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Blunkett rules out 10-yearly inspection

Was chief inspector Mike Tomlinson 'leaned on' to give up popular plans for a more liberal OFSTED regime?

Nic Barnard reports.

A TEN-YEAR cycle for school inspections is not on the table and never has been, David Blunkett insisted this week.

The Education Secretary stamped on suggestions that the forthcoming review by the Office for Standards in Education could propose less frequent visits for strong schools.

The present six-year cycle was "about right", he said, "and I know Mike Tomlinson (the chief inspector of schools) strongly agrees with me on that".

But union leaders claimed that Mr Tomlinson had considered the idea and only ditched it because he had been leaned on.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said it had been the chief inspector himself who had raised the prospect of 10-yearly inspections.

"He has obviously had his knuckles rapped," Mr de Gruchy said. "When we had a meeting with Mr Tomlinson, he definitely raised it as an item for discussion. Now we're told it was never on the agenda in the first place."

Mr Blunkett's comments came in a reflective speech to a seminar hosted by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-wing think-tank, looking back at his four years in office. It is generally thought he will take up a new post if Labour wins the general election in the summer.

In the speech he prepared the way for a major expansion of vocational GCSEs, currently taken by 50,000 pupils a year. He said that "easily" three or four times as many - or one in ix of the year group - could take such courses.

They would feed into modern apprenticeships or vocational A-levels, he said. But they would only be popular if pupils and parents saw them as equal in value and quality to the traditional academic courses.

He also talked of a less centralised regime in a second Labour term, and claimed that, in his four years, he had already given more autonomy to heads and teachers, although within a clear set of national priorities.

"Everyone wants change, everyone wants improvement. But everybody wants it without pressure and without the demands that go with it. They want it without pain," he said.

He made no apology for refusing to put up with low expectations and inadequate performance. People were no longer prepared to put up with poor public services, he said. But with a national framework in place, teachers could be left to innovate.

"I believe in the next term there is real scope for giving schools more freedoms." he said. "However, we must never lose the gains in accountability that have been made."

But secondary schools facing the latest key stage 3 reforms say that they are being offered less freedom, not more. Secondary heads say they will not accept the degree of direction that accompanied primary reforms. Department for Education and Employment officials were this week treading carefully.

"We have made clear the flexibility we are giving schools to implement the (KS3) strategy and believe it reflects the very different environment of secondary schools," a DFEE spokesman said.

News, 10-11, 14

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