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Peer assessment faces cash hurdle

Felicity Waters and Karen Thornton on doubts over inspection framework

Radical plans for teachers to inspect their colleagues at other schools could fall foul of funding and workload problems, schools and education authorities are warning.

Peer assessment is a key feature of Estyn's revised framework for inspecting schools, which comes into effect this term. The aim is to bring experienced, practising teachers to inspection teams - some of whose members may not have taught in schools for years.

Heads and local education authorities are generally supportive of the initiative, but fear over-worked senior staff will not be able to commit enough time. Assessors will have a minimum of two days' training and usually undertake one inspection a year of up to five days. They will receive travel and subsistence expenses, but schools will not be reimbursed for supply cover because of funding considerations.

Neil Foden, head of Ysgol Friars in Bangor, says the principle of peer assessment is good, but he is concerned about workload.

"Teachers will have an important contribution to make to the inspection process. My only reservation is that those who are already pushed for time may be reluctant to come forward to do it. If Estyn wants senior or middle managers to do the peer assessor work, then it may be too much of a commitment," he said.

Dr Brett Pugh, chief education officer at Blaenau Gwent council and an inspector, believes peer assessment will make the inspection process more open and "widen teachers' own practice".

But he sees practical difficulties with the scheme, because of the number of volunteers required. Estyn is hoping to use assessors from the spring term, when there will be around 120 school inspections. It is running training courses later this month and in December, and says it has received more than 120 applications already.

Helene Mansfield, head at Croesyceiliog comprehensive, in Cwmbran, has already volunteered to be a peer assessor looking at teacher training in colleges and says she does not currently have time to inspect schools too.

"I think it gives you an insight into the inspection process. Having people who are at the cutting edge of teaching taking part in inspection will inject some realism into the process."

Other innovations featured in Estyn's new inspection framework include using schools' self-evaluation of their performance as a starting point for visits, shorter notice of inspection dates, more focus on the experiences of pupils, shorter inspections for "low-risk" or successful schools, and publication of a school response as part of the inspection report.

Schools will also be able to nominate a senior member of staff to act as a link between the inspection team and the school. Chief inspector of schools Susan Lewis said the nominee's role would include ensuring inspectors are "fully informed about the context of the institution's work".

She added: "The changes aim to make the process more flexible while maintaining the rigour to ensure public accountability."

The Office for Standards in Education, England's schools inspectorate, is still consulting about introducing self-evaluation.

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