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MPs take hard line with chief inspector

MEMBERS of the Commons Education Select Committee are to launch another review of their relationship with Chris Woodhead after pronouncing themselves dissatisfied with his latest response to them.

Barry Sheerman, the committee's chairman, said he was "deeply disappointed" that the chief inspector had only sent a half-page response to the committee's enquiries about his last annual report.

Mr Sheerman suggested Mr Woodhead's response fell short of what Parliament, to whom he is accountable, should expect. He and his fellow MPs plan to look at the original terms of Mr Woodhead's appointment, to see what his duties are as far as reporting to them is concerned.

Mr Sheerman insisted that the review was merely an attempt to establish ground rules for the future. He said he wanted to develop a "creative" relationship with Mr Woodhead.

But the move may signal a further deterioration in that relationship. Two weeks ago Mr Woodhead took umbrage, claiming Mr Sheerman had referred to him as a "witch-finder general" in a radio interview.

Mr Sheerman maintains his remarks, on Radio 4's Today programme, were "misinterpreted" by Mr Woodhead.

The latest dispute stems from the committee's analysis of Mr Woodhad's report on the state of the nation's schools for 1998-99.

The committee produced a report that included 10 recommendations of their own for ministers and Mr Woodhead on issues including bullying, supply teachers and class-sizes.

School standards minister Estelle Morris replied with a two--and-a-half-page letter, but Mr Woodhead's response ran to only half a page.

Mr Sheerman said: "If the Office for Standards in Education had asked questions of a school and got half a page in response, you would expect the school to get pretty short shrift.

"I'm determined to get a positive relationship with the chief inspector, on the basis that he is a public servant accountable to Parliament through the select committee.

"At the moment, I think the relationship falls far short of that."

A spokesman for Mr Woodhead said OFSTED's work had already been scrutinised at great length in an inquiry last year.

He added: "Why say something in three pages if we can say it in half a page?"

Asked if there was a problem in the relationship between Mr Woodhead and Mr Sheerman, the spokesman said: "Ask Mr Sheerman. He's the one who went on the record calling Mr Woodhead a 'witch-finder general'."

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