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Inspection will still focus on failure

The newly-elected government wants inspectors to concentrate on schools in difficulty. Warwick Mansell reports

EDUCATION secretary Estelle Morris is planning to use a radical revamp of the inspection system to crack down on under-performing schools.

In a move which could dash the hopes of those who see the inspection shake-up as offering all schools the chance of more self-evaluation, Ms Morris indicated that the prime focus would be eradicating failure.

Speaking after a Local Government Information Unit conference on the future of local democracy, Ms Morris told The TES that the emphasis of the review, which goes out to consultation next month, would be on poor performers. There would be no increase in the number of "light-touch" inspections, introduced for successful schools last year.

Echoing her predecessor, David Blunkett, Ms Morris also said there would be no move towards inspections every 10 years for successful schools.

Asked about arrangements for successful schools, Ms Morris said: "It's not about moving to self-evaluation, it's not about 10-year inspection arrangements, it's not about more short inspections. It's about using our resources in a more directed way - concentrating those resources on those schools that are not performing well."

Ms Morris's comments appear to undermine further chief inspector Mike Tomlinson.

In February he told a National Association of Head Teachers conference that school self-evaluation would play a crucial part in the new system, due to be launched in 2003 for primaries and 2004 for secondaries.

Mr Blunkett ruled out the possibility of 10-yearly inspections after Mr Tomlinson made the suggestion at the same conference.

Ms Morris told the LGIU this week that the Government's inspections of local authorities had been a success, allowing ministers to intervene to improve the performance of councils whose failings were well-known.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said he would be disappointed if ministers were simply to tailor the existing external inspection system to get tougher on failure.

He said: "We have already had eight years of this agenda. We should be moving on from this to a quality assurance model, better balanced between pressure and support. Any extra pressure on some schools in the sector is not what we are looking for."

A Government spokeswoman said: "Ministers and the Office for Standards in Education are keen to encourage good self-evaluation, but it is not a substitute for regular inspections."

An OFSTED spokeswoman said proposals for changes in the arrangements for inspection would be published after the release of the White Paper next month.

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