Leading article: Yes to more inspections

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The Independent Online

Ofsted's proposal to inspect schools more frequently, and to give them only 48 hours' notice, is perfectly sensible.

Ofsted's proposal to inspect schools more frequently, and to give them only 48 hours' notice, is perfectly sensible. Under current procedures, schools are inspected every six years, which means that inspection reports can be out of date and not very useful to parents. Inspecting schools every three years would be an improvement. At the moment, schools have weeks to prepare for an inspector's visit. Head teachers and their staff work themselves up into a tremendous state, calling in the decorators, getting children to produce extra work, writing new policies, and even making sure that awkward pupils are absent on the appointed day. Some of these tricks are likely to continue, but it will be more difficult for schools to put on a good show if they are given only a couple of days' notice. Yes, they will still run around in a blind panic for those two days, but surely, two days of frenzied preparation is preferable to weeks of frenetic activity. We, the taxpayers, need to know that schools are doing a decent job. We need to know when schools are failing, and we are more likely to get the truth if schools have less rather than more time to prepare for inspections.

Not surprisingly, some teachers' unions have responded negatively, claiming that the new-style inspections will put more pressure on teachers. Jumpy heads and local education authorities will demand that schools remain in an endless state of inspection readiness, says the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The reform is, however, intended to make the inspection process less burdensome for teachers, who will no longer have to complete the same degree of meaningless paperwork as they do at present. According to David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools, teachers spend hundreds of hours in wasted preparation, equivalent to a full working year for more than 1,000 teachers, nationally.

Under his proposed system, reports will not only be more frequent, they will also have a lighter touch. Instead of big teams of inspectors settling into a school for 10 weeks, and examining every word of the curriculum, there will be small teams concentrating on core areas such as English and maths. They would produce six pages of bullet points within three days. Parents would be able to see these two weeks later. That is preferable to producing a massive tome that mostly remains unread. Parents are busy people - they want concise judgements and regular accountability.