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Councils fear 'stitch-up'

Linda Blackburne finds LEAs are wary of the Government's numeracy inspection. Three inner-city education authorities earmarked for a numeracy inspection are seeking reassurances from the Office for Standards in Education that the findings will not be used for Government prop-agenda.

Newham, Greenwich and Knowsley have each received a letter from OFSTED's director of inspection Jim Rose asking them to take part in a survey on the quality of mathematics teaching for seven and 11-year-olds.

But the three authorities fear a "political stitch-up" following the outcry over OFSTED's handling of the literacy inspection in the inner London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Islington earlier this month. These three authorities were told the literacy project would be a "collaborative" study and were angry at the conclusions of the report, but OFSTED repeated this week that it had only agreed the inspection would be collaborative, not the actual report.

Jim Rose's letter to Newham is almost identical to the letters sent to the boroughs in the literacy project. However, although it says it wants the inspection to be "a joint activity", a key phrase is missing.

The letter to the three authorities involved in the literacy project referred to "what we hope will be a closely co-operative exercise". But in the letter to Newham simply referred to "this inspection".

Ian Harrison, director of education for Newham, said this week: "We don't want to walk into something which is to be trashed at the end of the day just before a general election."

Greenwich has the same fears and wants to know how the conclusions of the inspection will be disseminated.

Peter Wylie, director of education for Knowsley, said: "The debate has moved into the political arena in a wholly destructive way . . . We don't want a political stitch-up."

And Graham Lane, who chairs the education committees of both Newham council and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, is demanding a joint press conference at the end of the inspection.

"We are not having the Secretary of State hijacking the agenda," he said. "[In the literacy press conference] she decided to play to her right-wing Tory audience. We are not prepared to play political games with the future of our children."

Knowsley, which, like Newham, places itself in the bottom 20 in the national table for literacy and numeracy, says it would be keen to find out how it could teach maths better or differently provided it could agree with OFSTED on the methodology and structure of the inspection.

It has been looking at why its maths results are lower than English and science, and believes there is some evidence of a gap developing at seven or 11.

In Newham, work has already been carried out on identifying and disseminating best practice in maths teaching.

Greenwich says it has been consistently improving all its published examination results, (and this year's results are the best ever.

Mr Rose's letter to Newham says: "We have chosen the three authorities on the basis of publicly available indicators of pupil performance in mathematics: the key stage 2 national test results and GCSE evidence. As you know, some schools in your authority face considerable difficulties in raising standards in mathematics of which the teaching of number is a key factor. We think that by choosing three authorities we will be able to gather sufficient evidence for the report we envisage."

Newham, Greenwich and Knowsley have not put in bids for numeracy centres in the Government scheme to improve standards in primary schools. Newham, however, was successful in its bid for a literacy centre.

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