Nearly all state schools will escape the present full inspection regime under plans unveiled yesterday for a shake-up of Ofsted, the government's education standards watchdog.
A consultation document says almost all primary schools could have a "short inspection" in future, concentrating on the core curriculum of maths, English and science. The number of short inspections in secondary schools would also be increased with inspectors again looking at core subjects, plus any strengths and weaknesses shown up in test and exam results or past inspections.
Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector of schools for England, said: "Very few schools will have the equivalent of the present full inspection."
Ofsted estimated that the amount of time taken up by inspections could be reduced to two or three days for smaller primary schools, and 14 days for the larger secondary schools. At present, a full primary school inspection can take up to a week while secondary school inspections can last up to 50days in extreme cases.
In addition, schools could identify one aspect that they wanted inspectors to study. "It could be they have been criticised in the past for not doing enough for gifted and talented pupils," Mr Tomlinson said. "They may have started a programme and want an outside look at how it is developing."
The watchdog proposes three different models for the future of inspections: keeping the present system of a mixture of short and longer inspections, with more of the former over time; a three-tier system of short, extended and full visits; or a more flexible system tailored to the needs of individual schools.
Mr Tomlinson said he favoured the third model, adding that the burden on teachers would be reduced, whichever inspection regime was adopted. The new system is scheduled to come into operation in September 2003.
Teachers' leaders welcomed the planned reduction in bureaucracy and the time taken for inspections. However, they opposed plans also outlined in the document to give pupils a say in their schools' inspection and give parents the opportunity to call for inspections if they were dissatisfied with their children's schooling.
Mr Tomlinson said of the plans: "I wish to retain the rigour and objectivity of external inspections. However, with the amount of information we have built up, inspections can be much more sharply focused and reduced in content in a way which will increase the rigour."
He defended plans to ask pupils for their views on their school, saying: "The questionnaires will not be asking for views on individual teachers. It is not an opportunity for children to get their own back on teachers. Questionnaires are used already in college inspections and in schools where pupils are 16 or over.
"What I don't want it to be is an attempt to offer pupils the chance to criticise individual teachers or bring forward a particular vendetta or other."
Mr Tomlinson said pupils could be asked how well they had settled in when they first started school to find out whether there was any bullying. They could also be asked if the school was meeting their aspirations.
On involving parents, he said: "I'm not offering parents or governors the opportunity of inspection on demand. There would have to be a sufficient number of parents proposing an inspection."
Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The inclusion of the views of pupils will make teachers vulnerable to the malicious minority. We have already seen the damage false accusations by one pupil can have, as in the case of Marjorie Evans [the headteacher in south Wales cleared of assaulting a pupil after a lengthy court campaign].
"This proposal could offer a direct means for pupils to make malicious accusations against teachers," he said.
Headteachers' leaders were more enthusiastic about the proposed changes, especially abolishing the practice of passing on teachers' grades to staff and headteachers.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "These proposals will help bring a degree of sanity into school inspections but without any loss of rigour."
Ofsted will be consulting on the proposals during the next two months before finalising its new model for school inspections in the new year. The watchdog has asked the polling company Mori to analyse all the responses to the consultation document.
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