Woodhead to try the 'gentle touch'

28th January 2000 at 00:00
George Low explains how the revised OFSTED regime will affect schools.

A new twin-track inspection regime for primary schools which has just come into force will give more weight to parents' views of teachers while making inspections less stressful for the staff.

Starting this term there are two types of OFSTED inspection. Every school will be inspected at least once over the next six years, but schools which have a track record of sustained improvement or high standards and a favourableOFSTED report last time round will get the "light-touch" treatment. Only the basics will be inspected and the other aspects of the school will be checked to see if lessons of good practice can be learned. But primary schools where standards decline, or compare less favourably with similar schools elsewhere, may get the "heavy" treatment.

A short inspection may only take a day with two inspectors but a full inspection is likely to take a week with a full OFSTED team. If a school has serious weaknesses it will get the heavy treatment plus a going-over from the "hard people" at the OFSTED School Improvement Division and a visit from the elite corps of HMI. If a school is put on special measures for persistent under-achievement, then inspections will follow thick and fast.

As for teachers, OFSTED has published a new code of conduct for inspectors aimed at reducing stress before, during and after the lesson: they will be observed teaching for at least 30 minutes butnever for a whole day and only rarely for more than half a day. OFSTED inspectors also promise:

* To be courteous and friendly at all times;

* To cut down the paperwork to a minimum;

* To use confidential information responsibly;

* To give feedback to teachers on their work;

* To explain why they have given good or bad grades and where teachers could do better.

In its new handbook for inspecting primary schools, OFSTED recognises that classroom assistants are playing an increasing role in raising standards of literacy and numeracy. But OFSTED promises that these assistants will not be inspectd, although their contribution will be noted by the inspectors. They are also aware that in mixed-age groups there may be a big difference between the performance of the older and younger children. So the inspectors have been told to judge only the work of the oldest pupils. They have also been told to watch to see if teachers stretch the most able children and give extra help to those with special needs. Inspectors must also ensure that boys and girls and pupils from different ethnic backgrounds are all treated equally and not left behind the others.

Parents will be told they can talk directly to the inspectors about what they think of their children's school and about the quality of teaching. They can do this at a parents' meeting, as before, or by an appointment with the registered inspector at the school. Their views will be sought in a questionnaire, which the inspectors will compare with their own judgments, when they report their findings to the school. Inspectors are told to talk to parent helpers and the parents coming into school to pick up their children, and to look out for tales of bullying, rough behaviour and bad language. OFSTED is publishing a guide for parents on the new system, which has a special section on schools partnership with parents' for inspectors to use on their visitations.

Although the new inspection framework came into force this month, OFSTED warns that further guidance will soon follow on teacher appraisal and promotion. It is clear that the grades teachers receive for their pupils' work from the inspectors - and possibly also the way parents value or complain about standards - will be taken into account in promoting teachers to the new advanced skills teacher post or even to deputy headship.

Copies of Inspecting Schools - The Framework have been sent direct to all schools and LEAs and is published on the OFSTED website. The Handbook for Inspecting Primary and Nursery Schools is available from the Stationery Office, price pound;15 (Tel: 0870 600 5522). Both documents have checklists for school self-evaluation and improvement.

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