Coaker to take up heads' concerns over low ratings from new inspection regime

20th November 2009 at 00:00
Minister demands meeting over accusations that emphasis on attainment penalises schools in challenging areas performing well

Vernon Coaker, the schools minister, is to talk to Ofsted about its controversial new inspection framework as the number of schools being given failing or satisfactory verdicts continues to rise.

Mr Coaker has demanded a meeting with Christine Gilbert, chief inspector of schools, about headteachers' concerns with new system, which leaves only schools with high attainment able to be judged good or outstanding.

Speaking to England's new school leaders at a National College conference in London, the former deputy head said he understood opposition to the new inspections.

Schools without top grades cannot win the highest verdicts unless there are exceptional circumstances, and heads say the emphasis on exams penalises those in challenging areas performing well.

In total, 18 out of the 25 separate Ofsted categories are now dependent on pupil attainment, meaning those with the lowest mark of four will never be able to achieve above a three - "satisfactory" - overall.

Mr Coaker said he was well aware of the views of schools, and he supported the notion that inspections should take into account more than exam results.

"Heads have been saying the new arrangements do not reflect the progress schools are making," he said. "Christine Gilbert says this is a misunderstanding. We need to reconcile what Ofsted is saying with what heads are saying.

"Schools that are making significant progress or are improving need to see that properly reflected in the Ofsted judgment. Heads have said they are limited by attainment in the new framework, but Christine says this is not the case."

Unions say Mr Coaker's offer to help is an attempt to prevent a political "own goal" as the Tories are likely to exploit any fall in the number of schools judged good or outstanding.

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said: "This does show the Government is under pressure." "The last thing they want is the number of good or outstanding schools going down as an election approaches."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the union is being inundated with "horror stories" about inspections.

"There's a massive mismatch with what Ofsted think is happening and what others are seeing. But Christine Gilbert has said she will welcome our views."

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