Q&A with Ofsted's Sally Morgan
Ofsted Chair, Baroness Sally Morgan, joined us in November 2011 to answer your questions on the school inspection body. She tackled questions on Ofsted's criteria for school inspections, approach to special educational needs and how Parent View, Ofsted's new online questionnaire, will help parents get a clearer picture of how their child's school is performing.
Q. OriginalFAB: My husband and I have filled in the Ofsted online survey, and so far are the only parents for that school to have done so. What action will be taken in response to negative comments that are left? How many do you have to have before you check the school and at what point do you get rid of Headteachers who are not running the school in a positive, safe way?
A. Sally Morgan: First of all thanks for taking the time to fill in the questionnaire. And I hope that you will encourage other parents from your child's school to do the same. When it comes to levels of negative comments, we have deliberately not set arbitrary numbers of response to trigger activity. Parent View is a new venture for Ofsted so we really want to see how things develop. That said we are closely monitoring responses. If there was an overwhelmingly negative response from a high proportion of parents at a school Ofsted inspectors would review in detail all of the information we have on that school and decide what action to take.
Parent View is basically one part of a jigsaw of information that we consider and if the information tallies with other concerns (like a drop in results, poor records on attendance and high levels of parental complaints) then this could lead to an early inspection.
I should make it clear though that Ofsted does not itself have the power to 'get rid' of a headteacher. That's for the governing body to decide. If you have concerns about the headteacher at your child's school it is important that you raise them with the governing body and the local authority - though I appreciate you may already have done so.
Q. Noblegiraffe: The online survey results will be biased as the sample of parents who fill out the questionnaire will be self-selecting. As this will most likely skew the results in favour of negative comments - people are more likely to leave feedback if they've got a complaint - how will Ofsted ensure that the impression of the school given through the survey results is fair?
A. Sally Morgan: That was definitely one of the concerns we had when embarking on Parent View but it has been interesting to see the spread of responses there have been. Our experience, generally, is that parents are very supportive of their child's school and are happy to say so.
We are doing lot of work to engage schools directly and encourage headteachers to promote the survey with their parent group. Another element we have been careful to include in the information we publish is a very clear indication of the volume of responses in relation to the number of children who attend the school. We hope this will help parents and others viewing the results to make a realistic judgement about the strength of opinion.
Q. Abgirl: Does the school have any right of reply to comments left by parents (potentially) in the heat of the moment? I am a Chair of Governors as well as a parent and have concerns about any ratings website where effectively there is no right of reply, as the school will have a duty of confidentiality to anyone involved in any incidents.
A. Sally Morgan: I'm not sure if you have had a chance to look at the online questionnaire but it has been designed very carefully to avoid the risk of inflammatory questions and confidentiality breaches. All of the questions are closed, meaning that parents are invited to give a rated answer on a specific element of school life - so for example - 'My child receives appropriate homework for their age' - to which they can respond through a range of levels from 'strongly agree' to ' strongly disagree'. There is no opportunity to leave free text comments, largely for the reasons you set out.
The questionnaire is anonymous so there should not be any risk of confidentiality being breached. If a school felt that there was an unacceptable level of negative comments in area I would hope that they would have a way of communicating with their parent group to get to the bottom of any concerns. So for example if there were a high number of parents expressing concern about how the school deals with bullying you would hope that the leadership of the school would be in a position to investigate why parents feel that way without having to reveal identities. I would hope in fact school leaders would see this as a positive tool to help them explore what their parents think.
Parents can also update their answers at any time so if things improve they can let us know that too.
Q. Lottiejenkins: My son goes to a residential boarding school in Kent, three hours from where we live. OFSTED sent me a form/questionaire this morning. They have requested it be returned by 1pm tomorrow (they are inspecting tomorrow and Thursday). I rang them up and asked how most parents were supposed to get the forms back in time. The lady I spoke to said, "we expect most parents to bring the forms into school tomorrow"! I then asked her how 90% of parents were supposed to do this when their children are weekly boarders? She had to admit then that I had a point! I am lucky that I have a fax machine so was able to fax the papers this afternoon. I know OFSTED can't give a lot of warning but surely there must be some way round this. I have emailed them to follow up my complaint and copied in the school's head and deputy. Depending on what they say in response I am thinking of contacting the Department of Education. They are not going to get a balanced view of the school from the parents' perspective if they can't get the forms back!
