This report on Michael Gove's new approach to school inspection shows that he understands the damage that was done by changes to Ofsted in 2005, which moved inspection away from its true purpose and made it the enforcer of New Labour's agenda of virtual education. The damage done by this, and especially by David Bell as chief inspector, has been thorough, delibrate and devastating, so that no credence can now be placed on an Ofsted report unless it can be verified from other sources.
One result is that many schools rated outstanding are not, which devalues the judgements made on those that truly are. We need a return to the seven-point evaluation scale, in which excellent meant excellent, an example to the country, and not just very good. The New Labour term outstanding is a fudge, introduced after pressure on Ofsted to go a bit easier on state schools that were doing well, but had staffing problems and faults.
I know of at least two schools that have been judged outstanding even though children's books were not properly marked, and where judgements on support for children with special needs have been based on paperwork rather than observation. These faults have not been addressed in either of them, and one has been given a further outstanding report without even being visited. A pupil at one of them has told me "They don't look at the books much". These are not isolated examples - a parent I know is outraged by a recent good report on a school in which even GCSE science books were never looked at, and where her daughter was punished for writing on her book, marked in a hurry before an inspection, "This has only been marked because Ofsted are coming". I'm pretty sure the inspectors never saw the book - it's not hard to take one out of a pile.
At the other end of the scale, unsatisfactory - not good enough, but capable of improvement - is no longer distinguised from the poor and very poor teaching (egs children in a science lesson flicking acid in each other's faces and not wearing their protective goggles, children swearing at teachers and even assaulting them with impunity - also a sign of poor backup from senior management) that need to be cut out immediately. Sir Michael Tomlinson put it succinctly -"Poor teaching should not be tolerated."
The next HMCI will have to work hard and well to reverse David Bell's mistakes. Above all, he or she will need to understand inspection, and how to make it work in the interests of children. Not an easy appointment for Mr Gove to make, and I hope he takes his time - we have had two disastrous chief inspectors in a row, and cannot afford a third.