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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Pupil power in school checks
Children and their parents should play a greater role in school inspections, under plans being put forward by the chief inspector of schools in England.
Mike Tomlinson says children should be formally canvassed for their views about their school by means of a questionnaire.
He is also proposing that secondary schools might be able to nominate a key issue for inspection - without being able to duck a wider review.
And he suggests that a shorter inspection should become the norm for primary schools after 2003.
At the moment, inspectors chat informally to children while they carry out checks on standards at a school.
They believe a wider survey of children's views could highlight problems which might otherwise stay hidden - such as bullying and racism at a school.
The proposals - which are being put out for consultation by Ofsted - would also formalise parents' rights to demand an extra inspection because of their worries about a school.
Shortly before a school is inspected, they are asked to fill out a questionnaire which includes questions about the quality of teaching and the school's relationship with parents.
But under the new proposals, parents would also be able to arrange a private meeting with inspectors to voice their concerns.
The inspectors say they would not allow the system to be abused by people with grudges against schools.
"We have to be on our guard against parents who have a particular concern that is not shared by other parents at the school," Mr Tomlinson said.
And he reassured teachers and their unions that pupils would not be asked to comment on individual teachers.
"That will not be part of the questionnaire - and indeed, if they were to give us such comments we would discount them," he said.
In an effort to improve the inspection system, Ofsted is putting 16 proposals out to consultation between now and late November.
Results of the survey will be published in December.
Teachers and head teachers have often complained about the paperwork and stress involved in inspections.
"I'm proposing that there is less inspection given to schools, without losing any of the rigour and objectivity associated with the process," said Mr Tomlinson.
"And the reason I'm wanting to have that discussed is because we now know a lot more about schools that ever we did before.
"And secondly there has, over recent times, been significant improvements in the quality of teaching and leadership in our schools," he said.
A form of short inspection should become the norm for primary schools, Mr Tomlinson believes.
This is because the majority of teaching time in primaries is spent on the core subjects of maths, English and science - the main focus of short inspections.
The proposals also suggest all schools have the option to select one particular issue for inspection, based on their own self-evaluation and school improvement plan.
Inspectors believe this would encourage schools to make better use of the self-evaluation process.
The approach is a development of the short inspection where there is consultation between head teacher and senior inspector about what the inspection will cover.
General secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, said the new system potentially heralded a more sensible approach than the current model.
"The involvement of the entire school community is clearly a major step in the right direction, provided it involves a totally open process," said Mr Hart.
But it must not become a licence for uninformed private criticism, or it would be little more than a "whingers' charter", he added.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "These proposals help to bring a degree of sanity into school inspections, but without any loss of rigour".
Shadow education secretary, Theresa May, welcomed the proposals, saying it was time to move away from the culture of fear that pervaded many schools prior to inspection.
"Ofsted should now move towards more random inspections of schools," she added.
The proposals for reform - set out in a paper, Improving inspection, improving schools - will be sent to all schools in England and distributed to organisations representing teachers, parents, governors and other educational interests.
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