Will Ofsted shock us or trust us?

13th February 2004 at 00:00
It is time to trust schools more, and to draw on the professionalism of teachers," says David Bell, the chief inspector, in this week's consultation document on the future of inspection. So while the line fed to the press is about short sharp visits by highly-trained hit squads with a licence to kill, the profession is meant to pick up quite a different story.

That tale is of an inspectorate which respects the competence of school leaders and places high importance on self-evaluation. Mr Bell seems to want the Office for Standards in Education to become more of a critical friend, able to help schools manage their own improvement - an approach to be welcomed. It treats heads and teachers like grown-ups and allows them more scope for setting their own standards agenda.

But this will place tough new demands on both schools and inspectors. Are they actually grown up enough to cope with them? The General Teaching Council isn't sure. While there is much excellent practice in self-evaluation, "a considerable change in culture will be required", it suggests.

The same is true for inspectors. They will need to be more highly skilled than at present. Rather than ticking off checklists, they will have to judge not only whether a school's own evaluation is accurate, but whether it has got the right goals. Are they high enough? Are they focused on the children's real needs?

Many secondary inspections will be led by HMIs, who have the training and instincts for this sort of work, but there are not enough of them to inspect most primary schools. Mr Bell, a former primary head himself, must ensure that this sector, on which the foundations of children's learning is built, does not get a lesser service. Perhaps some of the pound;10 million the new system will save should be spent on further boosting the number of primary HMIs. This would bring more credibility and rigour - and trust - to the inspection system.

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