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'Emergency' inspections are delayed

Planned "emergency" inspections of schools giving concern in Bradford's inner city has been delayed because the Office for Standards in Education's tendering process has failed to find an appropriate team.

OFSTED's proposed blanket inspection of schools in Lambeth which should have started at the beginning of this term also appears to be falling foul of the same process. According to a source within the London borough "things are running very late". Two inspections were carried out this week, but no others are expected until next month.

Bradford city council's acting assistant education director, Phil Green, has written to the Department for Education and Employment saying the delay has upset the schools which had expected to be visited this term.

A letter says a deputation of heads met local authority officers to express their "anger and dismay" at the revised timetable which could mean some inspections not taking place until autumn.

OFSTED had planned the full-scale Section 9 inspections in nine schools, primary, middle and secondary, in the Manningham area of Bradford. This section of the city was the scene of riots at the beginning of last summer. The inspections are thought to be particularly sensitive because many local teachers believe the area's schools inevitably reflect the ethnic and religious tensions within the city.

John Ryan, Bradford's chair of education, said that OFSTED told him the inspections were not linked to the disturbances; they resulted from a general concern over problems in the schools in this area.

He said: "Initially we were surprised OFSTED picked out these schools, but we have nothing to hide. We hope it will be a useful exercise that will point out the problems such as the underfunding, crumbling school buildings and extra pressure caused by pupils with language difficulties.

"Any inspection is traumatic for a school, but given the focus and type of inspection the Manningham schools were naturally anxious. They are now concerned that the failure to appoint a team may lead to a move away from the standard inspection team."

The proposed Manningham inspections were called a "new development" when they were announced in November. The idea was to look at the pyramid of schools supplying pupils for Belle Vue Boys' and Belle Vue Girls' comprehensives.

Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools, said: "Schools serving inner-city communities face particular challenges. Often it is not a single link in the educational chain which is weak but the entire process that is fragile. I have decided to look at the whole chain at one time in Manningham.

"I welcome the support which Bradford LEA has given to the programme. Whatever the outcome - and it would be wrong to assume that all or any of these schools are failing - this diagnostic survey will provide a springboard for action. "

An OFSTED spokesperson said January 23 was the deadline for the second tranche of tenders for Bradford and it expected to appoint a team by then.

She said the letter saying some of the inspections in Bradford would take place in autumn was a mistake and said she expected the inspections to take place before summer once a team was appointed. She said the contracts for Lambeth had just been awarded and work would start as soon as possible.

But the failure to find teams to take on such cases has led to criticism that the tendering process makes it difficult to react quickly when concerns about schools are raised.

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