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An Inspector Writes

Q. The secondary school to which most of our pupils transfer was praised by OFSTED. The report goes on to say that the high standards are all the more noteworthy in view of the fact that the pupils' standards of attainment on entry are not particularly high.

As the main contributory school, we are dismayed by what we think is a damaging reflection on our work, and a most unfair one in view of the fact that our key stage 2 test results put us well above the national average.

Are OFSTED inspectors allowed to make such erroneous and harmful assertions about schools they have neither visited nor contacted? Do we have any redress? How do we now relate to a partner school that seems to have acted naively at least, and in the opinion of many, in bad faith, by contributing to or colluding with what they must have known was a mistaken judgment?

A. This is a disturbing matter and one, I suspect, that would concern OFSTED because it seems to be at variance with the aims of inspection. The answer to your first question is straightforward. An inspection team is required to report on the school it has been commissioned to inspect; the team has no licence to make judgments about other schools. It can be argued that it is difficult for inspectors to comment adequately about levels of attainment and progress without reference to pupils' previous achievement.

Many schools continue to complain that inspection does not take sufficient account of the ground teachers have to make up for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. And some say what they see as the cause of unsatisfactory literacy levels needs to be named - the primary sector. There may, of course, be shared factors between schools that inspectors might consider significant enough to be reported on; they would do so only with the consent of all schools involved and after discussion with them. Which brings us back to the crux of this matter.

Valid criticism is dependent upon reliable evidence, and inspectors could not make judgments about other schools without the kind of first-hand evidence that only inspection can provide.

In this case the inspection team exceeded its brief, unwittingly I'm sure.

What redress is there? Well you can't draw back a published report. However, you will probably wish to convey your concern to OFSTED if only to prevent a repetition for other schools.

In view of the publicity attending many reports, you may wish to write to your parents clarifying the true state of affairs (pointing out the implications of your test results, for example) and invite the chairman of governors of your partner secondary school to join you in the disclaimer.

I have no doubt they will be anxious to acknowledge their educational debt to you and repair any damaged relationships. Finally, you might decide on a joint press statement.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him at The TES,66-68 Admiral House, East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200

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