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Gove signals inspection plan u-turn

Michael Gove has signalled a u-turn over 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 as he suggested that Ofsted's proposals for no-notice visits could be dropped.

Addressing the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) annual conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Mr 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".

Mr Gove said: "That was never the intention. In this process of consultation, Sir Michael Wilshaw is clear that he is listening to the profession."

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.

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.

Mr Gove also suggested 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.

Mr 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.