Schools line up against no-notice Ofsted inspections

Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw
Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw
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A FRESH row is brewing over the prospect of routine snap school inspections after headteachers warned they would be strongly against the idea.

Plans for no-notice Ofsted visits were put forward by Education Secretary Michael Gove in the Commons yesterday in the wake of investigations into allegations of a “Trojan Horse” plot by hardline Muslims to take over a number of Birmingham schools.

But the proposal is set to face fierce opposition from school leaders, who spoke out against the idea when it was first mooted two years ago.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “If no-notice inspections become the routine, we would be opposed to it. It would make it very difficult for our members to engage in school to school support.

“Ofsted already has the powers to drop in unannounced if it has concerns. I’m not entirely sure what’s achieved by this, other than damaging autonomy in the school system.”

In an interview, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said he called for unannounced inspections when he first took up his post and signalled that the proposal had been halted by Mr Gove amid concerns among headteachers.

“It is something that I called for two years ago when I first joined. That is something I discussed with the Secretary of State,” Sir Michael told BBC2’s Newsnight.

“He said that we need to look at this and we need to listen to what headteachers are saying about needing to be in the school prior to the inspection so they can have a preliminary dialogue with the inspectors about how the inspection should be conducted. So we pulled back on that so they now have just a few hours.

“We had a robust discussion about it and I am really pleased that minds have been changed.”

A senior Department for Education source insisted: “The implication by Sir Michael Wilshaw that Michael Gove blocked the imposition of no-notice inspections is wrong and we will say more on this soon.”

Mr Gove has already been involved in one bruising controversy over the issue of extremism in schools after a bitter row erupted last week - on the eve of the Queen’s Speech - with Home Secretary Theresa May.

Following the intervention of a furious David Cameron, Mr Gove was forced to issue a humiliating apology, while Mrs May lost her special adviser, Fiona Cunningham, who was made to resign.

Ofsted first proposed snap inspections as part of a consultation at the beginning of 2012, with Sir Michael saying it was vital that the public has ‘’absolute confidence’’ in the integrity of inspections.

But in May of that year, following an outcry from headteachers, Mr Gove signalled a U-turn.

Addressing an NAHT conference, Mr Gove said there was a fear that Ofsted had become ‘’an arm of the Spanish Inquisition’’, storming in to deal with problems.

He told delegates: ‘’That was never the intention. In this process of consultation, Sir Michael Wilshaw is clear that he is listening to the profession.

‘’That is why when we come back after the consultation it will be clear that we have listened to the principle that has been articulated that teachers and heads deserve to have the chance to know when an Ofsted inspection is coming and to be there in order to present the best face of the school.’’

In a speech to MPs yesterday, Mr Gove said that all schools would in future be required to promote “British values” in the wake of the damning Ofsted investigation in Birmingham, which saw five schools placed in special measures.

Inspections conducted following claims of a takeover plot by hardline Muslims found that a “culture of fear and intimidation” has developed in some schools in the city and, in several, governors exerted “inappropriate influence” over how they are being run.

David Cameron said he believed the proposals to actively promote British values in schools would win widespread support.

During a press conference in Sweden, the Prime Minister told reporters: “I would say freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions.

“Those are the sorts of things I would hope would be inculcated into the curriculum in any school in Britain, whether it was a private school, state school, faith-based school, free school, academy or anything else.

“I think what Michael Gove has said is important and I think it will have the overwhelming support of everyone, including people who have come to settle in Britain and make their home in Britain.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We do not believe that no-notice inspections are an appropriate course of action for this situation. Ofsted cannot police 25,000 schools.

“We already have an inspection system that has virtually no-notice inspections; in addition we need to make sure proper safeguards are in place to ensure that the work of schools is monitored from the outside, and not just from Westminster and that arrangements for governance are regulated.”