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City chief wants inspectors to retract

Geraldine Hackett on OFSTED's leaked draft report on Birmingham

Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer, wants inspectors to rewrite parts of their report on his education service to remove what he considers to be doubtful opinions and insulting language.

The inspection, which cost Pounds 175,000, was undertaken by the Office for Standards inEducation. Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector and a well-known opponent of Professor Brighouse's methods, was one of the team of four who produced the final draft.

The leaked version accepts that a great deal has been done to raise standards in schools, motivate teachers and run efficient services.

However, it suggests that even more might have been achieved had Professor Brighouse attempted fewer initiatives.

It claims that his views on the need to reform OFSTED are difficult to square with the fact that the authority makes effective use of the data the same organisation collects on its schools.

The message to Tim Brighouse, who along with Mr Woodhead is joint vice-chairman of the Government's standards taskforce, is that he should now study how to move further in the direction implied by Government policy.

In the past five years, says the report, Birmingham has become a well-run and effective education authority. Nevertheless, it adds, there is no certainty that it could be a model for others.

It concludes: "The local authority works, but the central thesis of this report is that it needs to be clearer about and concentrate more exclusively on those things it does well. If it did, it would be even more effective."

The report is a mix of inspection findings and opinion.

Much of what Birmingham does attracts considerable publicity and "not a little rhetoric", it says, adding that Professor Brighouse's ability to enthuse and inspire has played an important role in raising morale and engendering dynamism in the schools and the service. The inference, however, is that having a charismatic chief education officer is not without its downside.

"The danger of rhetoric is that it may not only be the audience which comes to believe it. There is a risk inherent in the disjunction between rhetoric and the reality that the LEA loses sight of the real reason why it is as effective as it is, and why it is not more so."

The report's central criticism is that Birmingham initiates too many strategies - it cites the fact that each year has a designation (the year of literacy; the year of the environment).

Inspectors admit that schools do not feel overwhelmed by initiatives. They then add: "There is a clear risk of the LEA losing focus, and wasting resources by trying, as some heads thought, to do too much."

The body of the report sets out the dramatic improvement in the fortunes of the schools since the appointment of Professor Brighouse in September 1993.

The local authority has increased funding to schools; the services provided, according to OFSTED, are generally economic and efficient. Spending is delegated to schools and the services are bought back from the authority.

GCSE results have improved at a faster rate than the national average. The proportion of pupils gaining five or more higher grade passes rose from 31 per cent to 36 per cent between 1994 and 1997. Primaries have narrowed the gap between their results at seven and 11 and the national average.

The Audit Commission, which worked with OFSTED on the report, says that 91 per cent of the schools that responded to its survey expressed satisfaction with the service. Among the services most appreciated by schools were advisory and inspection.


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