New inspectors target those schools 'at risk'

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UP TO 200 schools known to be a 'cause for concern' will be targeted among the first tranche for inspection under the newly privatised system, the chief inspector of schools announced yesterday.

Stewart Sutherland confirmed that the new government department, replacing Her Majesty's Inspectorate, will draw on former HMI records on schools inspectors believe are delivering sub- standard education.

Andrea Millett, director for inspection, and Professor Sutherland's deputy, said 'between 100 and 200' schools, primary and secondary, had been identified as giving 'cause for concern' by HMI. Prof Sutherland added: 'If we have reason to believe that a school is at risk then it would be irresponsible not to inspect that school as early as we can.'

The new department is called the Office for Standards in Education, Ofsted - a title that reflects the consumer watchdogs for privatised utilities such as Ofgas and Oftel.

The identification of 'at risk' schools looks likely to be the most controversial role of its inspection teams. Under the education White Paper, published in July, such schools will be required to improve within a short time, be shut down, or be taken over by an education association appointed by the Secretary of State.

Schools will now have to be inspected at least once every four years, on a rolling programme, by registered inspectors, trained and selected by Ofsted. Once registered, inspectors will compete for contracts to check schools.

So far those applying to the authority include more than 2,500 to be registered inspectors, 1,500 to be members of inspection teams, and 600 to be 'lay' inspectors.

Each inspection team will include a 'lay' member. Almost all applicants so far are middle-class professional people, such as consultants, bank managers, directors, accountants, civil servants, and senior police and armed forces officers. They will probably be paid close to market consultancy rates - about pounds 500 a day.

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