Inspector hits out at 'frightening' new regime

Increase in failing schools paints a `worrying picture', he says

William Stewart

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An Ofsted inspector has spoken out against the watchdog's "frightening" new regime, warning that it is failing too many schools and suggesting that chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw is partly to blame.

Graham Lancaster, an Essex-based inspector, broke ranks to call for the existing framework to be rewritten, with inspectors given more flexibility not to fail schools. The NAHT heads' union also raised concerns this week that inspectors are not being allowed to use their discretion when assessing school performance.

The warnings came as the watchdog confirmed plans to make inspection even tougher from September. It will introduce "almost no notice" visits, while satisfactory schools will be given four years to be judged good or face special measures and checks on teacher pay levels.

Ofsted figures from the first three weeks of the current regime, introduced in January, show that the percentage of schools judged inadequate rose from 6 to 13 per cent, while the proportion deemed outstanding fell from 18 to 8 per cent.

"We are hearing of large numbers of schools that are going into a category (being failed)," said NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby. "This does contradict everything Ofsted said about the new framework - that they would use the discretion of the inspector."

Mr Lancaster, who is also an Essex County Council primary school adviser, told a conference at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford that the new framework was "rather frightening".

"We have had schools in Essex, which previously were regarded as good schools, that have gone to failing the inspection in just two days," he added. "That is a bit of a worrying picture."

After the conference he told TES: "It is not just in Essex; it is countrywide. The bar has been raised and it is really focused on pupil achievement as it never has been before. There has been more flexibility for inspectors in the past, I think, to take account of context, to take account of current data."

The increase in failed schools had delayed the publication of reports because all verdicts of inadequate had to be double-checked, Mr Lancaster said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, who became Ofsted's chief inspector in January, was part of the reason for the shift, Mr Lancaster suggested. "The change in chief inspector if anything seems to be hardening the position, rather than actually introducing that perspective of standing back and thinking, `This can't be right if so many schools are actually falling into a category,'" he said. "I don't believe schools have got worse since January."

Mr Lancaster told the conference that Ofsted had limited public confidence in education by triggering damaging headlines. It had also created "low morale in the profession because of a lack of trust and because of the continuing raising of the bar".

"Nothing is ever good enough, it would appear," he added.

An Ofsted spokesman said: "`The streamlined inspection framework introduced this year focuses on the most important areas of a school. Nine out of 10 headteachers tell us that our inspections help them to improve."

NO NOTICE BECOMES `ALMOST NO NOTICE'

Schools will be warned of Ofsted visits the afternoon before inspectors arrive under an "almost no notice" regime to be introduced from September, it was announced this week.

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said that he wanted no-notice visits in January, just days after a TES article prompted concerns about schools drafting in "ringer" teachers and sending poorly behaved pupils on school trips.

But Sir Michael has relented after logistical concerns were raised by headteachers.

A plan to make any school gaining a grade 3 on inspection - currently known as "satisfactory" - eligible for forced academy conversion has been dropped.

The grade 3 schools will be labelled "requires improvement". They will be reinspected within two years - longer than the 12-18 months originally proposed. And they will have four rather than three years to become "good" or face special measures, unless there are "exceptional circumstances".

Inspectors will check the correlation between the quality of teaching and salary progression. Only schools with outstanding teaching will be judged outstanding.

The "notice to improve" label will be changed back to "serious weaknesses".

Original headline: Ofsted inspector hits out at `frightening' new regime

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William Stewart

William Stewart

William Stewart is News editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @wstewarttes

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