Parents get bigger role at school inspections

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The Independent Online
PARENTS are to be given a greater role in school inspections as part of a major shake-up of the system. Officials at Ofsted, the privatised inspection body, plan to produce new, parent-friendly reports and are considering demands for a parents' m eeting at the end of every visit.

The moves are among changes aimed at improving the school inspection process and slimming it down. In future, reports on primary schools will concentrate more heavily on the "three Rs" and will not always deal with subjects such as history and geography.

A group of parents met the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, last week to discuss the changes. Other topics covered included the possibility that parents' questionnaires sent out by inspectors should bear a note saying that they could be filledin anonymously. Some parents had feared that if they made negative comments the schools might find out.

The reforms are to be announced next month after a period of turmoil for the newly privatised inspection system. One third of the primary school inspections planned for autumn 1994 and spring 1995 had to be cancelled because not enough inspectors were available to carry them out.

In addition to practical difficulties, both schools and parents have complained that the system is unworkable. Designed to cover every school within four years, it was accepted by most secondary schools when launched in 1993, but primaries complained that it was unwieldy when they came on stream a year later.

Parents complained that the language used by inspectors was incomprehensible, even in summaries of reports which are meant for lay people. Head teachers had similar complaints about the inspection handbook which they had to use. They also said the summaries were too short and did not reflect the findings of the full reports. In addition, schools objected to the huge amount of paperwork which they had to produce before visits.

Last week parents were shown a draft of a "parent-friendly" inspection report summary which will be sent to all inspectors to show them how to make their language more direct. It asks inspectors to use "a warmer, easier style" and to "seek to capture thespirit of the school".

For example, it says that instead of saying that a school has the equivalent of 45.2 teachers and a pupil-teacher ratio of 15.5 to one, inspectors should say there are 50 teachers, eight of whom are part-time, and that there are 22 pupils in each class.

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, set up last week's meeting. She said she was very pleased with the result.

"The parents actually felt they were being listened to and it wasn't just an exercise so that Ofsted could say they had talked to 16 parents. I feel very optimistic," she said.

A spokesman for Ofsted said inspectors were to be sent the interim guidance in advance of a year-long consultation on the future shape of inspections, due to be launched next month. It would help to lift the pressures both on them and on schools.

"While we are doing that we are going to improve things like the parents' summary, which everybody felt wasn't always a fair or a true report and was still too full of jargon," he said.

"We are also looking to make significant changes to the framework for inspections, and not just for primary schools. There is a general wish to make the whole inspection process tighter, neater, lighter and better."