Children's services will add to burden of watchdog's leader

16th June 2006 at 01:00
A bulging in-tray awaits the arrival of the first female chief inspector at Ofsted on October 1.

Christine Gilbert will oversee the creation of a new super-inspectorate with responsibility for children's homes, children and family court advisory and support services, adoption and fostering agencies and post-16 education as well as schools.

The new HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills will be expected to tackle a growing row over the new system, using schools' self-evaluation, to judge standards introduced by her predecessor David Bell, now permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills, last September.

And she will oversee the implementation of a new proportionate inspection system which will place more pressure on schools with weaknesses, even if they are judged satisfactory overall. The top 20 per cent of schools will get only ultra-light touch, single-day inspections.

Ms Gilbert said: "I am delighted to have a chance to fulfil such an interesting and challenging national role, especially as Ofsted moves towards a new single inspectorate covering education, children's services and skills."

John Dunford, Association of School and College Leaders' general secretary, said he was pleased the new chief inspector had teaching experience. "There was a risk it could have been someone with a children's services background," he said.

Heads, he said, will be hoping that Ms Gilbert will take action over concerns that inspectors have been relying too much on value-added data, which in too many cases does not give an accurate picture of a school's performance.

Dr Dunford said: "I hope that she will recognise the need to work with schools and colleges in developing a system of quality assurance that combines a sensible degree of inspection with self-evaluation. The present system is still too punitive."

John Chowcat, general secretary of the Association of Professionals in Education and Children's Trusts, said he was glad the new chief inspector will be "someone who has an intimate knowledge of the critical relationship between schools and local authorities".

Ms Gilbert follows Chris Woodhead, Sir Mike Tomlinson, David Bell and present incumbent Maurice Smith as chief inspector.

But she is not the first woman to be the country's top schools inspector.

Sheila Browne was the senior chief inspector of schools in the pre-Ofsted days.

Teachers found Miss Browne scary but even-handed. She once accused ministers of living in "never-never-land".

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