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Brum question

Your leader and articles on the Office for Standards in Education inspection of Birmingham (TES, January 23) raise some good questions. If, as you say, Chris Woodhead is known to be a passionate opponent of local education authorities, why is he being allowed to inspect them, and why should anyone take any notice of his reports?

Time was HMI reports were meticulous in their observations, which were always backed by evidence. Such reports were extremely powerful and difficult to challenge. The evidence emerging from the first OFSTED inspections of local authorities is, first and not surprisingly, that OFSTED has quite a bit to learn about their operation; second, the lack of any clear view of what an effective LEA is makes judgments difficult, and third, that the more opinions rather than objective observations that creep in, the more room there is for recrimination rather than constructive discussion and improvements.

Local authorities welcome the opportunity to join the Government's crusade for raising standards. They are more than ready to be judged through a fair and objective system of inspection. But they have the capacity to fight back if the judgment seems to be based on unjustified opinions rather than evidence. It is in no one's interest to embark on bitter wrangling on this issue. In consultation with others, OFSTED should define a better framework against which local authorities will be judged, including a summary of their statutory responsibilities - the present OFSTED guidance on the duties and powers of LEAs appear to be in the form of a draft marked "not for circulation".

ANDREW COLLIER General secretary Society of Education Officers Manchester

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