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Pupils to put teachers under the microscope

And parents will be asked to rate their child's schools before inspections

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Pupils will inspect teachers under plans to overhaul school inspections announced this week.

Parents will also be asked to rate teaching standards at their child's school before inspections in an attempt to raise faltering public confidence in the system.

Three weeks' notice of visits from Estyn, the inspectorate, and the deployment of peer inspectors - experienced headteachers from a different local authority - will work alongside pupils and schools to judge performance, ending the costly contracting of external inspection teams.

Bill Maxwell, chief inspector of schools and training in Wales, said that shorter notice would help to put an end to accusations that inspections were stage-managed.

"Shorter notice periods could actually work in schools' favour," he said. "It will end unnecessary preparation and panic."

The chief inspector called on all schools to arrange a meeting this term to discuss the proposals to streamline inspections. Pilots could begin as early as the autumn, following the public consultation that was launched this week.

Under the new plans, progress in children's wellbeing, including their attendance rates and attempts to promote healthy living, will be rated just as highly as a school's academic performance. Old-style grades will be scrapped.

Today, schools are awarded grades from one to five for seven areas of learning. The new plans mean they will be graded on four levels: outstanding, good, adequate or poor.

There will be less intensive focus on schools with good self-evaluation and performance, although they will not escape follow-up inspections needed for "public accountability". Instead, there will be greater focus on schools that need it most - those one-fifth in need of significant improvement or in special measures.

Pupils and parents will be asked to fill in questionnaires, and some will be interviewed pre-inspection. Older students could act as inspectors - including trainee teachers.

For heads, good inspection feedback will also mean having greater daily contact with other agencies, including social services and police, as child protection issues become paramount.

An in-house team of inspectors will be appointed by Estyn, but peer inspectors are more likely to undertake inspections in the long term.

During informal consultation last year, teacher representatives were mostly in favour of the proposed changes.

Moves towards greater self- evaluation were also welcomed, as were less intense inspections for high-performing schools.

Dr Maxwell, originally from Scotland, said in his first annual inspection report published last February that not enough schools had been awarded outstanding verdicts after inspections in 2006-07.

The number of schools placed in special measures - 16 that year - is expected to rise to 22 when the 2007-08 report is published later this month.

Dr Maxwell told TES Cymru that teachers should not become complacent and that the key to improvement was in spreading good practice between schools and local authorities.

But moves to put children's wellbeing further up the agenda have proven controversial. In The TES last week, Professor Barry Carpenter, a government adviser in England, said child wellbeing lessons had to be stepped up because, he predicted, one fifth of 5 to 15-year-olds would have an emotional disorder by 2019.

But Carol Craig, an expert in positive psychology in Scotland, disagreed. She was quoted in last week's TES, saying that teaching "happiness" could lead to children becoming depressed and teachers feeling like Cruella de Vil.

Shorter reports

Estyn is proposing shorter and snappier school inspection reports. They will include just two summary judgments - one on overall performance, the other on how the school could improve.

Inspectors will also make three key recommendations: on standards and wellbeing, on provision, and on leadership.

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