A. Sally Morgan: I can see why this would be frustrating and certainly goes some way to support my earlier argument about why we need to give schools some notice of inspections so that there is an opportunity for parents to fill in these forms. It is particularly tricky when pupils are boarders and I am glad that you could fax the results back. Maybe if this happens again you could see if the school could scan and send a copy of the form electronically.
The good news is that we are now investigating how we can gather the views of parents at the time of inspection electronically which should hopefully get round these types of problems.
Q. Clappyhands: I work in adult training (16+) and as part of our quality system I am observed teaching approximately three times a year by a mixture of management/peers - how does this equate to schools? How often are teachers observed each year? (I have two announced observations and one unannounced.) Why are schools given notice of impending inspections? What are the statistics for ineffective teachers being sacked?
A. Sally Morgan: The issue of notice is something that crops up quite often in Ofsted, as well as in Mumsnet discussions. The last time we changed our inspection arrangements for schools we looked very closely at the amount of notice given and whether or not to go all the way and make inspection unannounced. There were, in the end, a number of very good reasons why we decided to go for very short notice instead.
Parents told us that they wanted to be able to give their views and they wanted us to see schools as they really are. One of the biggest considerations was being able to have time to collect the views of parents specifically at the time of inspection. Inspection generally lasts two days and if we gave no notice it would be very difficult to gather up the views of mums and dads as part of the process. Getting the views of parents is essential to inspection as it flags areas that need to be examined - for example around bullying and behaviour.
So now schools get up to two days' notice. We think this is a good compromise. It provides just enough time for all the relevant information to be gathered and arrangements put in place, but limited time for the school to make massive changes in what is going on at the school. It's also worth being aware that inspectors will examine a very wide range of evidence during inspection, so if there was a massive increase in absences during the inspection it would quickly be seen. Pupils are also very conscious of changes and they tell our inspectors.
Clearly school leaders need to have a good understanding of the quality of teaching and learning in their schools, and our inspectors will discuss this with them as part of inspection. There are a variety of ways of finding out how good teaching is in a school, including observing teachers. All teachers will be observed teaching, but the number of times a year this happens and how long the observations are will vary from school to school. Ultimately, it is up to the school to decide how best to monitor the performance of its teachers - Ofsted's responsibility is to check whether the measures they have put in place are working.
I'm afraid Ofsted doesn't compile statistics on teachers being sacked so I can't answer that point.
Q. Ninah: Will Ofsted ever consider unannounced visits? I have witnessed totally artificial and atypical lessons conducted with a myriad of resources which bear no resemblance to normal practice; pressure from senior leadership teams to 'get results' at all costs and two-day theatre performances for the benefit of inspectors, who seem to have no alternative but to take this at face value. Outstanding should be awarded for teaching, not for spin.
A. Sally Morgan: We have carefully considered no-notice inspections and felt that it wasn't the best way to proceed. In January, we are introducing new arrangements for inspection of schools that will see inspectors spending more time observing lessons and we are confident this will give inspectors more of an opportunity to closely examine what is going on in classrooms. Inspectors will also be checking whether the teaching they see on inspection is typical of the teaching that happens from day to day.
One way they might do this is by talking to the children about their teaching. It is also worth knowing that inspectors will have studied a school's own evaluation of their staff and be testing this against what they see. And of course, I would encourage parents to tell Ofsted their views using Parent View.
Q. Crazymum53: I am concerned that the whole Ofsted process is biased, as most schools rated as "Outstanding" are in middle-class areas with highly motivated parents whereas schools in working class areas with high social deprivation are less likely to have the same. Only a small number of parents would bother to fill in questionnaires in the latter type of school.
Also, how do you intend to amend the inspection process so that a proper 'value added' element is added to the reports where the achievements of all children are recognised, rather than just counting the percentage of children achieving level 4 in KS2?
A. Sally Morgan: I don't agree with this assessment. Schools serving deprived areas regularly succeed in delivering outstanding education for their pupils. The latest annual figures (published last November) show that nearly 10% of schools serving the most deprived areas of the country deliver an outstanding education - the overall average was 13%. While clearly there is a gap to make up, it shows that it is by no means impossible for schools in these areas to deliver.
From my own experience of observing school inspections, I find the parents in the playground are equally as engaged no matter what type of 'area' it is. Of course, we need to work hard to ensure that parents across the board hear about Parent View and are motivated to fill it in - I hope their schools will encourage them to do so.
