Ofsted proposes 'shorter, more frequent' school inspections

School inspections could be shorter, more frequent and carried out with little notification, according to proposals outlined by the schools' standards watchdog today.

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) launched a consultation document today, called 'The Future of Inspection', which it has described as "the most far-reaching review of school inspection in its history". The agency said that the plans were designed to concentrate inspections primarily on helping schools improve, while reducing the burden of inspection.

Under the proposed new framework schools would be inspected at least every three years, but the inspections themselves could be much shorter, and the notification period ahead of inspection would be cut to the shortest possible period. Increasing the frequency of inspection means that parents will benefit from more up-to-date information about the quality of education received by their child, Ofsted said.

By reducing notification periods, Ofsted hopes to free up teachers who would be otherwise engaged in preparing for inspection. Some secondary schools had told the agency that they spend several hundreds of teacher days preparing for inspection. Even if this was unusual, the elimination of unnecessary preparation for inspection, on an annual basis, could free up time equivalent to at least 1,000 teachers nationwide, Ofsted said.

The proposals would require legislation which, if introduced in the 2004/05 Parliamentary session, could see the new arrangements come into effect as early as September 2005.

Launching today's consultation, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, said: "Over the past 10 years, inspection has informed parents, helped schools to improve and influenced national policy. In addition, the independence of Ofsted has ensured that we speak as we find. That continues to be the case today and will be in the future.

"Our inspection frameworks have helped schools to become better at evaluating their own performance. I want to build on that, so that inspection takes account of the professionalism of teachers, becoming a more natural part of the normal business of schools. But this doesn't mean a cosy relationship. By cutting the notification period for inspection to the shortest period possible Ofsted will be able to present a warts-and-all picture of schools as we find them, not how schools would wish to be found."

The consultation paper also considered the implications for Ofsted's inspection of childcare, children's services and other aspects of education, and presented the case for "a more unified approach" to inspection of services for the 0-19 age-group.

Ofsted has called for interested parties to make their comments known before the consultation's conclusion on Thursday April 8 2004.


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