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Inspections must be open to scrutiny

Lucy Hodges (TES, April 25) reports Chris Woodhead's view that the Office for Standards in Education need not be independently evaluated because "what we do is open to public, professional and lay scrutiny every day of the year".

Only a moment's thought can compile a catalogue of ways in which that is equally true of schools. But it's not an argument for having no independent evaluation. Schools are accountable for their use of public money and for their effectiveness: external inspection is part of that accountability.

The Office for Standards in Education is now (commendably, but why only now?) testing the consistency of inspectors' judgments through a process that could justifiably be described as "self-evaluation" - that same evaluation which, applied to schools, Lucy Hodges tells us "would have to be introduced over Mr Woodhead's dead body because he thinks it is a soggy, cosy option".

The chief inspector of schools appears to want external inspection without self-review for schools, but self-review without external inspection for himself. The fair-minded might see that as immodest.

How truly aware is the chief inspector of the consensus throughout the profession in favour of a careful - and tough - balance of self-review and external inspection, similar to that which the Further Education Funding Council is about to introduce for colleges? He has only to reach out and grasp it.

By rejecting constructive ideas from responsible sources he alienates and devalues people who are as committed as he is to high standards. By continuing with a model of inspection which neglects most of what is known about the management of change, about quality assurance and about human motivation, he risks retarding sustained, long-term school improvement.

Now is a good time for choosing creativity and collaboration rather than their opposites. HMCI could embrace OFSTED's critics - they are not its enemies - in a spirit of intelligent dialogue about improving inspection. An independent review of the system would offer a suitable framework.

CHRIS BOOTHROYD 25 Townsend Crescent Morpeth Northumberland

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