Our new inspection arrangements that begin in January 2012 will continue to make a judgement on 'achievement' - which looks at how well children are learning and the progress that individual children and groups of children make from their starting points as well as the standards that they reach - as you rightly put it the value added will matter. But it is important to realise that progress cannot be an absolute substitute for results. At the end of the day young people need qualifications - of a huge variety of shape and type - to succeed in future life and schools must be held to account in ensuring they get the education they deserve.
Q. Lovingthecoast: I would like to ask why there is such emphasis on results and why this is seen as automatically going hand in hand with a school being graded outstanding.
When it came to my eldest starting school, we chose to go down the independent route rather than send him to the 'Outstanding' catchment school with the very high SATs scores. Why? Because I had taught there and it was dull and uninspiring both for staff and children. Yes, results were high but 'added value' wasn't. It was a very affluent area and most kids could read on entry to Reception so, of course, less to be done to get level 5 in Year 6. Also, most of Year 6 was basically SATs practice at the expense of any other worthwhile learning that could have been taking place.
It makes me cross because by the time he went I was teaching in a school in a very deprived area with very low SATs results but where school was a welcoming and nurturing haven for many children. Our Ofsted was satisfactory (I was graded outstanding so no axe to grind personally) mainly due to consistently poor SATs results. I no longer teach but I can say without hesitation that the school with the poor results was, by every yardstick bar results, better. If we had lived closer I wouldn't have hesitated to send my children there.
I know Ofsted say they look at lots of other things but it seems to me very clear that a high percentage of level 5s are always going to put a school ahead.
A. Sally Morgan: You did precisely what parents should do and made the choice of your child's school having thought about a range of issues including overall ethos. In the end the more information you can get when making that choice the better.
That said, of course results are an important factor to many parents and Ofsted inspectors look at public test results - SATS in primary schools and GCSE's in secondary schools for example. However, Ofsted also looks at the progress pupils are making. This is really important as two schools with the same results can be adding very different amounts of "value" depending on the attainment of pupils when they start at the school. It is important to get underneath the overall results to find out what is really happening. All of this goes into the "attainment" part of the inspection judgement that appears in the reports on our website.
Q. Noblegiraffe: With Michael Gove talking about how schools shouldn't be awarded Outstanding if Teaching and Learning isn't Outstanding, will the schools affected lose their Outstanding status, or be put back on the normal inspection schedule and only maintain their Outstanding if T&L is improved?
A. Sally Morgan: We've agreed with the Department for Education that no school will automatically lose their outstanding judgement but we will be continuing to undertake stringent risk assessments of schools that are rated outstanding to make sure that they continue to deserve that grade.
Among the things that we look at in our risk assessment are the results that the pupils are attaining in school and the progress that they have made from their starting points. These are frequently a reflection of their teaching and learning. Responses on Parent View will also be part of the range of information that is looked at when making decisions about inspection, so it will help parents express concerns if the have any.
If an outstanding school appears to have declined as a result of the risk assessment they will be re-inspected.
Q. Appropriatelytrained: How do you inspect special needs provision? There seems to be very little understanding that it means far more than grade improvements. For example, a child with Asperger's may be very bright but struggle with day-to-day attendance because of stress and poor communication skills. A school which can't be bothered to support him/her properly will completely ignore these difficulties as the child is still able to produce the grades the school requires for its 'data'. Ofsted sees the 'data' on the child and the IEPs (which may or may not have ever been discussed with the parents) and says - very good. How can Ofsted possibly measure the support or difficulties which are social/communication/emotionally based without talking to parents or the child too?
Your Ofsted parental questionnaires are positively weighted - there is no neutral column. You either disagree or agree. Many parents will not want to disagree so have to agree. Most surveys offer a neutral response - don't know, don't care etc.
Finally, Ofsted are not interested in receiving complaints and have no power to investigate them and yet you 'rubber stamp' 'Outstanding' awards to schools without inspecting them on 'data' and lack of complaints. That's an abject dereliction of duty.
A. Sally Morgan: There's a lot in this one. I've checked with our experts on special needs provision who tell me that we make sure that when we inspect schools the provision they make for children with special needs and how well they achieve is always included in all areas of the judgments we make. As well as looking at how well these children do academically we also make sure that teachers are encouraging them to be independent for example showing initiative, and working with one another.
As well as the data, inspectors spend time speaking to pupils, looking at their work and looking carefully at what parents say about their children's education. We always seek parents' and carers' views at the time of the inspection through the parent questionnaire and follow up any requests from parents to speak to an inspector.
