'Now listen here. I'm going to get you inspected'

18th March 2011 at 00:00
Under new rules, parents' complaints could trigger Ofsted visit

Parents could soon be able to trigger an Ofsted inspection by criticising their child's school on the inspectorate's website.

As part of its new inspection framework, the watchdog is considering the introduction of a section on its portal where parents can lodge concerns about a school's performance.

Ahead of Monday's launch of the consultation on the framework, chief inspector Christine Gilbert told The TES that Ofsted was developing the online area, which would allow parents to rate their child's school at any time.

"If it looks as though parents are concerned about the school, we will carry out a risk assessment to see if an inspection is needed," she said.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "We want to find ways of enabling parents to express their satisfaction with a school's provision, and therefore provide information that will contribute to Ofsted's procedures for deciding when a school should be inspected.

"We are exploring the possibility of hosting a web-based survey on the Ofsted website, which we hope could generate high rates of response."

Local authorities and even school governors with concerns about a school's performance would also be able to request an inspection.

Ofsted stopped inspecting outstanding schools in September, with the Government insisting there should be a "proportionate" focus on weaker schools.

Under the new framework, outstanding or good schools which want to confirm their "high or improving performance" would be able to request an inspection.

"Some good schools might not be coming up for inspection but might think they are now outstanding. We might ask them to pay," Ms Gilbert said.

The spokeswoman said it would be "reasonable" to charge for any inspections outside its planned schedule.

The new framework, due to be introduced in January, will see inspections focus on four key areas - pupil achievement, quality of teaching, leadership and management, and the behaviour and safety of pupils - in place of the 27 categories which schools are currently assessed on.

But Ms Gilbert, whose contract comes to an end in October, insisted the other criteria currently in use, such as students' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, would still be evaluated.

"That will be woven through the four priority areas," she said. "That will be really clearly woven through (the framework) and taken into consideration when we make a judgment on overall effectiveness."

She also refused to rule out assessing schools on the English Baccalaureate, the Government's new benchmark requiring good GCSE or IGCSE passes in English language, maths, two sciences, a foreign language and history or geography, but said this would not be implemented for "a couple of years".

"It's too early to have national statistics on the EBac," she said, adding that it had caused a "great deal of anxiety" among teachers.

Inspectors are aware that the changes will cause a "great deal of anxiety" for schools, she insisted, adding: "We have to be ready for that; the tales that will go round."

Ms Gilbert also expressed her concerns about outstanding schools no longer being routinely inspected, conceding that raw data analysis "doesn't give the complete picture".

"I wouldn't say it was 100 per cent by any means," she said. "Inspection is a stronger way of really seeing what is going on in the school."

CONSULTATION - Reform schedule

The consultation on Ofsted's new inspection framework will run for two months - as the watchdog aims to get the document finalised by September.

This would then give schools three months to familiarise themselves with the criteria before the framework's expected formal adoption in January 2012, pending the new Education Bill becoming law.

The first pilots of the framework will start at the end of March, with volunteer schools.

The new framework would not have any impact on their inspection judgments. Formal pilots will be carried out during May and June.

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