A powerful committee of MPs has demanded an overhaul of Ofsted’s inspection system, after a damning report found it is not up to scratch.
The public accounts committee, which probes government spending, has today released a report on school inspection.
Here are the recommendations from the report.
1. Consider training leaders of ‘inadequate’ schools as inspectors
Ofsted has assured the public accounts committee that it has enough contracted inspectors, and official figures show that the watchdog has gone from completing 65 per cent of planned inspections in 2015-16 to 94 per cent in 2017-18.
However, MPs say Ofsted still doesn’t have enough directly-employed senior inspectors, or HMIs. This March, it employed 30 (15%) fewer HM inspectors than it had budgeted for.
Now the committee wants an update from Ofsted in April 2019 on the gap between the numbers of HM inspectors employed and budgeted for, and the turnover rate.
MPs also say Ofsted should consider opening up its training to heads and deputies working in schools graded as ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’, “so that these schools can benefit in the same way as schools that are performing well”.
2. Review the rules for ‘outstanding’ schools
Earlier this year, the National Audit Office found that hundreds of schools have been left uninspected for over 10 years because of a rule which leave ‘outstanding’-rated schools to their own devices. It followed on from a Schools Week investigation first revealing the schools ignored by Ofsted.
The committee says that as a result of this policy, some pupils go through the whole of primary and/or secondary school without any independent assessment of the effectiveness of their education.
In response, the Department for Education should “re-examine the rationale for exempting schools graded outstanding from routine re-inspection”, and report back to the committee in December.
3. Report annually on inspection targets
Following the watchdog’s failure to inform parliament of missed re-inspection targets in 2016-17, MPs want a change to the way issues are reported.
The committee says the watchdog should include an update on how many schools have not been inspected within the statutory five year target, and an explanation in its annual report and accounts, which are laid before parliament every year.
4. Review short inspections of ‘good’ schools
Short inspections for schools that were rated ‘good’ at their previous inspection were launched in September 2015, and typically last one or two days, though they can be “upgraded” to full inspections when inspectors believe a school could go up or down a grade.
However, less than three years after the changes were introduced, MPs believe short inspections aren’t working. These visits, the committee says, do not allow inspectors enough time to make a “meaningful assessment of a school’s performance or to help schools to improve”.
Ofsted and the DfE should now review whether the model provides “sufficient, meaningful assurance about schools’ effectivenes”, and evaluate the costs and benefits of alternative approaches, including carrying out more full inspections, MPs said. They want to hear back from the two bodies in December.
5. Get better evidence from parents
According to the committee, Ofsted “does not give parents enough opportunity to contribute their views as part of school inspections”.
Reports, they say, are an important source of information for parents choosing schools for their children, and parents are “therefore a crucial audience and they would like Ofsted’s reports to reflect their views more”.
MPs say they want to hear in December about Ofsted’s plans, “with specific actions and target dates”, for collecting more and better evidence from parents about schools.
6. The chief inspector should speak her mind
The committee is concerned that Ofsted doesn’t make the most of its “unique position to use intelligence from inspections to lead change and be a force for school improvement”.
In particular, MPs were disappointed that Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, did not provide “clearer and more direct answers” when quizzed about “wider issues affecting the school system, including the impact of funding pressures” earlier this year.
They have instructed Spielman to write to the committee by October 2018 “with her reflections on the main risks to schools’ effectiveness and the systemic causes of poor performance, including the impact of funding pressures”.
You can read more about that in our separate story here.
7. Be clear on school improvement, and review how it’s funded
The current school accountability and improvement system is “muddled”, MPs have warned, and this leads to confusion for both schools and parents. There is also inefficiency when roles overlap, for example, between Ofsted and regional schools commissioners.
During hearings earlier this year, Ofsted and the DfE were unable to explain who was responsible for improvement at 78 schools rated ‘inadequate’ where Ofsted did not meet its target to re-inspect within either 18 or 24 months between 2012/13 and 2016/17.
The DfE is currently undertaking a review of accountability, and has already put a leash on RSCs, who will no longer be able to send advisers in to schools for controversial “double inspections”.
However, MPs want the DfE to go further, and make clear exactly “where responsibility for school improvement lies”.
“The department, working with Ofsted, should also assess whether the balance of spending is right between different parts of the system for school accountability and improvement, including between Ofsted and the regional schools commissioners.”