Labour keeps eye on inspection
A future Labour government would reform the privatised inspection system to give schools more follow-up help after inspections.
Its thinking on school inspections, which will be outlined in its document on standards to be published before Christmas, has been influenced by critics of the current system, notably Tim Brighouse, chief education officer for Birmingham, and Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University.
Both men are believed to play a key role in advising David Blunkett, the shadow education secretary.
It is understood that Labour does not believe the Office for Standards in Education should be abolished, because it favours external scrutiny of schools, but it is looking at different models for school inspections and also examining the role of local advisory services.
There is particular concern about schools identified as failing by OFSTED and it is thought they need to be given special help to put their houses in order.
In a report earlier this year Mr Brighouse and Professor Wragg called for a new model of school inspection which would be returned to the public sector and take in HMIs as well as local authority advisers and headteachers on secondment.
Their five-point plan sought a switch of focus from administration to teaching and more emphasis on self-evaluation and local expertise. They said the number of inspectors should be increased and local authority inspectors should be seconded to HMI for 20 per cent of their time. Their report dismissed the current OFSTED system as crude and ineffective, saying it assumed teachers were "propelled by organisation charts and policy statements" and ignored schools' individual circumstances.
OFSTED, which was the brainchild of Kenneth Clarke when he was education secretary, has been inundated with criticism since its inception in 1992. It took over the inspection tasks of Her Majesty's Inspectorate and the local advisory services, with a brief to check schools against a list of standards, and has been attacked for engendering a climate of fear among teachers, for concentrating too much on administration and for not giving follow-up help.
Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, was not surprised to hear the Labour party wanted to reform OFSTED. But he believed any follow-up should be in the hands of schools and not outside bodies.
"In terms of follow-up to schools, I am very happy with the current thinking in the sense that I think all schools ought to receive periodically a critique of their strengths and weaknesses," said Mr Woodhead.
"It is then for the school, and only the school, to decide how it responds to that critique. I don't think anyone else should do that. It's headteachers' and governors' territory. If headteachers and governors want to buy in external expertise to help them with any particular points, fine. Where they buy it is up to them."