Curtains for Tory plans to step up Ofsted 'dawn raids'

20th November 2009 at 00:00
Climb-down on controversial 'no-notice' visits welcomed by unions

The Conservatives have abandoned plans to introduce more "dawn raid" school inspections.

The party announced last month that it intended to free up Ofsted's time to allow it to "extend 'no-notice' inspections" if it wins next year's general election.

In a speech last week, Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, again highlighted the plan to reform schools by allowing the watchdog to visit without prior warning.

"We will have 'no-notice' Ofsted inspections so that inspectors can investigate schools with serious behaviour problems," he said.

But the latest inspection framework, introduced in September, already allows no-notice visits where there are "particular reasons, for example, connected to pupils' welfare" or "safeguarding concerns", or where "a school's academic standards have shown rapid decline" or "there is a strong 'voice' of concern raised by parents".

Once the Conservatives were made aware of the framework details by The TES, they quickly changed their minds and backed the status quo.

"We want Ofsted to have the power to use no-notice inspections, but we don't expect that to be for the majority of schools," a spokesman said. "At this stage, we are not going to go beyond what is in the existing inspection framework. We will keep a watching brief."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "That is good news. What did they think they were going to find that was different by just turning up?

"You can't do anything to improve pupil behaviour or work in the normal two-day notice period anyway."

Ofsted's plan to introduce widespread no-notice inspections attracted fierce opposition from teachers' leaders as soon as it was first suggested at the end of 2007.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "No-notice inspections would be more punitive and create increased stress as heads keep a constant watch on the school gate for the arrival of the inspectors."

But it was parents rather than professionals who persuaded Christine Gilbert, chief inspector of schools, not to introduce the controversial measure to all schools.

In the summer, she said she had changed her mind because parents had complained about not being able to make their views known before no-notice inspections.

Instead, Ofsted said most schools could expect around two days' notice under the new framework, but monitoring visits to schools only rated "satisfactory" would be carried out without warning.

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