Chief inspector David Bell recommends new handbooks for school inspection as essential reading for heads
his week marks an important turning point in the school inspection process with the publication of the new framework and handbooks for school inspection.
School inspections from September onwards will differ from those carried out by the Office for Standards in Education previously. I have taken the opportunity during my first year as Chief Inspector of Schools to revise the existing inspection framework to take account of changes in our schools, developments in national education policy, and the advances in inspection techniques that we have seen over recent years. I believe the recipe for a successful school must include the ingredients of strong and effective leadership, a good environment for learning, a commitment to maximising achievement and a good curriculum well-taught. The new framework makes sure that all of these ingredients are included in our inspection mix!
I have been keen to cut bureaucracy to a minimum while strengthening the emphasis of inspection on leadership and management issues. Likewise I have also sought to ensure that Ofsted inspectors pay more attention to the views of pupils and the role of self-evaluation throughout the inspection process.
As teaching professionals, TES readers will agree on the importance of your role in the assessment of your school's performance. I am pleased that from September this will be reflected in the new arrangements and schools will have a major influence on the inspection agenda. It is unrealistic for inspectors to enter a school with no previous information about it when increasingly detailed performance indicators, readily available for every school, can be analysed, together with previous inspection reports and material provided by the school.
But why not ask the school to say how well it believes it is doing, and put that to the test? This is the basis of our inspection approach. Preparation and discussion of the school's self-evaluation, summarised on the "S4" form, provide the launch pad for the inspection. The accuracy and veracity of self-evaluation also say lots about the competence and confidence of school managers. I believe the new framework will result in five major improvements to our existing inspection arrangements:
* Very good schools will have up to six years between inspections, weaker schools will be inspected more often.
* A common framework will apply to all schools but the emphasis of inspection will depend on the school's special features and performance.
* Ofsted inspectors will have more discussion with schools before inspection to take account of the school's self-evaluation, individual circumstances and particular status. A primary school with very high standards in English does not, for example, need intensive and prolonged inspection of its literacy strategy.
* Inspectors will seek out and report on best practice in schools and share this advice on Ofsted's website for the first time.
* Inspectors will seek and assess pupils' views of schools through optional surveys and interviews. Good headteachers inspire and promote confidence in their teams. The result should be that everyone, including pupils, understands the values of the school.
I think it can be too easy to overlook the role inspections play in so many different areas besides offering an expert contribution to school improvement. Inspections inform parents and the public about the quality and standards of schools; they hold schools accountable for their performance and the resources they use, and they provide the basis for reporting annually to Parliament and advising ministers. Above all, inspections serve the interests of learners, for whom school is the gateway to lifelong fulfilment.
I hope you will find that the new inspection handbooks promote a rigorous and intelligent approach to inspection. They show how to shape the inspection to the school. They include extensive new benchmarks to help ensure the consistency and accuracy of judgments. They also encourage inspectors to take a diagnostic approach, linking cause and effect. No longer do they include separate guidance for schools on how to carry out self-evaluation, for schools are becoming more adept at this.
By crystallising the characteristics of very effective schools and showing what to avoid, the text of the new handbooks should be as indispensable to those who lead schools as it is to those who evaluate them.
David Bell is Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools in England. The framework, Inspecting Schools, will be sent to all schools and chairs of governors. The Handbooks for Inspecting Nursery and Primary Schools, Secondary Schools, and Special Schools and Pupil Referral Units will be available for purchase (priced pound;16 each) from the Ofsted website, www.ofsted.gov.uk