The Future of Inspection


ScheduleIt’s very interesting what makes the news sometimes. In the last few days in the education pages it’s been school and college inspection. What’s going on?

Our education system has been going in its present form for about 150 years. Ofsted, the current inspection body, was established about 1993, being created for a distinct purpose: to provide truly objective information about schools. Has this organisation operated very differently to the system that had been before, then? Yes, in quite a lot of ways. Before, there were HM Inspectors who worked nationally and local inspectors/advisers who worked locally with schools. They both reported on schools but not like Ofsted, whose sole remit has been inspection.

There are now also differences between support and challenge; development and accountability. We have reached a stage politically where all kinds of public expenditure came under unprecedented levels of scrutiny. As a nation we wanted to know whether our public institutions, including schools, were performing as well as they could and should. Nothing wrong with that. But then you have to be certain that those doing the inspecting were doing it right. And also that those being inspected would react positively and improve. You can see the dilemma. Too much stick and people dig their heels in. Too much carrot and maybe people don’t react enough.

So what is being debated? Currently the topics under discussion are; how often do you inspect schools; what grading should be used to be informative; should there be ‘no notice ( surprise ) inspections to keep schools on their toes?
Debating these questions have been the inspectors, headteachers and their staff, journalists and people like myself. Sadly, I don’t see many parents or carers becoming involved, although I wish they would.

A further question is, what should we be looking for when the discussions are over? Well, first of all, a bit of stability would be nice. Teachers’ biggest recent complaint has been that there are too many initiatives for them to cope with to be able to do their job properly. Second would be a system that genuinely seeks to improve schools, because apart from anything else we’re talking about the nation’s children here. We want experts to look at schools accurately and tell them and us how they could do better.

Is teaching an exact science? No. But there is always room for this ‘expert’s’ view of improvement. And above all, a system that reassures us all. It might not be easy but it should be possible.

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I'm semi-retired after a successful and much enjoyed career in education. Funnily enough, my last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. I've had an interesting career, in schools, colleges, adult education, the Arts and a few other bits and bobs. At one stage I was also a local authority inspector. Now I'm a school governor, and am enjoying watching my young grandchildren go through their own first experiences of school. Through these articles I hope to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested!

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