Inspection firm cracks down on 'cut and paste'

27th July 2012 at 01:00
Inspector at heart of row no longer works for Ofsted contractor

One of the biggest companies used to carry out Ofsted inspections has had to overhaul its quality control measures to ensure that it does not approve "cut and paste" reports about schools.

Ofsted faced severe criticism last month for approving inspection reports that contained identical sentences and phrases, which were used to put two schools in special measures.

The judgements were made by a lead inspector working for Tribal, one of the three main firms, along with Serco and CfBT Education Trust, contracted by Ofsted to inspect schools. Tribal told TES that the lead inspector at the centre of the furore no longer works for the company.

The firm now employs a "quality assurance reader" to check that individual inspectors' reports no longer repeat phrases and sentences. It has also implemented a regime of random sampling to check that reports are up to scratch.

Tribal faced separate criticism last week for employing lead inspectors who are not qualified teachers. At least five inspectors without qualified teacher status have led inspections for the company. An email from Tribal to all its inspectors - seen by TES - revealed that it did not keep a detailed record of its employees' backgrounds, prompting a backlash from teaching unions over the quality control of inspectors.

The issue of "cut and paste" reports emerged after Malmesbury Primary School in Tower Hamlets, east London, and Belvedere Junior School in Bexley, south London, were placed in special measures earlier this year. The schools' reports, which were written by the same inspector, contained numerous similarities, including identical sentences.

At the time, Tribal said it would investigate and promised "swift action". In a statement this week, it said: "While reports for two schools in similar situations, written by the same lead inspector, would naturally be expected to have some similarities, we found significant cause for concern in the reports for Malmesbury Primary School and Belvedere Junior School.

"Tribal takes this matter extremely seriously - every report should reflect the uniqueness of the school and all our inspectors are trained to ensure that their reports reflect this policy."

When asked if the inspector was still working for the firm, a spokesman said: "We will not be using the lead inspector involved again."

Tribal said it had reviewed eight reports written by the inspector, finding that the judgements in each case were correct, "so no school has received an incorrect or unfair rating".

The company said that both Tribal and Ofsted had separately investigated the reports for Malmesbury and Belvedere and "both concluded that the decision to place each school in special measures was indeed correct, based on a thorough review of the documented evidence gathered by all the inspectors involved".

As part of its investigation, Tribal commissioned an external analysis of reports by the same inspector to expose potential examples of "cutting and pasting". Now this type of external sampling and analysis will be conducted regularly. The company said it had also reiterated its inspection and report-writing policies to all inspectors.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said that the wider issue of "cut and paste" reports was connected to "growing evidence of a lack of expertise among inspectors".

"When someone doesn't understand what they are seeing, they can form a crude judgement based on rules of thumb and raw data, but they cannot explain or justify that judgement - hence the reliance on stock phrases," he said. "Whenever big chunks of a report are cut and pasted, it betrays a profound disrespect for the pupils, parents and staff of the school."

An Ofsted spokeswoman said it was "inappropriate" to comment on investigations regarding individual inspectors. "However, both inspection reports were subject to moderation by Ofsted and we stand by the judgements they record," she added.

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