Soft-touch style but tough on standards

14th September 2001 at 01:00
Proposals to restructure school inspections prove to be less radical than some teachers had hoped. Sue Learner reports

Most schools will escape the present full inspection and teachers will cease to be graded under plans for a new, less heavy-handed Office for Standards in Education regime, announced this week.

Almost all primaries will have short inspections concentrating on English, maths and science. The time taken will be cut to between two and three days for smaller primaries and to 14 for larger secondaries. At present, a full primary inspection may take up to a week and a full secondary one up to 50 days.

But OFSTED's proposals are less radical than many teachers had hoped. Options which included giving schools more self-evaluation and having a teacher on the inspection team from the school under assessment were considered but rejected.

Teachers' unions were concerned by plans to give parents and pupils a bigger say in inspections. The new system, which is likely to be introduced from 2003, will give groups of parents the right to demand an early inspection if they are worried about standards.

Pupils, who are already asked their views during inspections, will be given the chance to complete questionnaires about issues such as homework, bullying or how they are settling in.

Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector of schools, promised that pupils would not be allowed to get their own back on individual teachers but teacher unions argued their members would be at the mercy of a "malicious minority" of young people.

Mr Tomlinson said: "The questionnaire will not be asking for views on individual teachers. What I don't want it to be and will resist it being is a chance for pupils to criticise individual teachers or bring forward particular vendettas."

Many schools, he added, already used questionnaires and school councils to get feedback from pupils.

He also pointed out that parents were not being offered "inspection on demand" as there would have to be a sufficient number of parents proposing an inspection.

The document outlines three different models for future inspection: the present system of a mixture of short and long inspections with a growing number of the former, a mixture of short, extended and long visits or more flexible arrangements tailored to schools' needs. Schools will be able to nominate an area of their work for inspection.

Mr Tomlinson said he favoured the flexible model: "I want an inspection system to be something we do with schools rather than to schools. I fully believe the inspection process is one that should be done with the school playing an active part rather than being a passive recipient."

However, he added: "I am quite convinced that none of the proposals will affect the rigour and objectivity of inspections. I want an inspection system which is credible to teachers and parents."

Though teachers will no longer be ranked on a seven-point scale, inspectors will still discuss with individual teachers and heads the strengths and weaknesses of the teaching they have observed. The grading system has already been dropped for short inspections because not all teachers were observed in the classroom.

The report suggests a pilot questionnaire for secondary and special school pupils aged from 11 to 16 which will be monitored.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"The inclusion of the views of teachers will make teachers vulnerable to the malicious minority. We have seen the damage that false accusations by one pupil can have in the case of Marjorie Evans."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed the involvement of the entire school community in inspections "provided it involves a totally open process".

OFSTED will consult on the Improving Inspection, Improving Schools report over the next two months and will finalise the future inspection model in the new year.


* Short inspection for all primary schools

* An end to grading individual teachers

* Questionnaires to find out pupils' views on their school

* Schools to select one area for inspection

* More flexible inspection models reflecting different circumstances in

each school to focus on strengths and weaknesses emerging from exam results

* Better dialogue with parents and regular, detailed reports for parents

* A post-inspection meeting between parents and the headteacher and the governing body

* New arrangements for the inspection of special schools

* More serving heads and teachers on inspection teams

* Improved feedback to individual teachers

* A more diverse pool of lay inspectors

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