Educational inspection has undergone a number of changes since it was introduced in the early nineteenth century, but it has always been controversial. When Ann Walker of the Workers Educational Association, recently tweeted a link to a report on the cost of OFSTED, the responses confirmed that the current inspection regime arouses strong feelings. Many people also expressed surprise over the cost of the system, estimated in the report at £207m a year, or 0.27 per cent of all education spending.
The report appeared in 2009. It is a brief document, and its main focus is not on OFSTED but on the broader issue of how governments attempt to ‘manage by numbers’. The authors did not give a date for their figures, reasonably enough as the report was a summary of an ESRC research programme. Their calculation, though, is clearly based on figures for inspection under the Labour government, and probably come from 2007.
How does this compare with the cost of inspection under the Coalition? I’ve looked at the data for 2010-11, which is the most recent year for which financial statements are available. I have also looked at the financial statements for the Scottish and Welsh inspectorate, and compared them with total education spending for each country as reported by the Treasury, in its public expenditure statistical analysis for the same year.
The first point to note is that OFSTED consumes 0.278% of all educational spending in England. This is slightly higher than under Labour as a share of the total. While the amount spent on OFSTED has fallen, standing at £196.5m, so has the education budget.
The Welsh Assembly spent £11.7m on Estyn, which is equivalent to 0.271% of the total education expenditure for Wales. While this is slightly less than in England, the difference is not huge.
The Scottish Government devoted £17.5m of its education budget to inspection. At 0.217% of the total education spending, this does come out rather cheaper than OFSTED.
Admittedly, public spending on education per head of population is much higher in Scotland. And public spending per capita on inspection is accordingly higher in Scotland. Even so, it seems to have the most cost-effective inspection regime of the three British nations – and I am not aware of a shred of evidence that this has damaged the quality of teaching.
In all three British nations, the inspectorate accounts for around a quarter of one per cent of the education budget. This is not the total cost of course, as it ignores time spent by teachers and others producing reports and preparing for the inspection process.
Nor does it tell us whether the inspection systems offer good value for money. Every penny spent on inspection is money that could have been spent on front-line staff, and the differences between England and Scotland suggest that OFSTED might have a few questions to answer.
Christopher Hood, Ruth Dixon and Deborah Wilson (2009), Managing by Numbers: The way to make public services better? Available at http://www.publicservices.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/policy-briefing-nov2009.pdf