How to bring consistency to each judgment

Although there is little likelihood of any immediate post-election reform to the school inspection system, there are pressures for change. Lucy Hodges looks at the possibilities

OFSTED has been listening to its critics and is taking action to check on the quality of its inspections. Its methodology is currently being tested by research into the consistency of inspectors' judgments, a suggestion made by Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon of Durham University and others.

Lessons are being observed simultaneously by two inspectors who evaluate and grade the lessons independently on separate observation forms. OFSTED is then analysing the inspectors' judgments to see how closely they concur.

In the autumn term 150 lessons were observed by a registered inspector and another team member or two team inspectors.

Another 60 lessons were observed in the spring term and a further 90 will be observed in the summer term. The spring and summer lessons will be observed by HMIs and other inspectors in pairs.

Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, said the results of the exercise will eventually be published. They will be contained in an academic research paper which will be independently refereed.

In addition, as of January this year, some of the visits OFSTED makes to monitor inspections will be "drop-in" rather than arranged. As a courtesy, inspectors will let the head know one day in advance of an intended visit, which will not normally last more than two days.

Asked whether the work of OFSTED itself should be evaluated by an outside body, Mr Woodhead said "no". "I think what we do is open to public, professional and lay scrutiny every day of the year," he explained.

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