Schools in England could face more frequent, "light-touch" inspections, says Ofsted chief David Bell.
This could lead to inspections every three years rather than the current six.
Mr Bell has claimed that "shorter, sharper" inspections would provide parents with more up-to-date information as well as saving schools up to 10 weeks of anxious preparation.
However there are concerns that teachers could feel under continuous scrutiny.
Will snap school inspections raise standards? Or will they increase pressure on both teachers and students?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
Every three years is not often at all. If schools are run well they should be worried of feel under scrutiny. I think school should be inspected without any prior warning each year. When I was at school and the inspectors were due in we were warned to behave and sit quietly. Lessons were also planned in advance of the inspections.
Lou, West Midlands
I'm a teacher and I would LOVE snap inspections. At the moment we get far too much warning. We are due to have the Inspectors in March and the management have spent tens of thousands of pounds on all sorts of trivial rubbish, to smarten the place up in the hope that they are going to be impressed with new carpets and plastic plants. Let the Inspectorate see what the place is REALLY like all the year round!
No! It will be further money wasted. New initiatives need to be put in place - not more inspections.
James, Dorset, UK
A much better idea than giving a school days to prepare - our school used to change everything when Ofsted came calling, we planned in advance making the whole thing stupid and pointless.
We are talking about the future of our children here. The teachers must come second in this and be prepared to take a little more stress if it keeps standards up. Don't teachers give their pupils snap tests from time to time?
Gary Gatter, London, UK
My wife is a teacher and it's clear that the main bugbear with inspections is the need to have reams of paperwork that normally never happen. She'll now have to waste hours on a regular basis preparing unnecessary papers on the off-chance that Mr Ofsted will drop in. It's not that the coursework is unstructured it's just that an experienced teacher knows where her pupils are at and what's needed without having to write it down all the time.
As a teacher I much favour the short notice inspections. With all the advance warning we get now, the inspected lessons become overprepared and unnatural and I personally consider myself a worse teacher when inspected than under normal circumstances. Teachers and students are put under far too much pressure under the current system and something has to be wrong with a system where parents of disruptive children are encouraged to keep their kids out of school during inspection week.
Whilst I understand the comments made that good teachers have nothing to fear, the converse is actually true. Good teachers often work on their own professional initiative and refuse to buckle to the ridiculous paperwork imposed by a centralised control. Ofsted have, for many years, been the shocktroops of the government, seeing that irrelevant targets are set and mountains of bureaucracy are filled in. Perniciously, Ofsted sees as successful those who subject themselves to centralised control. On this basis, good, independent and professional teachers are often classified as failing.
Chris, Yorks, UK
In all honesty, why are schools not up to inspection standards every day? Any respectable school will reach the inspective standard and maintain the level to present a better image for the school, leaving schools that do not meet the current standard to realistically seek a leadership restructure.
Peter Richards, Port Talbot, Wales
As a teacher I think this is an excellent idea as schools would present a far truer picture. It may be that all the paperwork would not be up to date, but if the children are being well taught, that surely, is more important. If inspectors see the amount of paperwork outstanding at school after school, and hear the same reasons given, there may even be an incentive to limit this largely pointless exercise. And if schools are in a poor state of repair, then it will be shown that more needs to be given in funding ....
I note with great sadness, the thoroughly negative stance and attitude that many of the comments in this section have towards teachers and schools.
I wish some parents and members of the public would accept that there are a great many teachers who work hard, work consistently and enjoy their job. A great many of us do a fantastic job and provide our pupils with superb levels of teaching and learning. For goodness sake - give us a break!!
Mark, Newcastle, UK
As a nursing home manager, I had to be prepared for unannounced inspections day or night from the local health authority. We had no notice at all of these inspections, and it meant standards had to be consistent. If teachers are such consummate professionals, and all of their spare time is used for lesson preparation and marking as they claim, then they will have nothing to fear from any inspection!
Alun Thomas, Swansea, Wales
I have one hours notice when our company's directors have been rumoured to be on their way. I have to maintain standards all the time - why should teachers not be - they do get well paid for it and despite the moaning they get more than me!
Tony Humphreys, Prestatyn, Wales
My college has just had its Ofsted inspection and a day before they came we had new chairs, interactive wipe boards, new licks of paint which was purely for the inspectors. The college also told a friend of mines son not to turn up to lessons during the week so that they could fiddle the books and the inspectors wouldn't know. I think snap inspections will benefit both pupils' and staff.