One of the purposes behind Parent View is to ensure that there is a voice for parents with children at outstanding schools to reflect concerns they might have. If there were a high level of negative comments it would have an impact on decisions to inspect. We do have a 'don't' know' option on the online Parent View questionnaire to provide the neutral answer that you rightly suggest is important. I'd be happy to speak to colleagues about whether such an option can be added to the questionnaires that are collected at the time of an inspection.
You clearly have frustrations about the complaints procedure. If you are concerned about your child's school, you should start by talking directly to the teachers or headteacher or, if necessary, the governing body or the local authority. Perhaps you have already done all of this. If you are not satisfied with the responses you have received Ofsted may be able to help. There are a number of things we can do, and in exceptional cases we can arrange an immediate inspection of the school.
We have a guidance leaflet on this which you can find here.
Q. Themightyfandango: The things that I am unhappy with are related to my child's SEN. I have one child doing well in the school and one not. I don't see how such broad based questions inform anyone of anything.
A. Sally Morgan: The approach of the survey was largely based around the questions that we currently ask parents at the time of an inspection and while they are general we wanted to make sure they covered a full range of issues. We tested them out with parents who told us that they covered important issues that made a difference to them in terms of what they thought of their child's school. I would hope that every question in the list relates to the experience of every child and is as relevant to children with SEN as to any other child.
We will be keeping the questions under review - it is possible that in the future we could look to include a specific question on SEN if we felt that was appropriate.
It is also important to note that we will continue to seek the views of parents and carers whenever we inspect a school. On the questionnaire which we hand out during inspections, there is an opportunity for parents to add free text comments and give additional detail.
Q. Onholidaywithbaby: We are currently moving house and looking at Ofsted reports for local schools in the various villages we are considering moving to. We will certainly be looking at Parent View too, BUT it is often very hard to work out the catchment areas for schools as a member of the public. Will Ofsted be encouraging Local Authorities to make this information more readily available and more accessible on their websites?
A. Sally Morgan: That's a deceptively simple but important point, partly because school catchment areas overlap. Although Ofsted has no direct influence over the work of local authorities and the schools' admissions process, I will happily make sure this is raised with the Department of Education next time I'm meeting officials.
Q. LineMotherBonfireMother: The choice I realistically have is to send my children to their local school. Reading about a marvellous school that is out of my catchment, or effectively requires car ownership to travel to, is to a large extent using a masquerade of 'choice' to hide the fact that poor teachers are still allowed to teach in state schools. Why aren't all local schools good schools?
When tackled on poor teachers in an interview, your predecessor Zenna Atkins famously said that every child should have a shit teacher [sic], as some kind of learning experience. Do you regret what she said?
A. Sally Morgan: I see inspection as part of the process that should lead to more good, and excellent schools around the country. Ofsted reports are independent and transparent and so should give parents, governors, local authorities and government information about an individual school's strengths and weaknesses upon which they can act.
Quality of teaching is fundamental. As a former teacher and someone who has always been involved in schools in some way through my adult life I am clear that nothing is more important! Our inspections from January 2012 will have even greater focus on teaching, including the teaching of reading.
Q. Ristretto: How does Ofsted support teachers many of whom feel increasingly under pressure from Senior Leadership Teams, parents and government to achieve unrealistic targets that do not take into account the factors which make each student an individual, real human being. ie: can Ofsted move away from being seen as the "enemy"?
A. Sally Morgan: I very much hope that Ofsted is not seen as the enemy of classroom teachers, although I accept that inspection will not by its nature be a relaxing experience. Our inspectors will do all that they can to put teachers at ease and when they have observed a lesson they will take the time to give detailed feedback to the teacher.
Our inspectors will specifically want to see that schools are considering the needs of individual pupils and specific groups - for example those with special education needs - when they inspect. How every pupil progresses is what is important and I hope that this supports ordinary classroom teachers as they strive to do the best for all their pupils.
Q. Ninani: Given that an average parent will have never heard of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) wouldn't it be useful for parents to be made aware of the targets and achievements their children have made? Some schools inform parents and let them have access to the information and others think it's their right to have policies withholding such information. Is the latter acceptable?
A. Sally Morgan: I completely agree that parents should have access to clear and easily understood information about how their child is doing at school, at every level. I would suggest you approach your board of governors or PTA if you feel this isn't happening.
We try and lead by example in this - I think one of the best elements of the Ofsted inspection process is the letters that are sent to children of a school to explain in simple terms what the report has said. We are continually striving to make our reports more accessible and meaningful to parents - with concrete findings and real suggestions for improvements.
