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Emergency inspections to begin

Twenty-three schools in Calderdale are to be visited by inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education over the next fortnight in an attempt to elicit frank opinions of the authority's record in supporting its schools.

The visits will form part of the emergency inspection of Calderdale's education service ordered by the Education and Employment Secretary, Gillian Shephard, after the crisis at The Ridings school in Halifax. OFSTED has no powers to inspect authorities (although these are in the Bill currently before Parliament), but Mrs Shephard suggested that a refusal would reflect badly on Calderdale.

Ten inspectors will visit the secondary schools still under LEA control (except The Ridings), three special schools and 15 primaries.

Another two inspectors will scrutinise the authority's education and finance departments. The inspectors will deliver their final verdict to Mrs Shephard towards the end of next month.

The Ridings is the only school in Calderdale to have been declared failing and the authority has consistently argued that it repeatedly offered advice to the school on its behaviour problems and standards.

Ian Jennings, Calderdale's director of education, admitted on Monday that there was some anxiety among the schools about the inspectors' visits and more generally about the prospect that the Labour authority would be pilloried: "There obviously are concerns that the report could be used for political purposes - it's a worrying element."

At Calder High School, headteacher David Scott said that the visits were "not something the schools would have chosen, but after a briefing by inspectors last week we recognise that the schools are not being reinspected, but visited to gather information to judge the quality of Calderdale's services to schools."

Michael Higgins, chair of Calderdale's education committee, said he was confident of an honest assessment of the authority, but added: "When the report comes out we will be well into the election period; what Mrs Shephard does with the report is a different ball game."

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