OFSTED will now take heed of how social and economic factors affect school achievement, but insists it will not accept excuses. Geraldine Hackett reports.
INSPECTORS will be expected to look in greater detail at school harassment policies - particularly clauses dealing with race issues, in a new approach to inspections announced this week.
And for the first time inspectors will assess the problems faced by schools with many transient pupils, such as refugees.
Schools will be required to show inspectors how they deal with racial harassment in line with the recommendations of the Macpherson report into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993. The report also called for schools to log all racist incidents.
Under the changes, announced by the Office for Standards in Education, inspectors will look at the impact of pupil mobility and measures being adopted by the school to tackle the issue.
Although problems will now be put in their social context Mike Tomlinson, head of inspections at OFSTED, denied the changes undermine the Government's intention that there should be no tolerance of an "excuse culture".
He said: "There are schools that vigorously seek to overcome these difficulties. If a school sits back and says there's nothing they can do about it, that is just accepting an excuse."
He added: "What we don't have is research that shows how pupil mobility affects results, though work is being done."
Before inspections begin, schools will be asked to provide information on their own assessment of their standards. According to OFSTED, schools have become better at self-evaluation, but external scrutiny is still needed.
From January, the most effective 20 to 25 per cent of schools will get only a light-touch inspection, a form of "health check". However, Mr Tomlinson accepted that the system of deciding which schools did not require full inspections could not be foolproof.
"It can't detect those schools where there are problems in particular departments or where turnover of staff has had an impact on standards," he said.
Schools that will only get a health check are those that previously had a good inspection report and where exam results are on an improving trend.
Mr Tomlinson said such schools were not confined to affluent areas, but there were probably proportionately more advantaged schools among them.
Inspectors will also be required officially to designate schools found to be under-achieving. Such schools may have results above the national average, but take in pupils capable of achieving much better results.
According to Peter Matthews, a senior OFSTED official, parents are often unaware that such schools are coasting. "It is quite likely that parents are pleased with the school," he said.
"What inspections can do is tell parents whether schools are really doing enough for their children," he added.