'Kept in dark by Estyn'

28th September 2007 at 01:00
Unions say inspection body is not playing fair with secondary school guidance

WELSH INSPECTORATE Estyn has been accused of keeping schools in the dark over new guidance for secondary inspectors. The controversy, sparked by teaching unions, has blown up as Estyn's chief inspector Susan Lewis prepares to retire after more than 10 years.

Frank Ciccotti, who chairs the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru secondary sector committee and is headteacher of Pembroke School in Pembrokeshire, was due to discuss his union's worries with the education minister Jane Hutt as TES Cymru went to press.

Concerns focus on a new manual for secondary inspectors which, says Mr Ciccotti, "most schools have not had sight of". He says it could give valuable advice on self-assessment, something all schools now have to do to a high standard.

"I've seen it because one of my staff is an inspector and it contains stuff I'd describe as policy rather than minor detail for instance what's meant by a grade 1 and how to get it," he said.

"Given schools have to do their own self-assessment, this makes things very difficult."

There's also been criticism from Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Lecturers (ASCL) Cymru.

"Inspectors were briefed on guidance in the summer but it's not been made public to schools," he said. "This doesn't suggest collaborative partnership, it's more like trying to catch the school out.

"We've been assured the guidance will be made public later this term but what about schools being inspected now?"

However, an Estyn spokeswoman said: "We publish regular newsletters to keep schools up-to-date with advice for inspectors."

"We haven't issued independent inspectors with guidance on what constitutes a grade 1 although we regularly discuss grading issues during training sessions. We've told them we're currently updating guidance on inspections. This will include advice previously shared with inspectors and schools in newsletters. The guidance should appear on Estyn's website by the beginning of 2008."

Mr Jones also feels the inspection framework "is designed for a world where schools compete against each other", even though the emphasis of Welsh education is meant to be on partnership.

However, he praised Ms Lewis for supervising the common inspection framework amid the demands of public accountability, school improvement and complying with legislation.

"She's always been willing to listen and engage in debate," he said.

John Graystone, chief executive of FE colleges body fforwm, said Ms Lewis had been "very fair".

"We feel she's done a good job in helping raise standards and her work in collaboration has been particularly valuable," he said.

Ms Lewis's successor is likely to be chosen by the end of October, according to an Assembly government spokesman.

Ms Lewis was appointed chief inspector in 1997, becoming chief inspector of education and training in Wales in 2002. She had a six-month extension this June to fit in with her retirement plans, making a Christmas finish likely.

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