Headlines: June 16th, 2004

Head teachers have welcomed the general thrust of planned changes to school inspections outlined in a new document from Ofsted and the Department for Education and Skills, but they have highlighted two areas of concern. The report – “A New Relationship With Schools” follows consultations with schools and parents on a range of proposals.Key new features in the report include giving between two and five working days’ notice before an inspection to ensure reports give an unvarnished view of the school. In some cases, inspectors may turn up unannounced. It is also now proposed to use a clear four-point grading scale in reports, and simplifying the approach to schools causing concern. There will be a greater emphasis on schools evaluating their own performance with the focus of a school inspection being driven by the strengths and weaknesses identified by a school in its own evaluation form. Inspection reports will be published within three weeks and there will be inspection of curriculum areas through a rolling programme of subject-focused studies.

The National Association of Head Teachers says it supports the ideas in general but that two days notice of an inspection, or none at all in exceptional circumstances, is unacceptable. It might mean an inspection taking place without the head teacher being available. The NAHT accepts there is ‘a dire need’ to reduce the current notice period but says the Ofsted proposals smack of an attempt to catch schools unawares.

The Association also says the new proposals make it more necessary for Ofsted to change its complaints procedure, which has no real independent scrutiny. It says the sharper focus on schools should be accompanied by an equally sharp focus on Ofsted.