Inspections cut to the bone

Jon Slater & Roger Bushby

Ofsted recalls its troops to save money in the run-up to new quick and cheap visits. Jon Slater and Roger Bushby report

The number of inspections will be slashed by almost 2,000 next year as ministers strive to get more money directly to schools.

Inspectors will visit only 2,750 schools during 20045 as the Office for Standards in Education struggles to cope with a budget cut of more than pound;15 million. This compares with 4,443 this year.

Only schools that have not been inspected for almost six years and those causing concern can expect a visit from Ofsted during the 12 months from September.

The cut in inspections could coincide with the final year of the current system, due to be replaced with cheaper, more frequent check-ups from September 2005.

Heads said that the decision suggested that Ofsted was giving preference to developing the new system. Critics complain that schools have been treated unfairly under current arrangements.

Ofsted's budget this year will be pound;192m, compared with pound;208m last year. This follows four years in which its spending has more than doubled as it has taken on post-16 inspections and childcare. Political pressure to avoid a repeat of last year's funding crisis and to ensure that money reaches schools has led to cut-backs in government agencies and the Department for Education and Skills as well as Ofsted.

By 2008, DfES staff numbers are expected to fall by a third from 4,400 to fewer than 3,000.

But ministers will be anxious to avoid accusations that a reduction in the number of inspections means a less rigorous approach to raising standards.

The proposed new framework places greater emphasis on school self-evaluation and would drastically reduce the warning schools receive of an impending inspection. It is to be piloted in 11 schools in Leicestershire.

Chris Wood, chair of the local branch of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomes the experiment. "This could help to relieve stress. When you have two months to worry about an inspection you do worry about it."

But Inderjit Sandhu, head of Launde primary in Oadby, said: "A phone call just two days before could send teachers into a panic".

This mixed reaction is mirrored nationally. While the proposed changes have been welcomed by the Secondary Heads Association (see Analysis below), the National Union of Teachers says that schools will continue to live in fear of inspections.

"Ofsted has contributed to a culture of compliance under which schools and teachers prepare for evaluation out of fear rather than commitment and enthusiasm," said its consultation paper on the new framework. "Nothing in the consultation document would address these fundamental structural weaknesses."

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "In the light of the likely new inspection framework, and the preparations and training that will need to be put in place in order to introduce the new framework speedily and efficiently, we have decided to carry out as few school inspections as possible over the coming academic year."


The future:

On-the-spot inspections

* Little or no notice for schools

* Inspections will last a maximum of one week. Expected saving to Ofsted in the region of pound;10 million per year.

* At least one inspection every three years.

* Focusing on core learning areas. l Reports of four to six pages.

* Inspectors to measure schools against their self-evaluation.

The present:

Current framework

* Six to 10 weeks' notice.

* Inspections can involve up to 80 inspection days in a large secondary school.

* Once every four to six years.

* Inspects all subjects and learning areas in depth.

* A typical report may run from 40 to 80 pages.

* Some use made of self-evaluation.

The past:

Pre-Sept 2003 framework

* Six to 10 weeks' notice.

* Up to 80 inspection days in a large secondary school.

* Once every four to six years.

* Curriculum areas not evaluated individually.

* Inspections cover all national curriculum subjects.

* Reports of 35 to 90 pages.

* Little use made of self-evaluation.

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Jon Slater & Roger Bushby

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