Page last updated at 00:07 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Ofsted 'becoming unwieldy' - MPs

Committee chairman, Barry Sheerman: "I think it's got too big, too quickly"

MPs have attacked England's education watchdog, saying it has grown enormously and risks becoming unwieldy.

The Commons schools select committee said Ofsted now oversaw early years settings, colleges, children's services and social care, as well as schools.

The MPs also said inspectors should be better trained and not rely so heavily on exam results when assessing schools.

And they called for a rethink on the introduction of school report cards, saying a single score was not accurate.

The committee's report on school accountability drew attention to the expanding remit of Ofsted and said this might not be sustainable in the longer term.

"Both Ofsted and the government should be alert to any sign that the growth of Ofsted's responsibilities is causing it to become an unwieldy and unco-ordinated body," the report said.

The report also suggested all inspections should be led by one of the 200 Ofsted-employed inspectors as they tended to be better respected than the 1,000 inspectors supplied by outside agencies.

And the MPs urged caution over the planned school report cards, saying a single overall score could never offer a "full account of a school's performance".

Ofsted's Miriam Rosen says inspections are complex

The cross party committee of MPs also warned schools felt "coerced and constrained" by the government's "relentless pace of reform".

In its report, the committee said despite attempts to simplify the school accountability system, the government had "continued to subject schools to a bewildering array of new initiatives".

And it urged ministers to give schools and local authorities a "period of stability".

"The government should place more faith in the professionalism of teachers and should support them with a simplified accountability and improvement system which challenges and encourages good practice rather than stigmatising and undermining those who are struggling," the report said.

Time in class

A spokesman for Ofsted said the inspectorate welcomed the committee's support for its new inspection framework.

He said: "Our new school inspection framework, introduced in September 2009, allows inspectors to spend more time in classrooms observing teaching and pupils' learning and progress.

"Of course, test and examination results are important; and it would be wrong to ignore overall results, this is what parents and employers look for.

"While pupils' learning and progress remain at the heart of inspectors' professional judgements, it is unusual for schools to get good results without good teaching."

'Too complex'

Chairman of the select committee Labour MP Barry Sheerman said current inspections were not long or in-depth enough and tended to focus on hard data, such as test results.

He said: "The government must do as it says and should let schools and local authorities take charge of improving schools, instead of shifting its priorities and plaguing schools and local authorities with targets, tests and centrally-driven initiatives.

Barry Sheerman
Mr Sheerman said schools needed a break from initiatives

"We now have an accountability framework which is far too complex and which stigmatises and undermines struggling schools.

"What schools need now is a period of stability and a chance for their own efforts to improve performance to bear fruit."

The Association of School and College Leaders welcomed the committee's report.

General secretary Dr John Dunford said: "The government obsession with accountability and meeting targets has led to a national sense that there is a crisis in the schools system.

"However parent and pupil surveys indicate that they are overwhelmingly happy with their schools.

"Too much effort is spent on deciding which schools belong in various categories of failure, and which schools should be awarded prizes and plaudits."


A spokesman for the Department for Children Schools and Families said school report cards would be a "revolution in how parents judge schools and choose where their children go", but that the proposals were still out for consultation.

"Not only will they give information on academic attainment and progress, but go well beyond to give a rounded view of a school," he said.

"They will include parents' and pupils' perceptions of the range of support provided by the school, as well as clear information about issues such as behaviour and take-up of school lunches and sport."

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