleges which have been judged to be outstanding from routine inspection from Autumn 2011 and re-inspect only if there is evidence of  a decline or widening attainment gaps.   The weaker the school, the more frequent the monitoring: schools judged to be inadequate will receive termly monitoring visits to assess improvement. In order to help with this proportional approach, Ofsted will differentiate within the broad ‘satisfactory’ category, between schools which are improving and have good capacity to improve further, and schools which are  basically stuck.

Significantly where a school feels that its last Ofsted judgement is out of date and does not reflect the improvement it has made since its last inspection, it should be able to request an inspection.


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