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Opening remarks to Children, Schools and Families Select Committee by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills

I welcome the opportunity to appear before the Committee again. This is an important time for inspection, with significant changes planned. I would like to say something briefly about those changes.

As an inspectorate now covering a wide range of educational and children’s provision, Ofsted is in a stronger position than ever to report and promote good practice not just within specific services but across them.

Children don’t grow up in silos. By covering a range of remits, we can get a fuller picture of, for example, how children in disadvantaged circumstances are being supported by different services, something I highlighted in my annual report.
This is the context for inspection reform. When we last met, I indicated our likely direction of travel. Today, I can confirm that we are well advanced in making those planned changes for 2009.

There are five important aspects to these reforms.

First, we want to hear more from service users and those at the frontline. We want to make it easier for frontline staff to tell us when things are going wrong. So, in addition to the measures already announced by the Secretary of State following the tragic events in Haringey, I can tell the Committee today that we are considering the introduction of a confidential whistleblowers’ hotline in 2009 for social workers and other frontline professionals to alert us to any serious concerns about practice that fails to ensure the safety and welfare of those they serve.

Second, I know there is growing debate about the extent to which inspections use data and frontline observation. Since becoming chief inspector, I have been particularly concerned that we get that balance right, and that we can judge the impact of services on those who use them.

I have no time for a ‘tick box’ approach. Statistics are no substitute for inspections. As inspectors, we are far more interested in outcomes and how they are achieved than whether people are dotting the Is and crossing the Ts in their self-evaluation forms.

So we want our inspectors to see more of what is happening on the ground, whether through more lesson observation or talking to social workers. But data matter too. And given recent concerns, I have asked council chief executives to assure me of the accuracy of any data provided by their authorities.

Third, we want to ensure that inspections, particularly of schools and FE colleges, are proportionate to risk. So, we will have more frequent inspections of those that are weak and satisfactory and fewer inspections for those rated good and outstanding, thereby focusing our resources where they will make the greatest difference.

Fourth, we will introduce more efficient, speedier reporting, as with changes in the reporting process for Cafcass and for initial teacher training, where there will also be a single inspection of all teacher training programmes when we visit a teacher training college or facility.

And fifth, we will make more use of no notice inspections, both in schools and in children’s safeguarding. Time and again, parents, for example, tell us this is what they want. And they also tell us how much independent inspection is valued.

Inspection offers a much fuller picture of quality on the ground than test scores or other data, though the latter are clearly important. As I said in my annual report, there is much that is going well for many children and adult learners; but there is still too much that is patently inadequate and too many settings where the rate of improvement is unacceptably slow. But I am confident that the changes we are making will support improvement, particularly where it is most needed.

My colleagues and I look forward to taking your questions.