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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 11:30 GMT
Q&A: How will school inspections work?
The Chief Inspector of Schools in England, David Bell, has proposed a major shake-up of the school inspection system.

But what is meant by a new style of "short, sharp" inspections?

The education watchdog, Ofsted, wants a much shorter gap between school inspections, so that parents can have a more up-to-date picture of how a school is performing.

When parents are checking a school's inspection report, it isn't much use if it's five years old and many of the staff have changed since then.

Instead of inspections at least every six years, Ofsted is proposing inspections at least every three years.

But as a counter-balance to more frequent visits, inspections would be shorter and more tightly focused - with perhaps a couple of inspectors visiting for two or three days.

Why should schools get only a couple of days' notice of inspections?

Parents want to know how good or bad a school really is - and there are concerns that a lengthy advance warning of an inspection can mean that the school gives itself a make-over in time for the visit by inspectors.

So now inspectors are saying they want a "warts and all" picture of how a school is working - rather than getting the educational equivalent of a royal visit, where everything smells of fresh paint.

There are also worries that too much warning of an inspection means that schools spend weeks and weeks worrying and preparing for an inspection - to the extent that the process starts to disrupt lessons.

Because of this many, head teachers have welcomed a much shorter notice period, because it would cut the anxious wait for staff and remove the pressure to spend weeks preparing for inspectors.

Will the inspections become more superficial?

Inspectors say they will be more "focused". Instead of looking at every subject and producing a report of between 40 and 80 pages - the new system will look at "core areas" and will produce a report of between four to six pages.

But teachers, who have to endure the process, are keen to remind people that their career is in the balance - and they don't want to be criticised after a fleeting visit, which might have observed an unrepresentative lesson.

What will inspectors actually do during and after a visit to a school?

In an imaginary visit, the week might look something like:

  • Monday: Reporting inspector visits school, collects timetables, plans lesson observations and interviews.
  • Tuesday/Wednesday: Inspectors on site. Summary oral feedback on Wednesday.
  • Thursday: Reporting inspector writes report.
  • Friday of the following week: Written report is sent to school for comment on factual accuracy, prior to publication.

    What happens if inspectors find there are problems?

    If there are serious concerns, inspectors can report that the school has "serious weaknesses" - and it will detail what they think is going wrong.

    The local education authority will also become involved and a plan will be drawn up for improvements - with inspectors monitoring progress.

    If this doesn't deliver improvements - or if the initial problems are deemed to be particularly severe - a school can be put into "special measures".

    Once a school is in this failing category, there has to be a detailed recovery plan, re-inspections and local authority support. And if a school in special measures fails to improve, it can be shut down by the education secretary.

    Schools face 'warts-and-all' checks
    10 Feb 04  |  Education
    Ofsted to name struggling schools
    06 Feb 04  |  Education
    Ofsted 'two-speed lessons' alarm
    04 Feb 04  |  Education

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