Schools inspections slimmed down

By Angela Harrison
Education correspondent, BBC News


Schools in England are to be judged on just four key areas in a shake-up of the inspection system, the government has said.

Education Secretary Michael Gove says schools will no longer be rated on "peripheral issues" - understood to include pupils' well-being and schools' contribution to "community cohesion".

Schools will be judged on quality of teaching; leadership; pupils' behaviour and safety; and their achievements.

Head teachers have welcomed the move.

Mr Gove outlined the changes in a letter to Ofsted's chief inspector Christine Gilbert which has been released.

"As we both agree, we need to refocus inspection on the principal purpose of schools improving teaching and learning and dramatically reduce the time and energy spent on other existing bureaucratic duties," he wrote.

He said focussing on the four key areas would mean "inspectors no longer spending time monitoring compliance with peripheral issues, but instead concentrating on our shared core mission of improving standards in education".

Spiritual well-being

At the moment, the legal requirement is for schools to be inspected on seven areas: quality of education; how far it meets the needs of the range of pupils; educational standards; quality of leadership (including financial); the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils; the contribution made by the school to pupils' well-being; and the contribution to "community cohesion".

Mr Gove also announced, as part of his drive to cut bureaucracy, that schools would no longer need to complete self-evaluation forms - in which schools have to rate themselves in 27 areas.

The form is the starting point for a school's inspection.

Areas covered include pupils' attainment and attendance and the quality of learning for pupils with special educational needs

There are also questions about whether pupils have healthy lifestyles and enjoy learning and about whether schools believe they promote community cohesion and engage with parents.

Mr Gove said, in his letter, that the change would mean schools could "concentrate on what really matters and not be distracted by extensive guidance and form-filling".

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is pleased the form is being scrapped in its current form - and has welcomed the move to focus inspection on four key areas.

'Hugely sensible'

But it says self-evaluation is critical - something which is done by all good schools - and should remain.

ASCL General Secretary Brian Lightman said: "As a move towards reducing bureaucracy, we would welcome the demise of the SEF [self-evaluation form] in its current form, which has over the years grown out of all proportion and been written with the needs of Ofsted rather than schools in mind.

"However in terms of strengthening the link between inspection and self-review, the SEF was an important move forward and we do not want that to be lost.

"Also welcome is the secretary of state's intention to focus inspection on four principal areas and to remove the duty for inspectors to monitor compliance on peripheral areas.

"This is hugely sensible and will allow inspectors to focus on the areas which have the greatest impact on improvement."

Schools will be expected to continue to evaluate their performance, but in ways tailored to their situation and local monitoring arrangements, Mr Gove's letter suggests.

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: "Ofsted fully supports the principle of reducing unnecessary bureaucracy so that schools are not distracted from their critical role in providing high quality teaching to ensure pupils learn and achieve well.

"From 2011, with the introduction of the new inspection framework, we will stop providing schools with an Ofsted form to record their self-evaluations."

Earlier this year, Mr Gove announced that schools judged to be outstanding by Ofsted would no longer face routine inspections.

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