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Inspectors worthy of Kafka

Leading professors of education this week went before MPs to savage the Office for Standards in Education for inspection methods that could have come from the pages of a Kafka novel.

Peter Mortimore, director of the Institute of Education at London University, told MPs on the House of Commons education select committee that the team that had arrived at his institution included untrained inspectors who carried out the work in an atmosphere of mistrust.

"There was a sense that we were at war with an OFSTED team that was determined to pull down our grades," said Professor Mortimore.

He added that the chief inspector of schools had decided to re-inspect the Institute, despite the fact that its provision for teacher training in English and maths had been highly rated only 12 months earlier. He told MPs: "Some of the inspectors had not had any inspection experience, but that was only part of the problem. OFSTED gave no impression that it had prepared the methodology or criteria."

Committee member, Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South, said the written evidence on the Institute's inspection had read like Kafka, and the inspection had been carried out by Kafkaesque characters.

Part of the written evidence before the committee's current inquiry into OFSTED also suggested that the fear of inspection could lead to universities withdrawing from teacher training, which could have serious implications for teacher recruitment.

In the most serious attack on OFSTED's credibility since the select committee began its inquiry, Professor Mortimore and John MacBeath, professor of education at Strathclyde, said the organisation had lost the trust of many who work in schools, local education authorities and universities.

Professor MacBeath suggested that in "rubbishing" education research, the chief inspector had undermined the efforts of those concerned with improving schools.

MPs were told that many of the HMIs who transferred to OFSTED when it was created in 1993 have left and there is now a serious shortage of capable and qualified inspectors.

Professor Mortimore said that many of those who had left made little secret of the fact that they found the culture and methods of OFSTED unacceptable.

Harvey Goldstein, professor of statisticial methods at the Institute of Education, said OFSTED had only attempted a partial assessment and that had cast doubt on inspectors' ability to judge between the crucial grades that decide whether lessons are satisfactory. However, an independent study was needed on the reliability of different teams of inspectors.

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