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Inspectors inspected and found wanting

The Office for Standards in Education fails to meet acceptable standards and is "amateurish and anachronistic".

This is the verdict of Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon, of Durham University's School of Education, one of six authors of a booklet which calls for the Office for Standards in Education to be replaced.

Professor Fitz-Gibbon says that OFSTED fails to meet minimal acceptable standards in the collection and analysis of information to form its judgments.

She says: "It might be argued that an inspection need not meet research standards. On the contrary: because of its potential to mislead and distress parents, pupils and teachers and because of the apparent faith placed in OFSTED by politicians, the public is entitled to expect the highest standards from OFSTED. The fact that OFSTED has been allowed to operate without adequate validation is indicative of a serious weakness in UK education - the failure to understand and make use of this century's developments in the methodology of investigation."

Meryl Thompson, head of the policy unit at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, criticises "primitive" judgments of schools through "snapshots".

She adds: "One school, which exceptionally found that the inspection was good, described its report as 'bland'. It was so bland, we heard, that the Registered Inspector even apologised for it. If reports are so opaque that they have to be decoded and carry little or no meaning to teachers and governors, they are unlikely to convey an accurate message to parents or contribute meaningfully to school improvement."

Proposals for a new inspection system which would give schools a five-year licence are put forward by Professor Ted Wragg, of Exeter University's School of Education.

Schools which are running well would be given a five-year licence, he says. After the five-year period, or sooner if there are problems, a school would get a shorter inspection. Its five-year licence could then be extended for another five years.

Professor Wragg says that an important part of his inspection system would be school's self-evaluation which would be available to the inspection team at a formal inspection.

The 32-page booklet, which is published by The Office for Standards in Inspection (OFSTIN), uses presentations from a conference on OFSTED at New College, Oxford, in June 1996.

Educationists and industrialists at the conference concluded it was time for an independent review of OFSTED, supplemented by research.

Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, said: "I was delighted to receive this fascinating pamphlet and look forward to discussing its many interesting ideas with colleagues."

A Better System of Inspection? A Report by Chris Boothroyd, Carol Fitz-Gibbon, John McNicholas, Meryl Thompson, Elliott Stern and Teg Wragg, edited by Michael Duffy and illustrated by Bill Stott, is published by The Office for Standards in Inspection, co 9 Quatre Bras, Hexham, Northumberland, NE46 3JY.

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