Q. Marney: Schools should do genuine surveys themselves and discuss the results with their parent governor groups and try and improve things before Ofsted inspections. The treatment of dyslexic pupils is awful. Why does Ofsted never talk to these pupils or their parents? I heard in one local school the inspector only spoke to pupils with foreign names. Why? What's wrong with asking some of the slower learners if they really just have low self esteem - it's the only thing some schools seem to think is their problem - maybe they end up with low self esteem after having to struggle through school.
A. Sally Morgan: You are absolutely right that schools should be engaging with their parents at a detailed level and very many do so. Parent View isn't necessarily a substitute for this kind of engagement but we hope that schools will use it in addition to other forms of engagement.
Ofsted inspectors will talk to a wide range of pupils during an inspection and will make sure that those they choose reflect the different groups of pupils in the school. So for example, it is highly likely that inspectors will talk to pupils of different abilities, those more able, those with special educational needs, those for whom English is an additional language and those from different ethnic backgrounds - I could go on.
If you have a particular concern it might be worth noting on the questionnaire you receive at the point of inspection and that will give inspectors the opportunity to raise it with the school.
Q. Anonymous: When my children's school was inspected, the opinions of parents (formed over many, many years in some cases) were totally disregarded because after two days in the school the inspectors apparently knew better than we did.
The consequence of this is that what is meant to be a tool to drive up standards is used in my children's school as an excuse for apathy and complacency. Imagine the head of this school sitting in his office with his fingers in his ears going "I run a good school. I run a good school....." because that's what it's like.
Poor behaviour isn't addressed (we have none, we're a good school), some of the teaching is beyond a joke (nope, we're a good school) there is widespread use of homophobic and offensive language (erm.. still no, we're a good school) and the attitude of the teachers towards the parents is appalling.
The Ofsted report depicts a school that is unrecognisable to many of the parents and new parents flock to it because they trust Ofsted's conclusions. Meanwhile we're stuck at the school because other local schools are full, because our children have friends they don't want to leave and because we have no way of assessing alternatives other than Ofsted reports which we have no faith in.
What is the point?
A. Sally Morgan: I am sorry that you feel that the judgements the inspection team came to were wrong. You will appreciate that I can't comment on this individual case but I would like to reassure you that inspection judgements are based on the rigorous analysis of a wide range of evidence including the views of parents and carers.
There is a way in which you can raise concerns if you feel the headteacher is not dealing with your complaints. You can take your concerns directly to the governing body, or the local authority. If you are not satisfied with the responses you receive from them, Ofsted may be able to help. There are a number of things we can do, and in exceptional cases we can arrange an immediate inspection of the school.
We have a guidance leaflet on this which you can find here.
Q. Starlightmackenzie: I have an issue with the arrogance of some 'outstanding' schools. Give them outstanding and they believe they have nothing to learn which is a terrible outcome for parents with children with special educational needs. Our school refused to attend the county parent/school reception training because they were outstanding and (apparently) didn't need it. I would love to know if and how you measure a schools use of evidence-based practice, because in three outstanding schools I have yet to see a SMART IEP.
A. Sally Morgan: An outstanding judgement should never be an excuse for arrogance and in my experience the schools that take that view will find that it doesn't last. All previously outstanding schools are risk assessed annually starting in the third year after their last inspection. As I mentioned earlier in carrying out a risk assessment we look at all the available information about a school including its performance data, attendance, any visits we have made since the last routine inspection, concerns from the local authority and from now on the views of parents from Parent View. If we have serious concerns about the performance of the school we are likely to inspect it.
I think I have answered the second part of your question about inspecting SEN in my answer to Appropriatelytrained above. Inspectors will always inspect provision for and outcomes of those children with special educational needs and this will include considering how teachers set appropriate targets and monitor their progress both academically and in their other outcomes.
Q. January29: What do you think the best thing is about our education system today? What do you think is the biggest area that needs development?
A. Sally Morgan: There's loads about which I feel positive, but I think I'd highlight two things (sorry if that is cheating): firstly, the new influx in recent years of a new generation of well qualified and committed teachers including via Teach First and, secondly, the great performance of some schools in very disadvantaged areas which buck the trend and prove we should never put a cap on expectations.
In terms of development, I think it has to be working out the best ways of transferring the best practice so that all schools and therefore all children can benefit. We know that it is possible to get the formula right - we need to work out how to translate that success so that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from that best practice.