Saturday, 13 August 2011

Ofsted Part 2: A journey to the heart of matters.

Why do Ofsted grade the quality of education where a strong floor standard is clearly met when other regulators consider this to be bad practice which damages innovation, diversity and prevents them clearly seeing and understanding practice with which they are not familiar?
I took this question to the Westminster Education Forum Consultation:
Accountability in Education – the future of governance, Ofsted and league tables on the 5th of July 2011.
I put it first to Graham Stuart MP who has recently chaired a review of Ofsted.
He agreed with my observations that Ofsted clearly had a duty to establish and police a high floor standard for educational services and that it had a duty to scrutinise and audit schools detailed self-reports regarding their provision of services.  In response to my question regarding the grading of the quality of services, he said that he felt that there was an opportunity for me to contribute to the Ofsted’s current internal consultation regarding their framework to try and make sure the Ofsted fitted more with what I thought it should do compared to what it does now.
I was satisfied with this response and then addressed the question in a more succinct form to Richard Brooks, the Ofsted Director present at the consultation:
“Where you are inspecting an area of service in an institution and there are no concerns about it, why is better to grade is on a single scale rather than for there to be a qualitative report on it, provided by the school, which is a basis for professional dialogue and on which the inspector comments with any concerns or qualifications?”
His reply was (subject to possible transcript errors):
“I mean of course, there are epistemological attractions from having essentially a single judgment to make about which side of a line do you fall on, satisfactory/unsatisfactory. But you have a real problem about deciding where that line is, and what you taken into account when you think about whether people are
which side of it. So if you think about the overall effectiveness judgment, would we be making essentially a judgment analogous to inadequacy, where all of the other information was lost, where 90% of schools were essentially passing? You would lose a great deal of the richness about the discussion at the boundary between ‘is this practice satisfactory, or is it better than satisfactory? Is it good? If it’s good what can we do to make it excellent? What are the improvements points at a school which actually is not worried about being found inadequate, but really wants to strive to be
outstanding? What are the things that we think institutionally we should focus on?’ All of that would go. It would be a simpler inspection system in some ways, but I think you would lose a lot. Perhaps I have not understood you, but we can talk at the break.”

This was, of course, and answer which attempted to justify the practice of grading the quality of provision without engaging at all with the reasons why this practice is unsatisfactory or to criticise possible alternative practices which serve the same purpose.

We did speak at the break and I was concerned that Mr Brooks did not appear to have any awareness of the arguments make against the status quo by other regulators.  So I suggested that I come and talk to Ofsted as Graham Stuart MP had advised.  That suggestion received a very definite refusal and that categorical statement that the grading of the quality of provision would not change, however Mr Brooks agreed that if I put my question in writing by email he would respond.

Rebecca Hanson to Richard Brooks July 5th

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your time today.

You promised to ponder the question I asked and attempt to answer it more fully.

Just to remind you the question was:
Other regulators interpret the Hampton principle on page 11 of the attached report (regulators are only mandated to intervene when there is a clear case for protection) to mean that they have no duty to attempt to rate the quality of provision where there is not a clear case for protection.  There are considered to be important reasons why rating the quality of provision where there is not a clear case for protection militates against innovation and high quality provision.

Please can you explain to me why Ofsted does rate the quality of provision where there is no clear case for protection?

Best regards,

Rebecca Hanson

Richard Brooks to Rebecca Hanson 6th July

The two short answers are:
-          whilst we act as a regulator in respect of some services, we act as an inspectorate in relation to the education provision within our remit.
 -          we are a creature of statute, and the relevant legislation, including the Education Bill before Parliament now, is explicit that we will report on quality in school inspections. There is of course a valid debate to be had about the merits of taking this approach, and whilst I’m not seeking to dismiss the alternative, I would personally come down on the side of quality ratings. Indeed I think the protection principle can very well be used to justify inspection of quality in relation to many services for children. In the end, however, it is not a decision for us. Kind regards Richard

In November 2009 Ofsted was specifically included under 2006 Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act to which most other regulators had been accountable since 2007.  Therefore it is bound by precisely the same law and principles as other regulators.  Yet although this Act was constructed to militate against poor practices like the grading of the quality of provision of services, Richard Brooks was claiming that Ofsted is forced to grade the quality of the provision of services “it is not a decision for us”.

So I submitted a freedom of information request to Ofsted to find out if there was any justification for Richard Brooks claim.  The response is 3 pages long.  The only possible partial justification for the claim is a reference to a statue which designates that Ofsted must report on the quality of provision.  I cannot find any legal imperative that this must be done by the auditing of quality standards or though qualitative reports with disciplined language.  There is substantial justification for the assertion that the quality of the work done by Ofsted would be much higher if alternative practices were used.

So I ask again:
Why are those involved in education in England subject to inspections which are considered to be bad practice by other British regulators because they militate against diversity, against innovation and against the regulator actually perceiving what is happening?

Richard Brooks claims that Ofsted is forced to do from outside.
By what or by whom is he forced to do that?
His response to me question showed a very serious lack of understanding or either inspection and regulation and a total lack of insight into the realities of the consequences of current inspection practices on education.

Where is Ofsted’s ‘proper conclusion’ that this practice is in the interest of the education of our students?
Where is anyone’s ‘proper conclusion’ that this is in anyone’s interest?
Where is the cost benefit analysis I can look at which properly understands and justifies the costs of this quasi-objective system?

To be continued...

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