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Inspectors' call to be much briefer

Minister outlines a reduction in the scope of school inspections. Judith Judd reports.

New lighter touch inspections, which will slash the length of inspectors'

visits, will be introduced from this year.

David Miliband, the schools minister, foreshadowed the changes in a major speech setting out the Government's priorities for the year at the North of England conference in Belfast yesterday.

Full details of the shift, which are expected to include drastic pruning of the number of aspects of school life inspected, will be outlined by David Bell, the chief inspector, next month.

The shorter, sharper inspections will happen more frequently. At present, the average secondary school has an inspection involving 50 inspector days every six years.

Mr Miliband said the current arrangements had "served the education system well, but it is right to seek improvements that will deliver a sharper focus, lighter touch and clearer link to school improvement".

As the burden of inspection is lifted, schools will be required to carry out more rigorous self-evaluation, Mr Miliband suggested. He said: "The time is right to embed honest, hard-edged self-evaluation across the whole system."

In the Office for Standards in Education's proposals "a critical test of the strong school will be the quality of its self-evaluation and how it is used to raise standards".

Headteachers have complained that too many inspection reports are out of date. They have also been pressing for a more important role for self-evaluation.

Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, had hoped to make yesterday's annoucement but stayed in London to oversee the publication of the controversial top-up fees Bill.

Ministers have been concerned for some time to make inspection better value for money. Peter Housden, director general of the schools directorate in the Department for Education and Skills, raised the question in a speech to grammar-school heads last summer.

Pilots of the new inspections are expected to begin shortly.

A new framework for inspection was introduced only in September last year and the usual time between inspections was extended from four years to six.

Mr Miliband was expected to emphasise that ministers believe effective inspection and self-evaluation are the key to the achievement of their goal of "personalised learning" for all pupils.

The Government is hoping that this idea will transform secondary schools.

From this September, schools will have to offer every secondary pupil a "neogtiated individual learning plan". This will identify where each pupil is, set targets and lay down in detail how they are to be reached.

Mr Miliband was also due to announce that every secondary school will have a single, expert adviser, probably a serving or recently retired head who will "act as a critical friend and be authorised to agree the school's performance targets jointly on behalf of the DfES and the education authority". The scheme will be piloted shortly in at least five education authorities. The plan aims to cut down the amount of bureaucracy and paperwork heads have to cope with.

Mr Miliband was expected to outline plans for the pilot of new profiles which would give a broader picture of schools and show how they perform in relation to other, similar schools.

Exam and test results would be published alongside the school's view of its priorities and performance and the profile should eventually replace the governors' annual report to parents.

Ministers have said that they are determined to keep performance tables for 11-year-olds in primary schools and for 14 and 16-year-olds in secondary schools, even though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have stopped national publication of tables.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the proposal to link inspection more closely with support for school improvement was long overdue.

"Mature school self-evaluation reports on performance across the board and it isn't necessary for external inspection to replicate this."

The conference, attended by 900 teachers and school leaders, also heard Professor Tim Brighouse, the commissioner for London, say that students should be charged an extra 10 per cent in top-up fees for each year they had spent in private education.

Cynthia Hall, new president of the Girls' Schools Association of independent girls schools, said many parents could barely afford the fees and all contributed to education through taxes.

News 13, 15

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