The new framework comes into effect this September. It will give schools more freedom — but this comes with tough new duties, says Mark Blois

Since the creation of Ofsted in 1992, there has been a comprehensive programme for the inspection of all schools in England. These inspections were initially carried out under the Education Act 1992 (section 9) and have more recently been performed under the School Inspections Act 1996 (section 10).

Such inspections have been carried out in a four-year and then six-year cycle. Just as a third round of inspections was about to begin, the issue of modernisation of the inspection framework for schools was raised by Ofsted.

REFORM OF THE INSPECTION FRAMEWORK

The current framework for inspecting schools was published in May 2003. But in Autumn 2003 Ofsted published a strategic plan for the years 2004-2007, in which the chief inspector, David Bell, proposed that Ofsted should undertake a fundamental review of its approach to school inspection.

Ofsted subsequently published The Future of Inspection — A Consultation Paper, and launched a consultation that took place between 10 February and 8 April 2004.

Result of consultation

At the end of that consultation, Ofsted and the DfES jointly published A New Relationship with Schools (in June 2004), followed by Framework for Inspecting Schools (in November 2004).

Both set out broad proposals for a new inspection framework. The Education Bill was then introduced in order to bring about the necessary changes to the statutory basis of school inspections — and the Education Act 2005 gained royal assent in April 2005 (see also ‘The Education Act 2005: an overview’, page 5 of this issue).

The new inspection framework will now come into effect from September 2005.

REFORM OF CHILDREN’S SERVICES

Inspections will now be carried out under section 5 of the Education Act 2005. The legal basis of the new inspection framework cannot be understood without an appreciation of the extent to which it has been influenced by the programme of reform of children’s services and the central role of Ofsted.

A consensus developed that the way ahead for children’s services was to place safeguarding and promotion of children’s welfare at the heart of the spectrum of services provided to help support children and families.

THE ROLE OF THE EDUCATION SERVICE

In the same year as the death of Victoria Climbié, six-year-old Lauren Wright died a violent death at the hands of her stepmother. Social services, education and health managers admitted to a series of crucial mistakes.

  • A particular failing had been that Lauren’s school had not had a teacher trained in child protection procedures.
  • Her case also highlighted a clear breakdown of communication between the school and the Education Welfare Service. The case provoked strong criticism as well as a call for specific procedural and statutory reform of the role of the education service in safeguarding children’s welfare.

As a result, the Education Act 2002 was amended at a late stage to include an additional specific duty on state schools and LEAs, which strengthened arrangements for safeguarding children. This is contained in section 175 of the Education Act 2002, which came into force on 1 June 2004.

Guidance on ‘safeguarding’

Guidance on the meaning of this new statutory responsibility, Safeguarding Children in Education, was made available to schools in September 2004. But the best explanation of the practical effect of the new safeguarding responsibilities upon children’s service providers can be found in the April 2005 consultation paper Draft Section 11 Statutory Guidance on Making Arrangements to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children.

THE CHILDREN ACT 2004

In addition to the section 175 amendment of the Education Act 2005, the wider legislative response to the safeguarding issues raised by the Laming Report has been the Children Act 2004.

A shared framework with five key outcomes

The Children Act 2004 implements a theory that in order for children’s services to change, everyone must follow a shared framework consisting of five key outcomes for children and young people.

  • These outcomes are the yardsticks for measuring progress in realising the potential for all children and young people.
  • They are not intended as independent targets but rather to be mutually reinforcing and

    inter-dependent.

  • It is proposed that the outcomes will in this way act as the unifying force in encouraging all those involved in delivering children’s services to work together.

THE ROLE OF OFSTED

In order to be effectively implemented, the five key outcomes require not only that children’s services be better integrated, but also that an integrated approach to the inspection of children’s services be developed.

The Government has asked Ofsted to coordinate the response of a number of inspectorates to the Every Child Matters programme. Since then, Ofsted has been moving towards multi-disciplinary inspections of local authorities, covering a wide range of functions.

These Joint Area Reviews will require inspections of individual institutions, which will then feed into the conclusions about the overall quality of provision in a geographic area.

Distinct contributions

Children’s services: Each agency involved in children’s services has a different contribution to make towards the achievement of the five outcomes, depending on the functions for which it has responsibility.

Schools: Schools have been assigned a primary role in developing the integrated approach to children’s services:

  • As the consultation on Statutory Guidance on Interagency Cooperation to Improve Wellbeing of Children earlier this year stated, schools are the ‘universal service provider’, maintaining contact with children and young people 38 weeks of the year.
  • Therefore, they are ‘central to the drive to improve all five outcomes for children and young people’.

It has been against this background that Ofsted has sought to develop a Common Inspection Framework for the inspection of education and training from early childhood to the age of 19.

THE NEW INSPECTION FRAMEWORK

The Education Act 2005, section 28(5) provides that it will be the general duty of any inspector conducting an inspection to report on:

  • the quality of the education provided in the school
  • how far the education provided in the school meets the needs of the range of pupils at the school
  • the educational standards achieved in the school
  • the quality of leadership in, and the management of, the school, including whether the financial resources made available to the school are managed effectively
  • the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of the pupils at the school

But inspectors will, at the same time, now be giving consideration to the contribution of the school to the five outcomes for children and young people set out in the Children Act 2004.

