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Softly, softly tread inspectors

A new light-touch inspection regime is to be introduced in Wales which will spare high-performing schools the rigours of a full inspection every six years. From next year, most schools will undergo a reduced level of inspection which will see the areas scrutinised cut by half. And under the regime, the views of pupils and students will carry far greater weight when inspectors compile their reports.

Gareth Adams, of Estyn, the schools inspectorate, said: "We are committed to lightening the burden of inspection and minimising bureaucracy. These are distinctive arrangements to meet the needs of learners in Wales. No matter what level of inspection is carried out the team will focus on listening to learners."

There will be three different levels of inspection: full, standard and short. The level will be determined by how the school fared in its previous inspection and how it has performed in national tests and exams in the previous three years. The school's own self-evaluation report will also be crucial in deciding the type of inspection.

A standard inspection will be between 70 and 80 per cent of the existing full version; the shorter inspection will be about half the full inspection, but inspectors will report in detail on the key skills of literacy, numeracy and using information technology.

Mr Adams added: "If a school is doing well, it will have an inspection that will check it is doing well but will not have the impact on the normal life of the school that a full inspection might have. The scale of inspection will be proportionate to the risk. We want to make inspections simpler and more streamlined than at present."

Two radical changes to inspection teams will also be introduced. For the first time a peer assessor will be part of the team, which in the case of schools will mean a practising teacher. Such teachers need to be nominated by their local education authority.

"Teachers want to be inspected by teams that include teachers," said Mr Adams, "and we will try to ensure there is one peer assessor in every team, but that will depend on the number of teachers who come forward for training."

The second innovation is that schools will be able to nominate a member of their own staff to work with the inspection team. Mr Adams explained: "If a team has problems making sense of a document or why things are done in a certain way the nominee can provide valuable assistance. If a nominee sees the team is looking at something from the wrong angle and going the wrong way, he can say so and have his views taken into consideration."

There will also be a shorter period of notice. Estyn is aiming to give schools between three and six months' notice instead of a year. Mr Adams explained: "Schools argue that long notice periods contribute to stress.

Some describe it as having the sword of Damocles hanging over them. " Conference date: Susan Lewis of Estyn will speak on 'Common Inspection Framework, key stages 1-4' on Thursday, May 22 at 10am

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