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Has scale-down gone too far?

PUPILS could go through their entire school careers without their teachers ever facing an inspection, local authority leaders warned this week, writes Warwick Mansell.

Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association, told The TES he was alarmed by suggestions from chief inspector Mike Tomlinson that successful schools might only be inspected every 10 years.

The OFSTED regime was introduced because critics complained that some schools were escaping inspection for 10 years or more. Only 18 months ago the time between visits to schools which are performing satisfactorily was extended from four years to six.

Mr Lane said the move, mooted in proposed reforms of the inspection system which will go out to consultation later this year, would leave the standards agency over-reliant on statistics in assessing school performance. "Ten years is an awful long time to go without an external agency taking a hard, objective look at a school's performance," Mr Lane said. "It means that some pupils could go through their school careers without having their school inspected.

"I know that the Government and the Office for Standards in Education now have a lot of data on which to base decisios on whether or not a school might need an inspection.

"But not everything that goes on in schools can be measured statistically. Schools should be subject to some form of external evaluation, though it need not be a full inspection, every six years."

The TES revealed in February how Mr Tomlinson had suggested the 10-year possibility for the third round of OFSTED visits to schools, which starts in 2003. The standards agency is to consult formally on the new arrangements, which may require a change in the law, after a likely general election in the summer.

Meanwhile, similar arrangements could be in place for the future inspection of local education authorities, proposals drafted by OFSTED reveal. A consultation draft on arrangements for the second round of LEA inspections, to start next year, reveal that some successful authorities may not face another inspection until 2007.

The "intervention in inverse proportion to success" mantra favoured by the Government for schools would be extended to councils, with the less successful facing several visits from inspectors.The paper also promises "thematic" inspections of particular aspects of councils' work, and a reduction in bureaucracy.

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