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Lighter inspections to be more rigorous

The new regime at Ofsted due in September seems a contradiction in terms. Michael Shaw reports

INSPECTIONS of primary schools should become more rigorous as the pressure on test targets is reduced, Education Secretary Charles Clarke has urged.

Mr Clarke told MPs and citizenship group leaders that he wanted inspectors to examine individual subjects with "more rigour and accuracy" as part of the changes to primary school assessment announced last week.

The minister, who has discussed the matter with chief schools inspector David Bell, has also requested headteachers' views on including judgments from the Office for Standards in Education in school league-tables.

The calls for tougher inspections appear to contradict claims by Mr Clarke and Mr Bell that they want a lighter-touch Ofsted regime.

However, the chief inspector said that inspections of secondary and primary schools will be both lighter and more rigorous under the new inspection system, which will be introduced in September.

Under the updated framework, due to be published today, headteachers will rate aspects of their schools' work from grade one (excellent) to grade seven (poor) on forms.

Inspectors will then tailor their visits to individual schools according to information provided in the self-evaluation, spending less time examining areas where the school needs little assistance.

"A more rigorous inspection doesn't have to be a longer one," Mr Bell said.

"Schools felt that we didn't give enough attention to individual subjects, so we will do in future, but the length of inspections is not going to increase."

Schools will be asked to give pupils anonymous tick-box questionnaires, based on samples provided by Ofsted, to gauge their opinions on their lessons and the behaviour of fellow students.

"Short" inspections, which only a fraction of schools received, will be scrapped after complaints from heads that they were too superficial. But the average length of a standard inspection will shorten by a handful of days and successful schools will have gaps of up to six years between visits.

Inspectors will report examples of particularly impressive teaching methods or other good practice on the Ofsted website.

The format of the inspection reports will also be altered to make them easier for parents to read.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said the education watchdog planned to place less emphasis on the number of pupils in a school who receive free school meals - a controversial measurement of socio-economic status - and more on other factors such as pupils' value-added results.

Copies of the inspectors' handbooks for primary and secondary schools will be available from today, but sample Ofsted pupil questionnaires will not be sent to schools until the summer.

David Bell, Platform, 21

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