Ofsted to stop visiting lessons

Major inspections every four years to be replaced by low-key annual visits

Thousands of lecturers will be spared the worst of the Ofsted inspection regime as classroom observation is abolished for the best-performing colleges.

Major inspections every four years have been scrapped in favour of low-key annual visits by inspectors. Old-style full inspections will be held only in colleges deemed to need closer scrutiny.

This means that lecturers in colleges which pass the annual test will be unlikely ever to come into contact with an inspector, Ofsted confirmed this week.

Although staff rooms across the country will breathe sighs of relief, another aspect of the new system may make some principals nervous. Ofsted's findings from the annual visits are to be made public - to give potential students and parents up-to-date information. Most principals support this move but those with problems will suffer bad publicity.

Annual visits were first trialled last year. Under the new regime each college will be visited by two inspectors who will examine results and other information and then interview staff and students.

Maggie Scott, director of learning and quality at the Association of Colleges, said: "Perhaps all the attention isn't needed in the FE sector.

If you compare our success rates with work-based learning, perhaps the attention will be diverted elsewhere."

Annual visits do not require a lot of extra paperwork, she said, because most of the information is collected as a matter of course.

But she criticised the revised "light-touch" system for perpetuating different treatment between schools and colleges.

Under the new schools regime, only failing schools will be inspected every year, while in colleges, all but the best will continue to receive annual assessment visits.

John Landeryou, head of the post-16 division at Ofsted, said annual visits would reduce the burden of inspection on colleges.

He said: "This is part of our move to make inspection more proportionate, so better colleges get inspected last. It should ensure we put our resources in the best place.

"These one-day visits are a sort of health check that will help senior managers get an external view as to whether their self-assessment stands up to scrutiny.

"And if we spend time inspecting something, we have a duty to make it public."

Ofsted said colleges had reacted positively although a few had reservations about publication.

A recent Ofsted survey found that 95 per cent of colleges agreed that the feedback from the annual inspections had been helpful and 99 per cent said that the demands placed on the college during the visits were reasonable.

Paul Mackney, joint general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "The Government may be surprised to find that if they gave more responsibility back to the colleges and get off their backs people achieve more."

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