Ofsted inspections face shake-up

This Is Lancashire: Routine detailed inspections would be axed in favour of shorter visits for "good" schools Routine detailed inspections would be axed in favour of shorter visits for "good" schools

Full routine inspections of the majority of England's schools are to be ditched in a major overhaul of the system, the head of Ofsted has announced.

Under the plans, around three fifths (60%) of schools - those rated as "good" - will get short visits from one inspector every two to three years.

Full inspections will only be triggered if there are indications that standards at a school have dropped or risen dramatically, Sir Michael said.

The move comes amid growing concerns from headteachers and other groups about the current state of the inspections system and the quality of some inspectors.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has warned that the current system is expensive, unnecessary and "not very smart", while a report published by a think tank earlier this week called for the introduction of a new two-stage inspection process.

Unveiling Ofsted's proposals at ASCL annual conference in Birmingham, Sir Michael said that schools rated "good" should get "light-touch" visits every two to three years by an inspector, or a serving school leader working as an associate inspector.

The findings of the visit would be shared with parents.

"At the moment, it can be five years or even more between inspections for a good school," Sir Michael said.

"This is too long. It's too long for parents. It's too long between inspections to spot decline, and it's too long for improving schools to show that they are outstanding.

"Far better for an inspector to visit the school for a day than for a full team to descend on the school more infrequently, and then giving, more likely than not, the same judgment as the previous inspection."

Even if inspectors do find problems in a school, a full visit may not be triggered if the school's leaders are dealing with the issues properly, Sir Michael said.

The changes will be developed over the next 18 months, he revealed, adding that the watchdog is also set to conduct a major review of "outsourced inspections".

Under the current system, a number of private firms employ inspectors who conduct inspections for Ofsted.

But concerns have been raised about this process and Sir Michael said that school inspection is too important for Ofsted to just oversee these arrangements.

The fifth of schools that are rated as outstanding are already exempt from routine inspections, and they will face a similar inspection system to good schools in the future, it was suggested.

Earlier today ASCL published a new paper calling for the current inspection system to be scrapped in favour of short visits every two to three years by a single experienced inspector.

It also called for all inspectors to be serving or recently retired school leaders who work directly for Ofsted.

The paper suggests that there should be a standardised schools ''health check'', supported by a one-day visit from an inspector.

This check would look at whether a school was successful, if it was improving, if there were areas for improvement which the school could deal with, or whether a full inspection was needed to come up with an action plan for improvement.

ASCL president Ian Bauckham, said: ''We need to move away from routine, detailed inspection of successful schools. This is expensive and unnecessary and not very smart. We can find out a lot about schools without it. These could be replaced with a short school visit by a single inspector every two or three years. When problems are identified, a check of the school's own approach carried out primarily with the school's leadership, should be the first response.''

Mr Bauckham, who is also head of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Kent, added: ''Only as a last step, and hopefully increasingly rarely, should forensic, 'under the skin' inspection be needed. And when it is, it should be undertaken by a slimmer inspection workforce largely consisting of other appropriately trained school leaders.''

The proposals come just days after a major report by right-wing think tank Policy Exchange called for short one-day checks to be made on schools every two years, with detailed ''tailored'' inspections for those that are not up to scratch.

In his speech, Sir Michael said that Ofsted expects to be challenged over its work, but insisted that sometimes these attacks are "unwarranted and over the top".

He told delegates that he was particularly incensed when it was suggested recently that the inspectorate was full of "trendy, hippie-style inspectors".

"Ofsted expects challenge but sometimes the attacks are unwarranted and over the top," he said.

"When it was suggested, for example, that Ofsted was 'mired in 60s, progressive child-centred learning' - in other words full of trendy, hippie-style inspectors, I reacted, as you may have seen with a certain degree of fury. As my daughter said 'it's the first time, Dad, that you've ever been called progressive!' .

"Remember, I'm old enough to have started teaching in the 60s, and I was a head in the 80s - so I'm much older than most of you here. I remember how low standards were in those dreadful decades, and how generations of young people were systematically failed. It was the coming of Ofsted and other accountability measures in the 90s that started to change things for the better."

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