15th October 1999 at 01:00
Q: Our local authority is planning a programme of light inspections of all schools in the near future. There is nothing unusual about the area - no special measures schools, all Office for Standards in Education reports ranging from satisfactory to very good, indeed a good standard of education all round, with results slightly above the national average. When everyone is talking about more delegation to schools, some governors think this is a waste of money. Would you let it go unchallenged?

A: In a word, no. The funds left available for central administration will from now on be very small, and all schools should be concerned that they are used to meet the most obviously urgent needs. What's more, government guidance has been very clear on one issue regarding both national and local programmes of inspection, and that is that time and money must in the main be spent on inspecting schools causing concern, not those that are doing well. It seems to me that wholesale light inspections at local level (given the existence of OFSTED) are a waste of time when schools are thriving, and inadequate when they are not. The authority has ample indicators of quality, not just in test and exam performance but in community perceptions of all kinds.

What puzzles me, though, is how the idea has got so far. If such a proposal were in the local authority's development plan last school year, I doubt very much whether the Department for Education and Employment would have approved it, and I would hope that schools would also have questioned the point you mention during consultations on the draft. Perhaps the authority are departing from their own plan in this respect, but that seems extraordinary.

All my experience is that the local inspection and advisory service is under considerable pressure, and that we are lucky if it runs to more cost-effective activity such as identifying and spreading good practice, refining the processes of assessment, promoting authority-wide initiatives on quality, and giving carefully targeted support to schools at any time needing it or seeking it.

Any challenge would be more effective if it came from all or at least a significant proportion of the schools. Have you any organisation of governing bodies locally, or at least informal meeting arrangements for heads and chairs or school clusters?

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