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Married inspectors' case changes rules

THE Office for Standards in Education has changed its complaints procedure following a successful challenge from a Cleveland primary school.

When there are personal links or risk of a conflict of interest between contractors and inspectors additional or alternative arrangements must now be made to handle complaints.

One way of doing this, OFSTED suggests, is to appoint an independent third party. In this case the name and address of the external complaints officer should be passed on to the complainant so that they can make direct contact.

The advice comes after Belmont primary in Guisborough was inspected in March 2000 and found to have serious weaknesses. The school accepted there was a need to improve, but headteacher Colin Linthwaite challenged the report which he felt was too negative.

Under the OFSTED complaints procedure Mr Linthwaite's complaint was passed on to the contractor who ran the inspection. He was married to the registered inspector who conducted the inspection.

Mr Linthwaite feared the relationship meant his complaint was not dealt with fairly and raised the matter with the OFSTED adjudicator and the parliamentary ombudsman.

The OFSTED adjudicator did not accept that the case could not be dealt with fairly because of the contractor's and registered inspector's relationship. But Cleveland East MP Ashok Kumar won time for a debate on the issue in the House of Commons where he pressed for a clearer separation of the roles of contractor and registered inspector.

He welcomed the change made by OFSTED and said: "I think it has taken this up seriously. I'm very happy with the outcome and I think the school will be too."

Mr Linthwaite said: "Having a third party is right and proper and should have been there from the beginning."

march 8 2002 TES 15

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