Inspectors to crack down on 'weak' schools

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The Independent Online
FOne school in 10 will be labelled as "weak" under plans for changes to the inspection system published yesterday. Although healthy schools may only receive a visit once every six years, others will be seen by inspectors every term until they show an improvement.

In addition to the 2 per cent of schools labelled "failing" under the current system, inspectors will be asked to identify those with serious weaknesses so that they can be targeted for action. These are expected to make up another 8 per cent of the country's 24,000 schools.

In future the inspectors will concentrate on the quality of English, maths and science in primary schools and on those subjects plus another four, yet to be finalised, in secondary schools.

The aim of the changes is to bring more flexibility to the inspection process, which currently works on a four-year cycle, and to take pressure off the inspection body, Ofsted, which is struggling to keep up with the cycle of primary inspections, due to be completed by 1998.

Yesterday the Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, announced a consultation on the plans, which would come into effect for secondary schools next year and for primary schools the following year.

Schools which fail inspections are already subjected to special measures which include frequent visits by inspectors and the preparation of an action plan which must be approved by the Secretary of State for Education. If a school continues to fail, an education association can be sent in to take over and either improve standards or close the school.

In future, a larger number of schools with weaknesses will be subject to extra scrutiny. These weaknesses could include: low standards of teaching in four or more subjects or in more than a quarter of lessons; poor pupil behaviour; ineffective management; poor value for money; low attendance; or a high number of exclusions.

Schools which are not subjected to extra visits after their initial inspection may receive them later if their exam and test results or attendance levels fall, if exclusions rise or even if the head teacher changes.

Ofsted has yet to decide how to choose the four subjects which will be inspected in secondary schools in addition to maths, English and science, though one option is to allow schools to have a say in the choice. The subjects will probably vary from one school to another, and could be based on exam results or earlier inspection findings.

Commenting on the plans to name more weak schools, Mr Woodhead said the aim was to help rather than to vilify. "Whatever the impact on the staff or the community, we must find out what is going on," he said.

Labour's education spokesman, David Blunkett, condemned the changes. "This is a major admission of failure by ministers and Ofsted," he said. "The fact is that Ofsted missed its target for primary schools by a quarter in 1994-95 and has not recovered since. That is the main reason for this change."