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Inspectors will now give only 4 weeks' notice

The aim is to reduce stress while making the process more accountable

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The aim is to reduce stress while making the process more accountable

Schools will have just four weeks' notice of inspections under plans to make the process less daunting from next year, TES Cymru can reveal.

The current notice period of up to six months has been slashed by Estyn to end public perception that inspections are stage-managed and reduce stress on schools.

In future, inspections and reports will be shorter and concentrate more on good practice at schools, rather than their shortcomings. Subject areas will no longer be reported on; they will be replaced by a national survey. Underperforming schools will be subject to more scrutiny during follow-up inspections, proportionate to inspectors' concerns over standards.

Estyn handed TES Cymru the response to its consultation - undertaken in the new year - about overhauling the 2010-16 inspection cycle. It was largely positive.

Pilot inspections will begin this September, although there could be some tweaks before the new format is introduced in September 2010.

Officials hope the fear of inspections, felt by many teachers, will vanish under the new framework, which encourages a partnership approach.

They also want the inspections system to have a greater affinity with Assembly government initiatives such as the attainment-raising school effectiveness framework, which encourages the spread of good practice.

Dr Bill Maxwell, Wales's chief inspector, said: "We believe inspection is something that should be done with schools rather than to them. We want providers to welcome inspection as an occasional external validation of their own ongoing self-evaluation and improvement processes."

The new notice period provoked the most mixed response during the consultation. There was a 2:1 majority in favour of shortening it among the 280 respondents, many of whom were teachers. But there was disagreement over the original proposal of three weeks' notice.

Under England's new framework, schools will only have a maximum of two days' notice from Ofsted. Supporters believe less notice limits the stress reported by school staff in the run-up to an inspection. But Estyn said four weeks would allow more time to arrange meetings and give inspection teams the chance to liaise with parents - an integral part of the new process.

Gareth Jones, director of the heads' union ASCL Cymru and a campaigner for light-touch inspections, said Estyn had struck the right balance. "We are pleased with the detail overall," he said.

Estyn also revealed overwhelming support for bringing inspections in- house, ending costly subcontracting to companies predominantly from England.

Three-quarters of the respondents said plans to introduce HMI-led inspections would increase confidence in the system. There was also wide support for peer inspectors, experienced educationists, trained by Estyn to support schools.

But there were some slight tweaks to the original proposals following the consultation. The proposed four-point scale of judgment, which replaces the numerical grades 1-5, has been changed, the top description of "outstanding" replaced by "excellent" and the bottom description of "poor" changed to "unsatisfactory".

Judgments on pupil wellbeing - seen as a grey area - will remain. But Estyn admitted that more work was needed on how to judge wellbeing effectively. It said a common criterion would be issued.

In total, schools will receive 15 judgments: three based on three key questions, 10 quality indicators and two summary judgments - one overall judgment and one on the school's potential to progress.

Dr Maxwell said: "Combining rigorous self-evaluation with inspection will ensure all schools. engage in challenging and constructive dialogue, which will enhance their work to improve outcomes for learners."

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