Union presses for reforms in the wake of Woodhead

15th December 2000 at 00:00
The National Union of Teachers wants changes in the way inspections are carried out - including the use of area teams of 'critical friends' rather than inspectors working under contract. Jon Slater reports

Chris Woodhead may have only been gone a few days but the National Union of Teachers is wasting no time in pushing for reform of the Office for Standards in Education inspection system.

Despite the protestations of ministers that the system will continue as before, the union hopes that Mike Tomlinson, the new chief inspector, will be more sympathetic to teachers than his predecessor.

The union sets out the case for change in a new report, Evaluation, inspection and support - a system that works. It says: "It is not the Ofsted inspection framework itself which is at fault but the method of its application."

The greatest flaw is that the approach is "based entirely on securing accountability accompanied by punitive measures for those schools which have been found to fail".

The report says: "Ofsted has contributed to a culture of compliance under which schools and teachers prepare for evaluation out of fear rather than commitment and enthusiasm."

The NUT is particularly concerned by the grading of teachers by individual inspectors. It describes lessons observed during an inspection as "atypical" and "a classic case of observation modifying what is being observed".

The report also attacks the effect on schools of being put in special measures. Instead, schools should be designated as "needing additional support", it says. And it attacks the number of "overlapping" evaluation mechanisms - including LEA performance monitoring, local authority inspections and teacher appraisal, as well as visits from Ofsted. "Much of the pound;150 million invested by Government annually in Ofsted may e wasted money which could be better spent by schools," the report says.

It argues that the current heavy reliance on external inspection should be replaced by more self-evaluation by schools. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Scotland are cited as examples of countries where there is an "appropriate balance between internal and external evaluation". The report also cites the Scottish chief inspector on the benefits of self-evaluation:

"Unless schools know themselves, they cannot benefit from inspection."

The union says that external inspection should be used only to "assess the self-evaluation procedures developed and used by the schools themselves." And that inspectors should "take account of the circumstances of and special factors affecting each school".

It also calls for the current system of contracted inspections to be abolished and replaced by area teams of inspectors, employed by Ofsted, who would cover one large education authority or a cluster of smaller LEAs.

These inspectors who would be drawn from both education authorities and schools would be expected to advise schools as "critical friends". Any schools who felt that inspectors were being unfairly critical would have the chance of complaining to a "genuinely independent" adjudicator.

Checks on the power of the chief inspector are also proposed. The NUT argues that he should have to follow a personal code of conduct and be prevented from offering views which are not supported by inspection evidence. He should also be made formally accountable to MPs on the education and employment select committee.

However, if Mr Tomlinson goes even halfway towards meeting the NUT's demands he can expect to come under attack from his predecessor. No such rules apply at the Daily Telegraph, Mr Woodhead's new berth.

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