I believe that there should be no warnings of an inspection. It is what happens on a day-to-day basis in schools and colleges that is important, not what can be produced 'Royal Visit' style when an inspection is known to be happening. I work in education and I have seen how the picture can be falsified for the benefit of inspectors. If schools are working to a high standard they should have nothing to fear.
If snap inspections were to start tomorrow then there would be uproar as few schools would gain anywhere near the levels found at the moment.
The problem rarely lies with the school though. How can the average teacher be expected to provide the best possible education to their class when they are snowed under by mountains of pointless paperwork, are chronically under funded in many areas and have no effective means of stopping any troublemakers that they may have in their class.
I work at a school that has Ofsted in this week. Over the last few weeks as the teachers were preparing for the inspection it was clear that things were being improved purely for the inspectors, and therefore they are not seeing a true picture of how the school is - they're seeing an idealised "well, this is what we'd like to be like" version. I feel that spot checks would be far more effective - at least then Ofsted get a true picture!
J, London, UK
If teachers feel that these new inspections will increase pressure on them they are not doing their job properly. A school inspection is merely there to check that schools are adhering to preset standards, if schools are, they will have no problems. Yes it will raise standards as schools should maintain standards all the time rather than rushing to learn them in the weeks before an Ofsted visit.
Yes why not! Drive more teachers out of the classroom and into the doctor's waiting room! Let's hope that Mr Bell is prepared to deal with more teachers on the sick because of stress! The whole system is wrong to start with, don't make it worse.
Dan, Lancaster, UK
I think that the best way to do it would be surprise inspections whenever and wherever. If they are not scheduled and the schools are not prepared for it then it will give a much better indication as to how well the school is being run. Making them shorter isn't such a good idea. I don't think a shorter visit will be able to gather enough information to form a good report on how well the school is doing.
To Alison of Leeds, your friend is as you say under pressure to make things seem better than they really are! Does he honestly believe that will fool the inspectors (many of whom are former teachers themselves and probably also tried the same thing. As all schools would have published their examination results and the league tables are in the national and often local newspapers do not the inspectors know the true position!
A friend of mine is a teacher, whose school is being inspected this week. He's under pressure to make it appear that things are better than they are normally. Snap inspections would encourage schools to maintain a constant level of high standards, rather than just focussing it for a week every few years. I'm sure that teacher work very hard to do their best, but where there are problems these need to be highlighted, not covered up for the inspections.
Alison, Leeds, UK
There is a body of people that has been overlooked in this new proposal, that of the school governors. The impact of an Ofsted inspection is already stressful enough without the threat of inspections at any time. The amount of work governors will be required to do, at a time when the LEAs are already increasing the number of duties governors are expected to carry out would be considerable. After all we are only volunteers, and under the new Ofsted structure governors will also be more closely inspected. This means that the school may pass as outstanding, but if the governors fail one tick box, the school then fails.
Paul J-W, England, UK
I think there should be no notice at all for inspections, and the schools should not be able to prepare for one by expecting them every three years.
Ofsted would then quickly find out how much of the pointless form filling is quietly ignored by most teachers, and just how badly behaved pupils are.
Mark Blackman, London
It is difficult to see whether this will work until it has happened. It is a good idea to have inspections more often, shorter inspections may mean that they will see less. It will also be more effective if the schools cannot prepare too much for the inspections, as it means that the inspectors will not see the school as it normally is.
Snap inspections can only help get a more real picture of schools. Why should anyone believe the current system gives a real picture of teaching when the lessons taught are atypical? Snap inspections would also reduce stress on teacher's families who currently suffer in the long run up to inspections. More frequent inspections would also give a more up-to-date picture of schools; what use to me, as a parent, is a 1999 inspection report in 2004?
Simon Canfer, Swindon UK
I remember when the school inspectors came when I was in High School, they were not given a true picture at all, everywhere was freshly painted, paintings went up on the walls, there were flowers in tubs etc etc and everyone was threatened to be on their best behaviour.
Spot checks with no notice would give a real picture of how schools are not the 'rose tinted' view that the inspectors are given when schools are warned of a visit
Please do not immediately assume that all teachers are good teachers. My husband sometimes helps neighbours with their science homework and he actually shrieks in horror how they are being taught. He just wonders how these teachers get away with it? Inspections should be as often as possible to get rid of hopeless individuals teaching our children.
