Inspections to be tougher for weak schools

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

A tougher regime of inspections for weak schools is called for in new plans delivered to ministers by the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead. Mr Woodhead has told Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, that good schools only need a visit every six years but that inspectors should be free to visit the weak ones as often as they choose.

The paper, completed last week, will form the basis for discussions between ministers and Ofsted, the school inspection body, on what should happen when the current four-year cycle of inspections ends.

By next year all 4,000 secondary schools will have been given full reports under the privatised programme introduced in 1993. By the following year, all 19,000 primaries should also have received a visit - although the scheme is currently behind schedule because of a shortage of inspection teams.

The move to relax the inspection programme for good schools and to tighten it for those with problems comes as Mr Woodhead delivers his annual report on the state of the nation's schools today. It follows the furore over Labour frontbencher Harriet Harman's choice of a grammar school for her son, which has intensified the political debate over parental choice of "good" and "bad" schools.

For the first time the report will be accompanied by a list of outstandingly successful secondary schools, based on their exam results, their inspection reports, their extra-curricular activities and the "added value" they give to pupils. Many of these schools will be selective, but there will also be lists of primary schools, included for the first time, and of good and improving secondary schools.

The report will highlight the need for teachers to concentrate on the basics of reading, writing and mathematics and will say that standards are still far too low in the second phase of primary education, between the ages of seven and eleven. Last year's report showed that 30 per cent of lessons at this stage were unsatisfactory, along with one in four infant classes. In secondary schools, almost one in five were unsatisfactory.

Mr Woodhead's submission to Mrs Shephard on the cycle of inspections follows an earlier suggestion that weak schools should be inspected every two years, but now Ofsted believes that there should be more flexibility.

Last night Labour's education spokesman, David Blunkett, said that Mr Woodhead had failed to recognise the contribution local authorities could make to inspections.

"The Government seems to be terribly confused about the future of inspection. This review has been undertaken because of the failure of Ofsted to meet its own targets for primary schools. It must be based on the needs of schools and not on the short-term difficulties of the Government and of Ofsted," he said.

Ted Wragg, Professor of Education at Exeter University, recently co-authored a report which said good schools should be thoroughly inspected every ten years, with a shorter visit after five. If they passed they should be given a licence to operate and if they failed they should be given six months to improve, it suggested.