Good news for HR when an Ofsted inspector calls

Support behind the scenes
helps LEAs get good marks from DfEE

The Office for
Standards in Education is well known for its inspection of schools. Less
publicised, however, are its judgements on HR management.

As part of the Government’s
drive to raise educational standards, the agency also inspects services in
local education authorities to assess their impact on school improvement.

The amount of
information consumed by Ofsted during an inspection is phenomenal. The inspection
of my LEA – Essex – took place last November, but the preparatory work for it
began months earlier.

All the LEA’s 593
schools were surveyed by Ofsted and each service in the authority was required
to provide data in a format determined by the body – not always an easy task.

In my service area,
personnel and development, we spent about four weeks collating information
about the personnel and health and safety services we provide to schools.

Eventually, we were
able to produce a complete, and impressive, picture of our service and, most
important, how we contribute to raising educational standards and school
improvement.

Armed with the
pre-inspection information, the team of five Ofsted inspectors arrived at the
LEA to begin their three-week visit and series of meetings with councillors,
officers, headteachers and others in the education service.

The inspector who
interviewed the three of us from my service area was well briefed; he had
digested the large amount of material we had submitted and clearly understood
the commercial setting in which we operate, with schools being able to choose
whether to buy our services.  

The inspector was very
complimentary about our service, but wanted to press us on certain areas,
especially those relating to raising standards and school improvement.

We were expected to
provide clear evidence to support what we were saying and underpin our written
submissions.

At the end of the
meeting, we felt confident that we had provided everything the inspector
wanted, if not more.

Our confidence was
well founded. The Ofsted report has referred to the LEA’s personnel and
development service as of "high quality, a view shared by almost every
school surveyed" and of "providing support which is very good and
highly valued".

Ofsted does not give
praise lightly and, in our experience, it does not get much better than this.

So how have we
achieved a service which is so highly regarded? The answer is that over the
years we have made strenuous efforts to become more customer-focused, to develop
the expertise and knowledge of people in our service area and promote more
flexible ways of working.  

These changes were
initially driven by the Government’s reform of the public education service in
the late 1980s, which began the trend for schools to manage their own
resources, enabling them to choose from where to obtain services.

We were faced with a
challenge of winning back this business. To meet this challenge we had improved
the service in many ways, re-engineering our processes to make them "sharper",
reducing bureaucracy and cost.

As demonstrated from
the recent Ofsted inspection, this strategy has succeeded. The challenge for us
now is to develop it further and make a good service even better.

By Peter Ayre,
manager, personnel and development service, Essex County Council’s Local
Education Authority

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