This can be seen at section 28(5)(f) of the Education Act 2005, which provides that it will also be the duty of any inspector conducting an inspection to report on:

  • the contribution made by the school to the well-being of those pupils

Evaluation and reporting

The outcomes are also woven inextricably into the new inspection framework in terms of the evaluation requirements and reporting arrangements.

In Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework for inspecting education and training (April 2005), which lists the questions that inspectors will ask in every institution or setting providing education and training, each of the evaluation requirements is numbered according to the outcome to which it refers.

All five outcomes are covered, to a greater or lesser degree. In judging leadership and management and the overall effectiveness of the provider, inspectors will consider the contribution made to all five outcomes.

The integration of the Children Act 2004 outcomes unquestionably represents one of the biggest challenges contained within the modernisation of school inspections.

THE ROLE OF SELF-EVALUATION

In terms of the implementation of the new inspection regime, its cornerstone is self-evaluation. The current four forms, S1-S4 are to be replaced with a single self-evaluation form (SEF).

The SEF is 38 pages long and will be considerably longer when completed. The SEF has been designed to enable schools to go through the self-evaluation process in a systematic and sensible way in anticipation of an inspection.

What does the self-evaluation form ask schools to do?

The SEF asks schools to:

  • evaluate their progress against an inspection schedule
  • set out the main evidence on which this evaluation is based
  • identify strengths and weaknesses
  • explain the action the school is taking to remedy the weaknesses and develop the strengths

How often do we have to carry out evaluation?

It is for schools to choose how and when they will carry out their self-evaluation — but they will be expected to update it at least annually.

  • In the long term it is intended that schools will make self-evaluation a continuous process, a part of their normal routines.
  • Self-evaluation will include questionnaires seeking both parent and pupil opinion upon the school’s achievements.

What will Ofsted do with the SEF?

Once completed, the SEF will be, as Ofsted has put it, ‘the central nervous system of the school made visible’ — and as such it will be the most crucial piece of evidence available to the inspection team.

It will serve as the main document when planning the inspection of the school, along with the school’s previous report and the school PANDA (Performance Assessment National Data).

Will there still be external checks?

Yes. Notwithstanding self-evaluation, inspectors will still provide an external check on schools. They will undertake such activities as are considered necessary to clarify areas of obscurity, or to remove apparent contradictions arising from the school’s self-evaluation.

A CHANGE OF MANAGEMENT CULTURE?

Self-evaluation is another aspect of the new inspection framework that represents a considerable challenge for schools. Trials of the new inspection regime have shown that many schools find the analysis required to complete the SEF very demanding.

Some schools failed to provide the quality of self-evaluation needed. The top-down management culture existing in many schools appears to some extent ill-equipped to provide the detailed picture of performance the SEF requires — and may need to change radically if the new framework is to succeed.

Mark Blois is an associate at Browne Jacobson solicitors. You can contact him on [email protected]

THE LAMING REPORT

The death of Victoria Climbié in 2000, at the hands of her carers, unnoticed by social services, led to the Laming Report.

This report found that a lack of accountability and poor coordination across organisational boundaries was a root cause of serious service shortcomings in children’s services.

This report led, in turn, to the publication of the Government’s green paper Every Child Matters in September 2003.

Every Child Matters proposed that services involved with children should work more closely, and that the professions involved should become interconnected.

The new duty to ‘safeguard’ Section 175(2) requires that LEAs and the governing bodies of maintained schools and FE institutions: ‘shall make arrangements for ensuring that their functions are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.’

Making the arrangements…

The guidance explains that ‘safeguarding’ has two elements:

  • protecting children from maltreatment
  • preventing impairment of children’s health or development

Whereas ‘promoting welfare’ is a proactive responsibility that entails:

  • ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care
  • creating opportunities to enable children to have optimum life chances so that they can enter adulthood successfully

FIVE KEY OUTCOMES:

1. being healthy 2. staying safe 3. enjoying and achieving 4. making a positive contribution

5. enjoying economic well-being

The inspectors will use the SEF to identify issues and focus the agenda that they will discuss with the head teacher, other staff and the governors within a school.

If the SEF leads inspectors to conclude that a school possesses inadequate evidence, or makes insufficiently rigorous use of the evidence then they may draw conclusions about its management.

FIND OUT MORE

See ‘School inspections from September 2005: key documents’ — a useful, comprehensive set of links at www.ofsted.gov.uk/schools
Go to www.ofsted.gov.uk
publications/ to download or order the Ofsted documents:

  • ‘A New Relationship with Schools: Improving Performance through Self-Evaluation’
  • ‘Framework for Inspecting Schools’

The Education Act 2005 can be downloaded from www.opsi.gov.uk
More information on the reform to children’s services is available at www.everychildmatters.gov.uk
‘Safeguarding Children in Education’ can be ordered or downloaded at: http://publications.teachernet.gov.uk

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