Tuesday 2 March 2010

Not inspecting outstanding schools would be a big mistake

In between his shaky defences of Lord Ashcroft, Michael Gove announced yesterday that outstanding schools - so deemed by Ofsted - would not be inspected ever again under a Conservative government. This could be a big mistake, for two reasons. It would make it harder to define other schools as outstanding without inspectors having visited the gold standard, and harder for Ofsted to spread the secrets of their success. An inspection in an outstanding school is rarely the burden it is for others, rather a chance to show how its done. And secondly - and perhaps more importantly - schools designated outstanding now could quite easily lose their high standing without some pressure to maintain it. A change of head or a new curriculum could make the difference. And while a school may continue to show good exam results for a time, the failure to have regular inspections could disguise a dip until pupils had fallen behind. To be fair, Gove no longer plans to abandon testing in primary schools, so there would be some independent evidence of progress. But a school could still coast for years before parents or other concerned parties trigger an inspection. By all means, have a lighter touch system for the best schools, keeping their inspections on a six year cycle, or the threat of lightning sampler inspections, but don't abandon all inspections of schools that are great today. Because they may not be tomorrow.

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