Mindful of the bigger gap between inspections

How should secondary schools cope now that OFSTED has dropped its four-year cycle? David Budge reports.

Schools should be encouraged to inspect themselves every year with the help of teachers from other schools now that the Office for Standards in Education has abandoned its four-yearly inspection cycle.

The proposal has come from four researchers who have been monitoring the impact of secondary school inspection since 1993. Janet Ouston, Brian Fidler, Peter Earley and Jacqueline Davies point out that there is no required follow-up supervision or support after an inspection except the threat of another OFSTED visit, which will now take place six years later.

"It is possible to argue that for the majority of schools, inspection will no longer be very productive," they caution.

A quality assurance process similar to that used in post-compulsory education might therefore help. "This process might be moderated by trained senior teachers from other schools," they suggest. "Clearly this would have to be handled carefully in the context of competition between neighbouring schools, but it might lead to a greater dissemination of good practice than currently occurs.

"OFSTED would still have a role in inspection where the quality assurance reports raised anxieties about school practice, and random, checking, inspections should also be undertaken."

In a paper presented at the British Educational Research Association conference in York, the researchers also suggest that schools could in future be supported by a new, locally-based OFSTED, or possibly local education authority staff, even though some schools have reservations about the objectivity of their local education authority inspectors. They also believe that governors and local authorities should have the right to request an OFSTED inspection if they are concerned about a school.

Ouston and her colleagues have interviewed 41 headteachers and 76 teachers during the latest phase of their study and have carried out a questionnaire survey of 305 schools.

Some 7 per cent of schools told them that the inspection had had no impact on their work. A further 76 per cent said that OFSTED had made some impact while 17 per cent said that there had been a major impact.

The researchers also found that although schools rarely dismissed the key issues that inspectors raised, they often did not give them equal priority.

"In addition, the inspectors may not report on issues which the school sees as important, thus potentially undermining the school's intentions," they say. On other occasions inspectors were believed to have mis-identified weaknesses and their recommendations were not addressed because they were not considered "right for the school".

Almost one in five of the schools surveyed felt that the inspectors had been too negative, 73 per cent thought they had been fair, and 8 per cent admitted that they had been too positive.

"The impact of OFSTED inspection on secondary schools", by Janet Ouston, Peter Earley and Jacqueline Davies, of the Institute of Education, London University, and Brian Fidler, of Reading University.

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