I have been through two OFSTED inspections as a teacher and I welcome this move. At the moment schools get weeks of notice and the 'preparations begin' - new materials are bought, flowers appear, pupils 'bribed' to behave. I have even seen the 'worst students' disappear on 'work experience' during OFSTED week! Let inspectors see schools as they are week in week out.
Mark J, England
There should be no warning period at all. Only through inspectors seeing what these schools are really like will they improve.
Teachers who are organised and professional shouldn't worry because they have already got their act together.
As a student I had a few teachers who were almost as "slap dash" as the students. This sort of "continuous assessment" will improve my children's education.
'Those that can, teach. Those that can't become Ofsted inspectors'. The teachers on the front line have to deal with the pressures of uncontrollable kids and teach at the same time. I would love to see some of those Ofsted inspectors have a go at teaching rather than just undermine committed teachers by making a critical judgement on the basis of observing one lesson. If this happens I predict it will just result in more experienced and dedicated teachers leaving the profession
Tim, Bromley, UK
Good idea. Our college is being inspected in March, and we've known about it for months. Schools and colleges use the months of notice to put on a show, papering over cracks in order to pass inspection. The entire system is a sham. Figures show that the students are the ones who suffer most, with noticeably lower grades during inspection years. The amount of pointless paperwork (Self assessment reports etc) required is causing enormous stress to staff who would much rather be teaching their students. The entire inspection grading system would have to be overhauled too, as the government realise how little they have actually been learning about schools over the years.
Rich, Hants, UK
Financial expediency rather than educational reform is powering this initiative. The present system is costing many millions a year to tell us, all but a tiny proportion of schools are doing well.
Save even more, scrap the system. As parents we know on the playground if the school is any good.
Tim Benson, London
I don't feel that a snap inspection from Ofsted will provide more up-to-date information for parents. It will just increase pressure on overworked, stressed teachers. This policy can do no good, only harm and drive away even more teachers from an already overstretched and depleted workforce.
M Taylor, Oldham, Lancs
If teachers are doing their jobs properly there should be no reason for them to feel stressed. The ones who are just no good or lazy will be found out. Ideally no notice at all should be given - inspectors should just turn up.
What about having one day a year when the government or one of its quangos doesn't decide to launch yet another change or half-baked idea just to show that they are alive. It's just another publicity stunt. Leave education alone for a time and instead reform the long holidays, generous unscrutinised expenses and extra incomes politicians get.
Tom Smith, Worcs, England
They would only work if there was no notice given to the schools. Inspectors should just turn up and they would really see what a disgrace our education system is under New Labour. Giving them notice will only allow the School Heads to close shop and paint a rosy picture.
Stuart, Romford, UK
The reason why Ofsted inspections are so frightening for teachers is that their usual lessons are not acceptable for these inspections and lessons during an Ofsted inspection are taught to a much higher standard than usual lessons. It would in fact be impossible for teachers to teach to this standard for every lesson and on every day. Snap inspections will show teachers giving much more 'normal' lessons and this should be acceptable.
Sarah Cotter, Woodbridge
I think it's a fantastic idea! It will stop schools in the run up of inspections deciding to redecorate the school like they did when we had out inspection. The outcome of the inspection is meant to offer advice and help the school improve and they will get a more honest approach if the school are caught off guard rather than getting weeks of warning.
So what will be the problem with having these "shorter sharper" inspections. Teachers are no different than me or any other person who works. Our performance is being assessed on a regular basis without any special arrangements. Oh, and our establishment is under constant scrutiny by our customers - if we fail "inspection" then we go out of business and have no jobs to go to, a school fails an inspection and they get some free remedial treatment from the shareholders (taxpayers). No sympathy here I'm afraid.
Trevor, Colchester, UK
What will Mr Bell suggest next? Perhaps giving students only two days notice of an A-Level Exam?
Brian Rudd, Newport Pagnell, Bucks
This is a money-saving exercise and nothing whatever to do with standards. The increased frequency and reduced warning given for, inspections can only increase the pressure on teachers without any prospect that it will lead to higher standards. It is typical of this government that it changes policies and guidelines on a regular basis to give the impression of active government, but actually leaves the poor teachers reeling, demoralised and overworked. These are not weapons inspections imposed on rogue states, they are meant to assist schools in the improvements that they honestly wish to make.
Frank, London, UK
I used to work for a well known supermarket who would be 'tipped off' that the health inspectors coming. What's the point of telling someone they are going to be inspected if the motive is improve quality.
Phillip Ellis, UK
So, "there are concerns that teachers could feel under continuous scrutiny." What's wrong with that?
John Strang, Switzerland