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Right calls for cheaper check-ups

The current inspection system could be largely dismantled under proposals being considered by the Government and its Office for Standards in Education.

Right-wing educationists, who include Edward Lister, leader of the Conservative borough of Wandsworth in south London, are calling for cheaper, "light-touch" inspections which concentrate on schools causing concern.

Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, has already announced that inspections are under review.

OFSTED is known to be looking at the widely-touted possibility of less frequent inspections, and will be producing a report for the Government by the end of the month. This week it said that a more narrowly focused system with briefer checks for most schools is also under consideration. OFSTED has found the initial four-year timetable for visiting every school difficult to implement.

In a letter to The Times this week, Mr Lister says the current system is "inexcusably expensive and takes no account of the differences between schools". The backbone of the system, he believes, should be a concise annual review carried out locally under national rules. The current OFSTED model, he writes, "should be reserved for those schools where a major investigative inquiry is necessary".

Dr John Marks, a member of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, said: "There's something to be said for the kind of national survey which OFSTED is carrying out, but whether you continue with that beyond the first four years is another question. We should have another think." He said that schools should be inspected in a more straightforward way at much shorter notice. "It should be an inspection of schools as they are, rather than as they are after six months of frantic reorganisation and preparation."

Dr Sheila Lawlor, director of the new right-wing think-tank Politeia, said: "I have been concerned that the mode of inspection is too bureaucratic. Are there not easier and simpler measures of whether a school is doing its job? When a school is plainly doing very well, do we really need to send in a bulldozer?" Alan Parker, education officer with the Labour-dominated Association of Metropolitan Authorities, warned against undermining the idea of regular inspections. "There's possibly a case for streamlining the routine, but in that case, we believe it would be safer if local authorities kept an eye on schools in the interim."

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