Inspecting education – value for money?

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

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Inspecting education – value for money?

  1. An interesting post John.
    Very relevant especially as the government are trying to introduce performance related pay for teachers, schools also now have a ‘Value for money’ and a ‘pounds spent per pupil’ sections in data packs that they are judged on.
    Am sure most educators would love OFSTED to be just as publicly accountable as schools are, especially now we know how much money is spent on the service.

  2. In 1999, I was asked to step in on behalf of the lifelong learning minister, Malcolm Wicks at an anglo-Swedish government conference in Stockholm. As we waited to speak the Swedish minister turned to me and said – Tell me. Why do you steal so much money from teaching and learning to police your system in so many ways? Don’t you trust your teachers? Good questions, I replied

  3. When you put it like that, a ¼ of 1%, the spend on OfSTED in the name of quality sounds reasonable. The actual cost – in less easily quantifiable terms – the cost of teachers, managers, administrators as institutions prepare for their visitors could quite easily be as much, probably more again.

    It’s impossible to say what would happen without OfSTED, trust is such an old fashioned word and we’re all so used to the ‘discourse of derision’, I’m not sure any of us remember what professionalism feels like anymore. There seems little doubting that OfSTED and the inspection regime, as one lever amongst many, has the desired effect. Institutions do what they have to do to keep the quality monster happy – what choice do they have? The cost of non-compliance is considerable.

    It’s the intangible cost, the cost to good education, ‘good’ as in really useful education that I ponder. With OfSTED, quality ‘hits the target but misses the point’. OfSTED is probably good for schools / colleges, and probably worth the money. It’s the cost that I ponder, the cost to ‘good’ education rather than ‘quality’ education.

    Let’s hope school teachers get even more stroppy: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/14/ofsted-toxic-tyranny-state-central-schools

  4. http://azumahcarol.blogspot.co.uk/

    When you put it like that, a ¼ of 1%, the spend on OfSTED in the name of quality sounds reasonable. The actual cost – in less easily quantifiable terms – the cost of teachers, managers, administrators as institutions prepare for their visitors could quite easily be as much, probably more again.

    It’s impossible to say what would happen without OfSTED, trust is such an old fashioned word and we’re all so used to the ‘discourse of derision’, I’m not sure any of us remember what professionalism feels like anymore. There seems little doubting that OfSTED and the inspection regime, as one lever amongst many, has the desired effect. Institutions do what they have to do to keep the quality monster happy – what choice do they have? The cost of non-compliance is considerable.

    It’s the intangible cost, the cost to good education, ‘good’ as in really useful education that I ponder. With OfSTED, quality ‘hits the target but misses the point’. OfSTED is probably good for colleges, and probably worth the money. It’s the cost that I ponder, the cost to ‘good’ education rather than ‘quality’ education.

    Let’s hope that school teachers get even more stroppy.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/14/ofsted-toxic-tyranny-state-central-schools

  5. Pingback: Put up or shut up….the profession’s answer to Ofsted? « ethinking

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s