Dear children, your lessons are boring

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Heads alarmed as inspectors pledge to tell pupils what is wrong with their school, report Jon Slater and Graeme Paton

Inspectors will deliver their verdict on schools directly to pupils under changes announced this week.

David Bell, chief inspector, said school councils will be sent a letter setting out inspectors' findings in a language pupils can understand.

Headteachers reacted angrily to the change and accused Mr Bell of "going off the rails". They said inspectors' criticisms could undermine staff and obstruct their efforts to impose discipline.

The letter to pupils is part of a new inspection system scheduled to come into force in September.

Under the new arrangements, pupils could be told that improvements are needed to the way the school is run; teachers need to listen more to pupils' views; or that lessons need to be more exciting.

The new regime will also introduce streamlined inspections at short notice.

These lighter-touch visits will put more emphasis on school self-evaluation.

Heads and teachers broadly support the changes but the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants is concerned that many schools are not ready for self-evaluation.

The Office for Standards in Education wants to put parents' and pupils'

views at the heart of the new arrangements and schools will be expected to show how they gather and respond to their views.

Mr Bell said: "Including a letter to pupils in inspection reports in the future is no gimmick, but a response to the fact that pupils are surrounded by intense activity during inspections but are often never told, in language they understand, what the outcome is.

"Inspection has failed if it becomes a cosy dialogue between friends."

Miriam Rosen, Ofsted education director, told The TES: "There may be concern from union leaders but schools where we have piloted this have been very happy with it. I think fears will subside once it is in operation" But David Hart, National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, said: "I think the chief inspector has gone off the rails. It is a totally unacceptable way forward.

"If he is determined to go down that route, he had better take care to make sure he does not give pupils ammunition to criticise individual teachers or wider groups who could be identified."

Under the new regime schools will receive only two to five days' notice of Ofsted's arrival, compared with up to 10 weeks at present. They will be visited every three years instead of every six and small teams will spend no longer than two days in the school rather than up to a week.

The new system will also place more reliance on elite HM inspectors and less on inspectors working for contractors. Reports will be much shorter - around six pages long compared with the present 50 pages - and a draft of each report will be produced within a few days, rather than up to 40 days.

The new inspection regime is at the heart of reforms announced this week by Stephen Twigg, the school standards minister, which aim to "remove clutter" and give more freedom to headteachers.

Mr Twigg said the reforms, part of the Government's so-called "new relationship" with schools, would also include the introduction of school profiles. These will give a broader picture of a school's achievements putting performance data such as test results in context.

There will also be new school improvement partnerships, locally appointed boards that will help to guide heads. All local councils will have boards in place for secondary schools by 2006 and primaries by 2007, he said.

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