School watchdog wants to scrap marking of teachers

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The Independent Online

The system of grading teachers by their performance is likely to be scrapped under plans to reform inspections.

Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector at Ofsted, will announce proposals today to abandon the grading system that ranks every teacher whose lessons are observed by inspectors on a seven-point scale. In his report on inspections, which has been seen by The Independent, Mr Tomlinson says he wants to see "a constructive dialogue between inspectors and teachers" instead of the current "potentially unproductive debate about grading".

His decision will be seen as a snub to his predecessor, Chris Woodhead, who has expressed concern over whether the "integrity of inspection is going to be sacrificed on the altar of teachers' morale".

The plans were welcomed by teachers' and headteachers' leaders but condemned by the Tories as diluting inspection standards. Theresa May, the Tory education spokeswoman, said: "The value of Ofsted is in its independence and its rigour. As soon as this rigour starts to break down, you lose part of the point of Ofsted. To be rigorous, inspectors need to be making clear judgements about teaching quality."

Mr Tomlinson's proposals will replace the present system, under which teachers and headteachers are notified after the inspection of their grading on the seven-point scale. From January, inspectors will instead discuss the strengths and weaknesses of teaching they observe with teachers and headteachers.

Mr Tomlinson argues that headteachers already have enough information on the quality of their staff under the appraisal system introduced by the Government as part of its performance-related pay proposals for teachers. However, headteachers fear that some of Mr Tomlinson's other proposals, including a plan formally to consult pupils, parents and the private sector about a school undergoing inspection, could create "a kangaroo court" and a "charter for whingers", which could lead to false accusations.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We do not want this to become a charter for whingers with an axe to grind who want to use it as a way to get back at a school.

"We would oppose any attempt to create a kangaroo court where people can criticise schools without their accusations being tested.

"The school must be told what all these people have said and have the opportunity to respond. Any criticism worth making is worth making in public," he said.

Local business and private-sector sponsors who work with a school will also be consulted before an inspection to build up a better picture of its strengths and weaknesses, according to the Ofsted consultation paper. Local colleges, the local education authority, religious institutions or any other body working with a school will also be able to send its views directly to the inspector.

Parents and local business people, particularly those from ethnic minorities, will be invited to help inspect schools. Ofsted wants to refresh its pool of lay inspectors and limit their service to five years because it believes the current lay inspectors, recruited in 1994, are too entrenched in the system.

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