Ofsted has reacted to accusations of a lack of accountability among its 3,000 additional inspectors by ending its policy of contracting out school inspection.
The inspectorate’s decision to bring the management of all inspections “in-house” has been welcomed by school leaders, although it has been warned that its own quality assurance processes will need to be “up to spec”.
The current contracts with CfBT, Serco and Tribal have run since September 2009 and will expire in August. They are worth around £30 million a year.
Between them, the three firms employ around 3,000 additional Ofsted inspectors, 1,500 of whom carry out school inspections. Ofsted itself directly employs just 300 to 400 HMIs, of whom around 140 work in schools.
The move comes after a damning report in January from the Policy Exchange think-tank criticised what it termed the “twice removed form of accountability” of many additional inspectors.
This is because they are freelance workers under contract to the three regional service providers and as such, few details are available as to their level of training or their previous inspections. The report adds: “Moreover, as private companies and because of a commercial contract between them and the (FOI-eligible) Ofsted, none of this information is subject to Freedom of Information requests.”
It also raised concerns about the quality of many inspectors, especially when it came to their ability to “understand, interpret and draw conclusions from statistical data”.
Speaking in March, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw admitted he was minded to change the third-party arrangements. He said that “inspection, as far as I’m concerned, is just too important for Ofsted to simply have oversight of third-party arrangements”.
Ofsted made the announcement last week. A short statement released last Thursday (May 29), read: “Ofsted has today announced that from September 2015, it will no longer contract with Inspection Service Providers (ISPs) for the delivery of school and further education inspections.
“The current contracts, with CfBT, Serco and Tribal, have run since September 2009 and are due to expire in August 2015, requiring Ofsted to review its inspection delivery model.
“Additional inspectors (AIs), who are currently contracted through ISPs to undertake inspections on behalf of Ofsted, will continue to form a significant part of the inspection workforce. However, from September 2015, AIs will be contracted directly by Ofsted, giving Ofsted more direct control over their selection, training and quality assurance.”
Deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Malcolm Trobe, welcomed the move. He said: “We believe HMIs should lead the inspection service. The inspection workforce should involve serving or recently retired school leaders who work directly for Ofsted and who receive the calibre of training needed to support the work of HMIs leading to a skilled, knowledgeable and respected inspection team. We would now like to work closely with Ofsted to get the details of this decision right.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “Bringing the management of inspection teams in-house is to be welcomed: the variability of delivery is one of the profession’s biggest concerns. Ofsted needs to be sure that its own internal quality assurance is up to spec though.
“It is inspecting too many things too frequently for us to be entirely confident about quality.”
Ofsted’s director of corporate services, Nick Jackson, said: “For the last five years our Inspection Service Providers have delivered a successful and professional inspection programme for Ofsted.
“With the conclusion of these contracts the time was right to look again at how Ofsted can best deliver a service that is both efficient and flexible. We are confident that this is the right model.”