Good schools to get fewer full inspections under new shake up

Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
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FULL routine inspections of the majority of England’s schools are to be ditched in a major overhaul of the system, the head of Ofsted has announced.

Under the plans, around three fifths (60 per cent) of schools - those rated as “good” - will get short visits from one inspector every two to three years.

Full inspections will only be triggered if there are indications that standards at a school have dropped or risen dramatically, Sir Michael Wilshaw said.

The move comes amid growing concerns from head teachers and think-tanks about the current state of the inspections system and the quality of some inspectors.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has warned the current system is expensive, unnecessary and “not very smart”, while the Policy Exchange think-tank last week called for the introduction of a two-stage inspection process.

Unveiling Ofsted’s proposals at ASCL annual conference in Birmingham today, Sir Michael said that schools rated “good” should get “light-touch” visits every two to three years by an inspector.

The findings of the visit would be shared with parents. At the moment, it can be five years or even more between inspections for a good school,” Sir Michael said.

“This is too long. It’s too long for parents. It’s too long between inspections to spot decline, and it’s too long for improving schools to show that they are outstanding.

“Far better for an inspector to visit the school for a day than for a full team to descend on the school more infrequently, and then giving, more likely than not, the same judgment as the previous inspection.”

Even if inspectors do find problems in a school, a full visit may not be triggered if the school’s leaders are dealing with the issues properly, Sir Michael said.

The changes will be developed over the next 18 months, he revealed, adding that the watchdog is also set to conduct a major review of “outsourced inspections”.

Under the current system, a number of private firms employ inspectors who conduct inspections for Ofsted.

But concerns have been raised about this process and Sir Michael said that school inspection is too important for Ofsted to just oversee these arrangements.

The fifth of schools that are rated as outstanding are already exempt from routine inspections, and they will face a similar inspection system to good schools in the future, it was suggested. The speech has coincided with ASCL publishing a new paper calling for the current inspection system to be scrapped in favour of short visits every two to three years by a single experienced inspector. It also called for all inspectors to be serving or recently retired school leaders who work directly for Ofsted.

The paper suggests that there should be a standardised schools “health check”, supported by a one-day visit from an inspector.

This check would look at whether a school was successful, if it was improving, if there were areas for improvement which the school could deal with, or whether a full inspection was needed to come up with an action plan for improvement.

ASCL president Ian Bauckham, said: ‘’We need to move away from routine, detailed inspection of successful schools. This is expensive and unnecessary and not very smart. We can find out a lot about schools without it. These could be replaced with a short school visit by a single inspector every two or three years.”

The latest Ofsted figures published earlier this month show that Yorkshire has the lowest level of schools which are rated good or better in the country. Just over a quarter of schools in Yorkshire were found not to be good with three per cent rated inadequate.