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Hot Topics Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 13:53 GMT
Under scrutiny
School inspections in England are carried out by the Office for Standards in Education - Ofsted - the government agency responsible for checking the quality of teaching and learning in state schools.

Established as an independent, non-ministerial department in 1992, it is headed by the Chief Inspector of Schools, currently David Bell.

What inspectors consider
Educational standards
Quality of teaching
Financial management
Spiritual, moral and cultural development
Under a revised set of guidelines, introduced in January 2000, schools can expect to be inspected at least once every six years - but more frequently if there are found to be weaknesses.

The principle under which Ofsted now operates is intervention in proportion to need - which means that successful schools will be inspected less frequently and will have shorter "light-touch" inspections.

And whether inspectors find schools to be successful or unsuccessful, they must publish the results - which are available from Ofsted's website.

The inspection teams are made up of between three and eight specially-trained inspectors - led by a 'registered inspector' and including one lay member without a professional experience of teaching or running a school.

There are two types of inspection - a 'short' inspection for schools which have already shown themselves to be successful and a 'full' inspection for all other schools and all pupil referral units.

Inspections consider:

  • Educational standards achieved in the school
  • Quality of education provided by the school
  • Efficiency of financial management
  • Spiritual, moral and cultural development in the school


If the inspectors find that the school is ''failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education'' it can be placed on "special measures", under which it is expected to produce an improvement plan and undergo further re-inspections until the school is deemed to have reached an adequate level.

Schools which are not failing, but which have "serious weaknesses", can also be required to be monitored while they implement changes.

Where schools are not found to improve, the local education authority (or the Department for Education) can appoint new governors and place the school under new management. Where there is no expectation of progress, schools can be closed.

This can be followed by the re-opening of a 'new' school on the site of a failing school - under a scheme known as "fresh start".

Local authorities

As well as inspecting individual schools, inspectors also check on the quality of services delivered by local education authorities.

After a series of highly-critical inspection reports on local authorities in 1999 and 2000, there were a number of interventions by central government, leading to the privatisation of council education services.

Up to March 2000, Sandwell, Leeds, Rotherham and Sheffield education authorities had all been criticised by inspectors - with Leeds facing the prospect of privatisation of its services.

Private contractors have also been appointed to run two education services in the London borough of Hackney and almost all of Islington's education services.

Consultants have also been sent in to draw up privatisation proposals in Liverpool, Haringey, Walsall, Leicester and Bristol.

See also:

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