Out with special measures

7th May 2004 at 01:00
The future framework for inspection will be as big a challenge for Ofsted as for schools. The short notice, HMI-led, two-day visits, once every three years, will require a change of mindset for inspectors as much as for heads and teachers.

More than ever, inspectors will need to be open, flexible and analytical.

Although many weak inspectors have been weeded out in recent years, there are still too many who are intransigent, inflexible and insensitive.

Nowhere will this be more important than in the relationship between inspection and school self-evaluation, which is given an added importance in the new framework.

The framework, introduced in September 2003, brought flexibility into inspections, which vary according to the results of the school's self-evaluation on form S4.

Most schools have found that this has been an improvement on the inflexible system that preceded it. Some inspectors, however, have focused almost exclusively on the areas of weakness identified on S4, with inevitably adverse effects on the final inspection judgment.

If the relationship between inspection and self-evaluation is right, we shall have moved in a relatively short time from the quality control system of the Chris Woodhead era, a model long rejected by British industry, to a quality assurance model, in which thorough self-evaluation is validated by light-touch inspection. To do this, we need better measures on which to judge school performance, and this data will need to be kept up to date by the school.

Schools working in a climate of open self-evaluation will have no fears from inspectors arriving at short notice, although 72 hours needs to be lengthened to a week or two for practical reasons.

The new inspection system provides the ideal opportunity to move away from the "special measures" and "serious weaknesses" labels and use a different nomenclature for those schools that do not satisfy the inspectors that their self-evaluation processes or outcomes are adequate.

It is good that the slimmer inspection teams will frequently be led by a full-time professional HMIs. All good schools already use self-evaluation extensively to analyse and improve their performance. Others must respond to the professional challenge and raise their game on self-evaluation.

Ofsted, too, must accept the challenge of adapting to a new way of working in which inspection is part of a quality assurance process owned by the school itself.

John Dunford is general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association

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