Inspection research backs up Blair idea

Geraldine Hackett

The first major comparison of inspection systems across Europe and the United States casts doubt on the effectiveness of the Pounds 100 million system operating in England and Wales.

Research carried out for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggests inspection of schools will not raise standards unless the Government also provides training for weak teachers.

The Government's faith in exam league tables may also be misplaced. According to the report's author, Caroline St John-Brooks, large amounts of data are being collected in a number of countries without a clear view of the best way to use the information.

The criticism will add weight to the Labour party leader's insistence that schools require a combination of support and pressure. In a speech earlier this summer, Tony Blair referred to the need to combine inspection with advice on remedying faults.

For inspection to have any long-term effect, says the report, schools have to be provided with a rigorous assessment of strengths and weaknesses plus advice from understanding professionals ("critical friends") who can devise workable strategies for improvement.

"In the UK, the focus is on accountability in terms of publishing information, but the problem is that accountability does not necessarily bring about school improvement," says Dr St John-Brooks, a former assistant editor of The TES.

"From looking at other countries, particularly Spain, where the team included the local inspector, it would appear schools had a more positive approach and it was easier to capitalise on the insights provided by the inspection. "

While advice is provided to schools in the UK by local authorities, there are gaps, Dr St John-Brooks says.

The report also suggests a need for reappraisal of the recent enthusiasm for performance indicators. "It may turn out that they are not telling us very much in relation to the expense of collecting them," she says. It may not even be worth the effort being put in by a number of countries to develop value-added indicators. "It is still not clear how value-added information can be collected and exactly how it would be used to be of benefit."

The report, Schools Under Scrutiny: strategies for the evaluation of school performance, is the second in a series of research studies on innovation carried out by the Centre for Educational Research and InnovationOECD.

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