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'No hiding place' for those who fail to reach targets

There will be "no hiding place for under-performing schools", teachers were told at the launch on Monday of the White Paper. Nor for those content merely to "coast along".

For the first time from September 1998, individual schools must set their own targets for improvement, based on information about similar schools and recent inspection evidence.

There is a dramatically enhanced role for education authorities, which will help schools meet the targets and identify problems, sending in specialist advisers to nip them in the bud. As part of this early-warning system, LEAs will demand action plans. If these are inadequate, the LEA could appoint extra governors, take back control of schools' budgets, or ask the Office for Standards in Education to inspect a school ahead of schedule.

As a last resort, a hopeless school would be closed or given a "fresh start". Under the second option it would be taken over by another, successful school, or reopened under new management and a new name. There will also be new legal powers allowing the Government to intervene directly and force an authority to close a failing school. Regular inspections of authorities will begin next January.

Authorities will also have to produce three-year education plans for approval by the Secretary of State. Where an authority is deemed to be failing to improve fast enough, the Secretary of State can order an emergency inspection and, if necessary, order a "hit squad" to take over its functions.

The Department for Education and Employment, in partnership with the new standards and effectiveness unit, will itself take a more active role in levering up standards. "It will no longer be sufficient to act at a distance, " says the White Paper. The task force on standards, headed by chief inspector Chris Woodhead and Birmingham chief education officer, Tim Brighouse, will be "carrying the crusade to every part of the education service."

The White Paper underscores the value of OFSTED, but also proposes changes. The frequency of inspection (currently once every six years) will remain the same, but the period of notice of an inspection will be reduced from five terms to two, and the inspectors should focus more closely on classroom practice.

OFSTED will also be expected to make inspection data and school comparisons more widely available and to introduce an appeals mechanism. Inspectors will have to meet parents as well as staff after each inspection.

The White Paper says that the procedures for getting rid of bad teachers are too bureaucratic and lengthy, but offers no detailed alternatives. Instead it asks the unions and governor organisations to "develop streamlined model procedures and recommend them for adoption locally". Headteachers may also be required to report concerns about poor teachers to governors.

Josephine Gardiner

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