New regime is nothing to fear, assures chief inspector
Shorter, "lighter touch" school inspections are set to radically change the nature of assessments in Wales.
September will see end of the fear-inducing, week-long visit from a team of inspectors. The new system will also place more emphasis on self- evaluation.
Estyn's new common inspection framework was officially launched to schools, local authorities and the further education sector at two events in Llandrindod Wells this week.
Ann Keane, the chief inspector, told TES Cymru that most schools should have nothing to fear from the new regime.
"I don't think a lot of schools will find that what we are asking for is unrealistic," she said. "Most schools will not find an Estyn inspection unfair, and it shouldn't set unrealistic aims. I don't think it will be a challenge for many schools to reach the standard that's already been achieved in the best schools."
Ms Keane insisted that the new framework is a partnership, where inspection is done with schools rather than to them. To emphasise this more teachers will be taken on as peer inspectors, making them equal partners in the process.
The new focus on self-evaluation will be a crucial element, with inspectors basing their investigations on what it contains.
The framework has been widely welcomed by the teaching unions, which have had many of the changes on their wish-lists for a long time. However, some have expressed concern about the possible impact of the self-evaluation report on heads' workloads, fearing they could become overburdened.
There are also worries over how literacy - due to get greater prominence after the pilot inspections showed a wide variation in school strategies - will be scrutinised. And a new "stakeholder satisfaction report" will give more weight to the opinions of parents and pupils.
Ms Keane warned that all schools must get into the habit of "thorough, effective and consistent" self-evaluation. "I think a lot of schools are there already but for some that will be a challenge," she said.
"But that's good because then we are bringing the school up to the standards of the best, which is what inspection is about.
"Self-evaluation is what the schools do and Estyn comes along once every six years as an external check."
This greater emphasis on self-evaluation and other data means inspectors will spend less time visiting classrooms and observing lessons. This has met with resistance in some of the schools that took part in pilot inspections under the new regime.
Roger Davies, head of Hawarden High in Flintshire, said some staff felt "excluded" by the experience. Some teachers wanted to be observed as a matter of "professional pride", he said. Other heads are concerned that there will not be enough time to challenge inspectors' verdicts (see panel, right).
Schools with shortcomings will have follow-up inspections and support from Estyn, but Ms Keane estimated that fewer than 30 per cent would need this.
Literacy will be closely studied in all schools. Ms Keane said: "Really good schools have literacy champions, good tracking systems and maximise opportunities to improve literacy. Some are doing a good job, while others aren't doing as well as they could.
"We see literacy as key to the curriculum. If a pupil enters key stage 3 with a poor reading age they can't access the curriculum and they continue to fall behind. They are the ones that become Neets (not in education, employment or training)."
THE SYSTEM IN BRIEF
Four weeks' notice of inspection, down from six months.
Only selected lessons and teachers will be observed.
Increased attention to well-being.
Stronger focus on school literacy strategies and approaches.
Two overall key judgments - on the school's performance and its prospects for improvement.
Greater emphasis on self-evaluation and assessment.
New "stakeholder satisfaction report" compiled from questionnaires completed by parents and pupils.
Schools with shortcomings will be subject to follow-up activity and support.
WE LIKE IT, BUT .
Headteachers who have already undergone the new-style inspection pilot have largely welcomed the experience, but raised concerns that the "light- touch" regime goes too far in some areas.
Excluded: Roger Davies, head of Hawarden High in Flintshire, found the process a positive one. "I think the lighter touch is very healthy," he said. "Often other work can be hampered by the inspection process, but now teachers can spend far less of their time preparing for the inspection."
His 1,000-pupil 11-18 school was given an overall judgment of "good" by inspectors, and its prospects for improvement were deemed "excellent".
But Mr Davies said there were those who felt excluded by the experience. "Some staff and governors didn't feel that they were as involved in the inspection process as they would have expected. Some teachers wished the inspectors had called into their class as a matter of professional pride."
Mr Davies urged schools to work on their self-evaluation reports, which he said are the key to success. "If your self-evaluation is proven to be accurate then the overarching judgments are going to be positive as well."
Challenging: Huw Thomas experienced two visits from Estyn when both of the primary schools he heads - Ysgol Niwbwrch and Ysgol Dwyran on Anglesey - were inspected as part of the pilots.
Although he was mostly pleased with the experience, he voiced some misgivings.
"The process is geared up to be very inspector-friendly, run to a tight schedule with very little time to challenge or question their findings," he said.
In the new stakeholder satisfaction report section of the inspection a small number of parents in both his schools raised concerns over discipline.
But Mr Thomas denied there were problems. "It's unfortunate that some parents go after less important trivial details and overlook more important things like quality of education," he said.
- Inspection guidance from Estyn's chief inspector Ann Keane: http:www.estyn.gov.ukInspectionGuidance_2010.asp