Leading article: Failings mask a greater success

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The Independent Online

The number of schools declared to be failing during the first term of the new short, sharp shock inspection regime more than doubled compared with the previous year. Paradoxically, this is good news for the education service. First, Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, is inspecting twice as many schools a term as under the previous regime. Second, inspectors have acknowledged that they have "raised the bar" and are now tougher in their judgements. In percentage terms, there were only 0.1 per cent more failures. Given the tougher regime, one might be forgiven for thinking the figure would be higher.

In its first analysis of the new figures, Ofsted said that it would be revisiting schools declared merely "satisfactory" to make sure they are pulling their socks up in areas that gave cause for concern. That generated a hostile reaction from teachers' leaders, who argue that satisfactory should mean satisfactory rather than unsatisfactory. We believe, however, that it makes sense to raise the barrier in the wake of improved standards in the service as a whole. We also think it is right to revisit schools which, although given the green light as a result of their satisfactory status, do need to tackle some areas where inspectors had misgivings.

On the whole, therefore, the new short, sharp shock regime - in which schools are given two days' notice of an impending visit - deserves a qualified thumbs-up after its first term of operation. It avoids teachers having to waste a lot of unnecessary time providing documents for the inspectors and means that there is a greater chance of inspectors being able to see a school "warts and all". If, with these innovations in force, the failure rate differs little in percentage terms from the previous regime, that is good news all round.

Where the teachers' organisations may have a point is in their warning that inspectors are relying more on performance data supplied to them, some of which is incorrect, because they now spend less time actually observing lessons or in the school. An inspection team making conclusions on the basis of incorrect data would not merit even a satisfactory rating. Ofsted would do well to point out any errors to the teams undertaking inspections and strike off repeat offenders if they are unable to collect correct data.

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