Michael Gove has signalled a u-turn over controversial plans for schools to face unannounced inspections, amid an outcry from head teachers.
The Education Secretary appeared to offer an olive branch to school leaders on Saturday as he suggested Ofsted's proposals for no-notice visits could be dropped. Currently, schools with "outstanding" status no longer face Ofsted inspections, while all others are subject to impromptu visits by inspectors if a complaint is made.
Addressing the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) annual conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Gove said there was a fear that Ofsted has become "an arm of the Spanish Inquisition" storming in to deal with problems.
He told delegates that there was a particular concern that "people fear it (no-notice inspection) sends a message that we don't trust the profession, that Ofsted has become an arm of the Spanish Inquisition or Sean Connery's Untouchables, that they have to be ready to storm in without any notice in order to deal with something that has gone drastically wrong".
Gove said: "That was never the intention. In this process of consultation, Sir Michael Wilshaw is clear that he is listening to the profession.
"That is why when we come back after the consultation it will be clear that we have listened to the principle that has been articulated that teachers and heads deserve to have the chance to know when an Ofsted inspection is coming and to be there in order to present the best face of the school."
Gove added: "In due course the chief inspector will explain how we change the way notice is given, so we combine efficiency of the inspection regime with fairness to schools."
Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw announced proposals for no-notice inspections in January, saying it was vital that the public has "absolute confidence" in the integrity of inspections.
The launch of a new website for parents to record their views and less time spent going through documentation before visits means less notice is needed, Sir Michael had suggested.
He also said that there is a need to make sure the public views inspections as "rigorous and robust" with no question that schools can break the rules.
The proposals, which are currently being consulted on, were announced soon after fresh concerns were raised that some schools were attempting to trick Ofsted by using tactics such as sending weak teachers and unruly pupils home when inspectors were visiting.
But the plans were met with concern from teaching unions, who said headteachers should be given notice to ensure they can be at their school when inspectors arrive.
Under the current system, schools get 48 hours notice before an inspection.
Gove also suggested today that Ofsted inspectors should be paid more to encourage good people to take up the job.
Inspectors are paid around £60,000 he said, questioning "is that enough?" to attract good senior leaders into those roles.
Speaking after, he said: "I think there could be few better uses of public money than making sure our inspection system is working as effectively as possible."
Gove's comments on Ofsted come just days after the NAHT raised concerns that some inspectors are arriving at schools with their minds already made up about their performance, or with personal agendas.
It is setting up a new website, School View, asking heads to report their experiences of Ofsted inspections.
The union said it plans to put the evidence it collects to Ofsted to "persuade them to address the variable quality of its inspection teams and to concentrate on helping schools improve rather than simply criticising them".
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