PAC report: Six ways to improve Ofsted

Influential committee calls for Ofsted to review its inspections and report to Parliament on missed targets and staff retention

Ofsted, school inspection, Public Accounts Committee

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned that Ofsted is failing to provide the level of assurance that parents need because of cuts to inspections.

In a new report published today, MPs have also raised concerns about shortcomings in the inspectorate’s performance and made a series of recommendations for both Ofsted and the Department for Education.

Here are six things the PAC is calling for:

1. Ofsted should produce annual reports on how many schools have not been inspected in the statutory time limit

MPs have criticised Ofsted for incorrectly reporting to parliament that it had met the statutory target for re-inspecting schools every five years. In fact it had failed to do so on 43 occasions between 2012-13 and 2016-17.

Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has apologised for the “control weakness” which led to Ofsted misreporting to MPs.

Now the PAC are calling on Ofsted to produce reports to parliament, in its annual report and accounts, on how many schools have not been inspected within the statutory target and the reasons why.

2. DfE should reconsider the exemption on outstanding schools being inspected

Schools rated as outstanding are currently exempt from re-inspection.

One of the key criticisms of Ofsted by the PAC is that it provides less assurance to parents because of the length of time schools can go between inspections. As of August last year, 1,620 schools had not been inspected for six years or more, including 296 which had not been inspected for 10 years or more because outstanding schools are not being revisited.

Ofsted itself has told the DfE that the exemption for outstanding schools is unsustainable.

The PAC has now asked the DfE to re-examine the rationale for exempting schools graded outstanding from routine re-inspection and to report back by the end of the year.

3. Ofsted and the DfE should review whether the short inspection model works

The PAC report warns that short inspections do not allow inspectors enough time to make a meaningful assessment of a school’s performance or to help schools to improve. 

Ofsted inspects schools previously graded as good through a short, one-day inspection, on average every four years, rather than through a full two-day inspection. This has become the norm as two-thirds of schools are graded as good.

Short inspections inevitably provide less assurance about schools’ effectiveness and allow inspectors less time to discuss with schools how they might improve, according to the MPs.

The PAC has called on Ofsted and the DfE to review whether the short inspection model provides sufficient, meaningful assurance about schools’ effectiveness. It has called on them to report back with their findings by the end of the year.

4. Ofsted should collect more and better evidence from parents

Ofsted inspections can be an important source of information for parents choosing a school for their child. However the PAC report claims Ofsted do not give parents enough opportunity to contribute their views as part of school inspections. 

Ofsted seeks parents’ views through an online survey and by talking to parents at the school gates during inspections. The PAC says this only gives parents a limited time to give their views.

The report says Ofsted appears to have good intentions to improve how it engages with parents but says it is not convinced that it has concrete plans to turn these intentions into actions. MPs have now called on Ofsted to set out plans with specific actions and target dates for how it will collect more and better evidence from parents.

5. Ofsted should update MPs on number of inspectors it is employing

The report notes that Ofsted has struggled to employ enough school inspectors, meaning that it has failed to complete its inspection programme.

Ofsted has carried out fewer inspections than planned, although performance has improved since 2015-16 when it completed only 65 per cent of planned inspections. In 2017-18, Ofsted completed 6,079 inspections – 94 per cent of the planned number.

In March this year it was employing 30 (15 per cent) fewer inspectors than it has budgeted for and there was also a shortfall in the two previous years.

Now the PAC wants Ofsted to write to the committee, in April next year, on whether it is employing fewer inspectors than it had budgeted for and what the turnover rate is for that job.

It was reported earlier this year that Ofsted are losing inspectors to higher paid senior roles in multi-academy trusts.

6. The DfE should review how much it spends on Ofsted and regional school commissioners

The PAC report warns that the current system for school accountability is muddled, leading to confusion for schools and parents and inefficiency where roles overlap.

In May this year education secretary Damian Hinds announced plans to simplify the accountability system by replacing floor targets and coasting standards with one new measure of school performance.

Mr Hinds also said that he was ending regional school commissioner visits to schools and that it was Ofsted’s job to carry out inspections.

However the PAC warns that the situation is complex and has questioned the basis for the DfE’s funding decisions, which saw eight RSCs spend £32 million in 2017-18 compared with the £44 million Ofsted spent on inspecting schools.

MPs have called on the DfE, as part of its review of accountability, to clarify who is responsible for school improvement and to assess whether the balance of spending is right between Ofsted and the RSCs.

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