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Will heads be able to inspect themselves?

The management culture of schools must change radically if a new inspection regime is to succeed, inspectors have told the Government.

Trials of streamlined inspections, where self-assessment plays a much bigger role, show that some schools are failing to provide the quality of self-evaluation needed. The new regime is due to be introduced in September Inspectors told a private meeting at the Department for Education and Skills that the quality of self-evaluation by schools in 15 local authorities piloting the framework had been mixed.

Schools with traditional "top-down" management structures were ill-equipped for the new regime, a meeting chaired by David Hopkins, chief adviser to the Education Secretary on school standards, heard.

A source told The TES: "The HMI made clear that self-evaluation is a continuous process, not just a case of headteachers ticking boxes. It requires cultural change for schools which have a top-down style of leadership." He said officials had clearly expected a positive report and were "really rocked" by the inspectors' verdict.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, was at the meeting. He said he had been aware of the Office for Standards in Education's concerns. He admitted some schools were not ready for self-evaluation but expected them to be by September.

Inspection reform is central to the Government's "new relationship with schools" which aims to reduce bureaucracy and improve communication between schools, central government and local authorities.

As well as more self-assessment, the new system will cut the time between inspections to three years and the notice given to schools to just a few days. Draft self-evaluation forms published on the Ofsted website this week amount to 34 pages for primaries and 36 pages for secondaries. Schools will be expected to give details of the opinions of pupils and parents as well as staff about their performance and priorities for improvement.

Introduction of the framework depends on Parliamentary approval of the education Bill which is before the House of Lords.

Ofsted's warning comes as it prepares to introduce a helpline for schools that are unhappy with their inspections in an attempt to prevent problems undermining confidence in the new system.

Speaking during the committee stage, Lord Filkin, education minister, said schools concerned about inspection findings could telephone the helpline to discuss their worries with a professional who would be independent of the team inspecting them.

"Where necessary, it will be possible for an HMI managing inspector to visit the school... as part of the process of seeking early resolution," he said.

Draft self evaluation forms can be found at www.ofsted.gov.uk

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