UK school inspection system needs 'root and branch' overhaul, insists chief inspector


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The Independent Online

A radical overhaul of the way Ofsted operates could see an end to privatised school inspections, it emerged today.

Chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said he wanted to see a "root and branch" review of the system under which the majority of inspections are handed out to one of three private companies.

He told the Association of School and College Leaders' annual conference in Birmingham that school inspections were "too important" to be "simply" handed over to a third party to carry out.

His move followed criticism of inspection standards in a report by the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange earlier this week, in which it was said that inspectors might just as well "flip a coin" as rely on their judgements of lesson observations of teachers.

The report revealed the vast majority of inspectors were employed by one of the three companies - whereas only 300 were retained as HMIs [Her Majesty's inspectors] employed by Ofsted.

Sir Michael, rejected this criticism of standards, insisting that 91 per cent of schools had been satisfied with inspection standards, and confirming that he would be employing more HMIs centrally - mostly recruited from the ranks of those who had been serving recently as heads and teachers. He pleaded with his audience to come forward as volunteers to act as part-time inspectors whilst they were still serving on the job.

Sir Michael, whose proposed reforms were welcomed both by Education Secretary Michael Gove and headteachers' leaders present at the conference, also proposed a lighter inspection regime for those schools already labelled "good" or "outstanding".

In future, they would be inspected for one day every two or three years instead of facing a full, week-long inspection every five years. Only if there were evidence of "steep decline" or "rapid improvement" would they then face a longer inspection which could either fail them or lift good schools to outstanding.

Sir Michael told the conference that the current five-year period was "too long between inspections to spot decline [and] too long for improving schools to show they are outstanding".

The new system would free up inspectors to spend more time on those schools who were performing poorly.

Leaders of ASCL said the proposed reforms, which are expected to come into force in September 2015, were in line with suggestions they had made in a pamphlet about improving Ofsted and that they welcomed the increased flexibility they would bring to the system.