Schools 'unable to correct failings'

MOST schools may be unable to put right failings exposed by the new, privatised teams of inspectors, according to a report by the Government's inspection body, Ofsted.

Teams of inspectors will report on 6,000 schools a year by 1996, covering each school every four years at a cost of pounds 92m, but they will not be allowed to give advice on how staff might improve the quality of their teaching.

Ofsted's motto is 'Improvement through inspection,' but Improving Schools, published yesterday, admitted that the majority of schools have been poor at reforming.

The report has raised fears that rather than raising standards the inspection system could make things worse by cutting schools off from the local advisers who used to help them. Many former advisers now work as privatised inspectors.

In a list of common pitfalls, the report said that too little attention is often paid to whether a school's improvement plan actually raises standards in the classroom. Too much time can be spent talking about change and too little on action, it added.

A 'surfeit of questionnaires' to discover views in the school can produce misleading information, and the amounts of time and money needed are often ignored.

It highlighted schools that have improved; all have been supported by advice from academics.

Newall Green High School, a comprehensive in a deprived housing estate in Manchester, was sharply criticised by inspectors in 1991. One year later, the percentage of pupils gaining five or more A-C grades at GCSE had more than doubled from 6 per cent to 13 per cent after staff adopted a plan from the University of Cambridge. The school involved staff, parents and pupils more closely and set clear targets, the report said.

Barbara MacGilchrist, head of in- service training at the London Institute of Education and a former chief inspector of the Inner London Education Authority, said the report seemed to highlight failings in the new system.

'To think that just inspection alone will improve schools is a wrong assumption. Research shows that schools can't improve themselves without outside support,' she said.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, said that local authority advisers were too busy working on privatised inspections to help schools.

'It is a time-worn phrase, but you don't increase the weight of a pig by weighing it. We have these tests of what schools are doing every four years, but they are not linked to the advisory services, which have been decimated,' he said.

An Ofsted spokesman said the report was designed to show how schools could raise standards.

'As to the schools that aren't doing good planning at the moment, Ofsted can't control what happens in 25,000 schools. What we can do is to show examples of we have seen that schools are doing the right things,' he said.

Improving Schools; HMSO, PO Box 276, London SW8 5DT.

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