'Anneka Rice' kind of inspection service

Geraldine Hackett reports on a highly critical speech at the North of England conference. Reform of the school inspection service is being urged by Sir Bryan Nicholson, an influential former adviser to the Government on training and vocational qualifications.

Sir Bryan, former chairman of the Post Office, believes the Office for Standards in Education fails to provide the assistance required by failing schools.

He was due yesterday to tell an audience of politicians and education professionals at the North of England education conference in Sheffield that "we have moved from a system which nurtured and helped schools, which was perhaps too cosy and too inward looking. Now we have an Anneka Rice kind of inspection service. Ofsted dives in, shakes everything up and helicopters off."

While it would appear natural to weave in the local inspectorate and the local education authority to help, this is out of fashion and difficult within the legislative framework, he says.

"In recent years local education authorities have moved from one extreme to another. A few years ago we were talking about the death of local education authorities If schools are to improve, we need to write local education authorities back into the partnership more strongly," he says in his speech.

Sir Bryan, chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University and chair of the council of the Open University, also proposes a ten-point plan for the next Government.

It would include an offer of nursery education to all three- and four-year-olds; a strategy for ensuring primary classes do not exceed 30 children; the creation of a General Teaching Council; plus a review of the performance of OFSTED.

Sir Bryan advocates the creation of new courses for under-achievers in order to attain the target of 50 per cent of young people following at least four years of post-16 education, and the welding of academic and vocational courses into one system of qualifications.

The speech also deals with the need for a more rigorous assessment of teachers' competency. "In a fast-moving world inadequate teachers should not be tolerated and continuing professional development to defined standards should be expected of all."

Sir Bryan goes on to say: "The rest of society generally operates in an environment where performance standards are known and regularly assessed. It would help restore respect for teachers if they accepted the same disciplines. Until this respect is restored, we cannot expect our children to respect their teachers or indeed respect the people they will then live and work with. "

Sir Bryan returns to the theme of vocational educational, an issue he dealt with as chairman of the Manpower Services Commission and as chair of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications. He is expected to say that around half of the school population is not academic in its approach to education.

"In future we need to concentrate more on vocational qualifications and active learning modes, which are vital to encourage them to continue their learning. "

Such revision, he says, will require a review of the national curriculum. However, Sir Bryan says he is concerned that the voice of work is not marginalised by the new advisory body on the curriculum and testing, the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority.

"It is important that this new body genuinely reflects the enormous strides made in recent years to bring an employer's perspective into the educational equation and that our voice is not subsumed under a wholly academic approach. "

* Urgent action is needed at a local level if the National Targets for Education and Training are to be achieved by the year 2000, according to Sir Peter Davis, chairman of the National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets and knighted in the New Year's Honours List.

Sir Peter is due to tell the North of England conference in Sheffield today that such action must be taken by schools and colleges together with local training and enterprise councils.

It is widely believed that the Government's targets are not going to be met. These include 85 per cent of all 19-year-olds achieving five GCSEs at grade C or above and 60 per cent of 21-year-olds getting two A-levels, an Advanced GNVQ or an NVQ level 3.

From September 1997 it will be compulsory for all schools and colleges to set targets. Sir Peter says TECs should play a major role: "They are ideally placed to bring the national targets alive at a local level."

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