The development of a light-touch inspection system for good schools and raising teacher morale are the key tasks for the Office for Standards in Education in the coming months.
These priorities were spelt out by Education Secretary David Blunkett in his letter offering chief inspector Chris Woodhead a four-year extension to his existing five-year contract. The letter also acknowledged the work which has already been done.
Mr Blunkett wants OFSTED to give priority to developing and consulting on a new model for inspecting schools that are making good progress.
The letter says: "We have the experience of one full inspection cycle under the old arrangements, and a regular flow of benchmarked data about pupil performance and progress. In line with our policy of intervention in inverse proportion to success, I look forward to receiving your advice on a light-touch model for good schools."
Those schools found to need closer inspection will be followed up. Those schools which fail to secure the results of which their pupils are capable, or to sustain continued improvement, will be inspected under the current model.
The chief inspector is also asked to give particular thought to the inspection of schools where pupils appear to do well in absolute terms, but who are not in fact achieving their full potential.
The letter says: "There is considerable work to be done in turning these principles into an effective new inspection system. We need to ensure there is a time for consultation with schools, teachers and others with an interest.
"I agree that, subject to the views expressed in consultation and successful resolution of a number of practical issues, you should seek to ensure that the new system is piloted from September 1999 in a number of schools, with full roll-out of the new system from January 2000."
Mr Blunkett wants the chief inspector to ensure that OFSTED plays its part in raising the morale of teachers, particularly in ensuring good practice is heard about and celebrated.
The letter says: "I know you also share our commitment to celebrating and building on the work of successful schools. I am keen that OFSTED should work with the Standards and Effectiveness Unit to ensure we have the evidence we need to feed our plans to identify and share good practice, so that all schools can learn from the best.
"I look forward in particular to your working with the Standards and Effectiveness Unit on the development of beacon schools policy so that it can involve more schools and play a continuing part in improving standards overall.
"The balance between pressure and support is crucial. There is no doubt that we are applying pressure to raise standards and that the proposed Green Paper on, and subsequent investment in, the teaching profession will offer significant support.
"However, I also believe it is important that we work together on raising teacher morale, in particular in ensuring good practice is heard about and celebrated."
The chief inspector is also requested to ensure priority is given to the work improving the quality and consistency of inspections. The letter says: "The new and more differentiated inspection regime, depending in many cases on judgments by a very small group of inspectors, will put an even greater premium on the quality and transparency of the inspection process and the arrangements which support it."
Mr Blunkett says he would welcome the chief inspector's views on the role of the independent adjudicator in the 12 months in which she has been in the post.
On the inspection of teacher training, Mr Blunkett asks for tightly-focused reports. The letter says: "We must ensure that all new recruits to the teaching profession have training of the quality which they need and deserve."
OFSTED will continue to be responsible for monitoring failing schools and it will be required to work with the Standards and Effectiveness Unit to monitor the implementation of the literacy and numeracy strategies.
The four-year plan
The letter from the Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett offering Chris Woodhead a four-year extension on his contract sets out the immediate priorities for the Office for Standards in Education. They are: 1 The development of a "light touch" model for the inspection of good schools. Plans are to pilot the new system from January 2000.
2 The continued improvement of the quality and consistency of inspections.
3 The development of sharper focus on the inspection of local education authorities.
4 Clear and tightly-focused reports on initial teacher training.
5 The development of the beacon school policy in order to build on the work of successful schools.