No-notice lives to fight another day - in Wales

Politicians ask inspectorate to consult on 'spot inspections'

Darren Evans

Ofsted may have backed down on plans to introduce no-notice inspections for schools in England, but policymakers in Wales are seriously considering adopting the idea themselves, TES can reveal.

An influential group of Assembly members has recommended that schools inspectorate Estyn should look into the prospect of on-the-spot inspections "when appropriate".

The Welsh government and Estyn are both keen to explore the idea, having closely monitored Ofsted's pilot scheme, and education minister Leighton Andrews is planning to discuss the matter with chief inspector Ann Keane when the pair meet later this month.

In its recent report into school inspections, the cross-party Children and Young People Committee welcomed the shorter notice period Estyn introduced in 2010, under which schools are told that inspectors will visit only 20 working days before they are due.

"It would be consistent with this trend of reducing the notice period to consult on reducing the notice period further or having spot inspections for the next cycle," Ms Keane wrote in a letter to the committee's chair, Christine Chapman.

The committee recommended that Estyn should consult on the notice period "with a view to enabling unannounced inspections when appropriate".

Angela Burns, shadow education minister and a committee member, told TES that the move would give Estyn "another tool in its armoury" and help to improve school standards.

"We believe it's extremely easy for some schools who struggle to gear themselves up and look smart for an inspection. All of us could recall schools where heads had spent weeks preparing for inspection," the Conservative MP said. "We felt it would be useful to enable Estyn to have the option of going in unannounced."

Ms Burns said that good teachers should not be worried about the idea. "The only people who might be concerned are those who know they are not doing a good enough job," she added.

But in England, where no-notice inspections were announced by Ofsted in January, there was an outcry from heads who raised logistical concerns and complained about a lack of trust.

Earlier this month, Ofsted relented and said that an "almost no notice" system would be introduced in September instead, alongside a raft of measures to toughen up inspections.

Anna Brychan, director of the NAHT Cymru heads' union, said that no-notice inspections are "driven by a belief that schools have something to hide".

"The implication is that by virtue of having notice of inspection schools have the opportunity to hide things," she said. "That's just not the case. When inspectors visit they see things as they are.

"This has been tried in England and it hasn't worked, so why adopt it here?"

However, Rex Phillips, Wales organiser of the NASUWT teaching union, said that the move would reduce pressure on teachers by cutting out the "frantic preparation" they go through before inspection.

"Members are put under massive pressure by inspection and that has increased under Estyn's new regime," he said. "As long as teachers know they are doing their jobs correctly they shouldn't worry."

Estyn is monitoring the outcome of Ofsted's trial on spot inspections but has yet to reach any conclusions.

"There appears to be a trend across UK education inspectorates to reduce the notice period for inspection," a spokeswoman for the inspectorate said. "Before any changes to notice periods are contemplated, Estyn would consult with its stakeholders and the Welsh government."

The Welsh government said that it is willing to consider any move that supports the drive to improve standards.

"We have been following closely the experience in England where they have piloted spot inspections in a number of schools. The minister will be discussing this issue when he meets with Ann Keane later this month," a spokesman said. "Any proposals by Estyn to change the scheduling of inspections would be subject to consultation."

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Darren Evans

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