Caught short by Bell report

1st April 2004 at 01:00

The short and sharp school inspection would cut governors out of the process, argues Stephen Adamson

It could be a case of "let's do the hokey cokey" for governors. The recent framework for inspection, which governors are just beginning to come to terms with, invites them to put their whole selves in. But chief inspector David Bell, in his consultation The Future of Inspection, proposes that they put their whole selves out instead.

He proposes that inspections would only last two days and there would be fewer inspectors, with total inspection hours about a quarter of what they are at present. The focus of these short visits would be `the quality of what goes on in the classroom' - quite rightly the priority, but it would mean at best a quick glance at governance as the inspectors whizz by.

Governance does not feature in the plan at all as a subject for the inspectors' attention.

Under the proposals, schools would only receive a couple of days' warning of an inspection. This gives governors too little time to think about who should meet the reporting inspector, and how to present the governing body's work. No doubt this is deliberate, enabling inspectors to see things as they are, not as schools wish them to appear to be.

But at such notice, who is likely to be available for the inspectors to meet? It is quite possible that a busy chair would not be around, and that it would be a matter of who, if anyone, is available. This does not matter much in one respect if the governing body is not being included in the inspection, but it does all but cut governors' thoughts on the school's performance out of the process.

Similarly, lack of time applies to parents. As the document itself admits, at two days' notice the governing body is unlikely to be able to arrange a meeting between the reporting inspector and parents. The possibility is floated of a sort of parent focus group, or that some might at very short notice be able to attend the school in the evening of the inspection. This could lead to an interesting prospect - random parent testing.

The emphasis would be more on school self-evaluation. This represents a shift towards what many teachers have been suggesting, and builds upon the self-evaluation form that schools now have to complete after they get notice of an inspection.

The logical assumption is that the inspectors' first job would be to judge the accuracy of the school's self-evaluation, and probe further if the evidence suggests it is unsound. Parents' views fit in here, it is suggested, as a factor in school self-evaluation.

With the lack of notice of inspection, self-evaluation would then become a continuous process. This could alter the relationship between parents and parent governors.

If parent views are regularly being sought, would parent governors be the channel for those voices? And even if not, would more pressure be put on parent governors to act on those views? This is not necessarily a bad thing, but might make it harder to sustain the parent governor role as representative not delegate.

Ironically, it would also introduce greater consultation between governors and parents so soon after the dropping from regulations of the obligation to hold an annual meeting.

Many governors may initially greet their removal from the inspection exam room with delight. But there is a bonus in being inspected - recognition.

The current framework rates the governor's contribution to the performance of the school on a similar seven-point scale to that of the leadership team.

Being edged out of the process could be a return to the days when it was thought the governors had little influence on what actually happened in the school.

This is, of course, only a consultation. David Bell asks people to enter into a dialogue with him, and discussion is bound to go on for some months.

Changes in inspection will undoubtedly affect the nature of governance.

It is worth thinking about and having your say.

Stephen Adamson isvice-chairman of the National Association of Governors and Managers

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