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Failing GM school claims political bias

Nicolas Barnard reports on a head's furious accusations against inspectors

The man who became Britain's first black headteacher outside London is no stranger to controversy. But Carlton Duncan may have bitten off more than he can chew in picking a fight with the Office for Standards in Education.

Mr Duncan, a veteran of battles over education for ethnic minorities and in the opting-out of his Birmingham secondary school, is heading for another confrontation after his school failed an inspection.

Mr Duncan alleges political motives behind the failure of George Dixon comprehensive in Edgbaston in January - after its third inspection in a year. OFSTED says his claim is "bizarre".

Her Majesty's Inspectors said pupils made unsatisfactory progress in more than half the lessons seen - an "unacceptable" level, due largely to unsatisfactory teaching in two-fifths of lessons.

Pupils' attainment on entry was low, but their progress actually slowed during key stage 4. African-Caribbean boys in particular did not make sufficient progress. Expectations were low, pupils were "not fired up with enthusiasm", and behaviour, sometimes unruly, was "contained rather than improved", the report said.

The school has lodged an appeal. Mr Duncan says inspectors only dipped into lessons, and argues that the first report in February 1997 was more realistic. This found a school with serious weaknesses, but which was improving - a follow-up report by HMInspectors in October found progress being made but not fast enough.

Mr Duncan blames the political fall-out following the bitter opt-out battle he led in 1993. During it, he said LEAs which tried to prevent inner-city schools going grant-maintained were inherently racist, and successfully sued Birmingham City Council and one of its members for libel over claims of mismanagement.

Now he says: "I took the lead in moving the school to GM status which ran into serious difficulties with the local authority. Towards the end of the Tory administration we had a positive OFSTED report.

"We feel very bitter about this. Which of the three reports do we believe?" Mr Duncan will have a hard time convincing some people that OFSTED has skewed a report to damn a GM school - particularly in Birmingham. Chief inspector Chris Woodhead is a vocal critic of local authorities - and by implication a supporter of the GM sector - and has notoriously clashed with Birmingham's chief education officer Tim Brighouse.

An OFSTED spokesman said: "It's a bizarre sort of claim. There is no link between inspections and politics of any sort. There never has been and never will be."

He added that HM Inspectors returned to schools found to have serious weaknesses roughly every term, and were bound to see fewer lessons because they were focusing on specific problems.

Mr Duncan, a head since 1982, was on the Swann Committee in the 1980s, where he argued for separate schools for black children. He was in the news last year when his school began teaching Years 7-10 in single-sex classes - a move the OFSTED report said needed further evaluation.

CHIEF INSPECTOR UNDER FIRE, Pages 3 amp; 14

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