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The new best friend

Mike Tomlinson impressed governors by sharing their concerns about paperwork and performance assessment. Karen Thornton reports

Chris Woodhead's successor at the inspection agency, OFSTED, is still enjoying an extended honeymoon with the education sector, including governors.

At the National Governors' Council's spring conference last weekend, chief inspector Mike Tomlinson wooed and won over his audience with praise for teachers and governors for raising standards. He supported value-added measures of school performance; and was concerned about bureaucracy and regional and local funding differences between schools.

More importantly, he promised to work more closely with the council's executive - particularly on improving OFSTED's good practice website by adding material for governors.

Roger Priest, of Bucking-hamshire, told him: "(Your) contribution is much more welcome than the abrasive contribution of your predecessor."

Although subject to the election purdah which restrains all civil servants from talking about future policy, Mr Tomlinson found plenty to discuss, spurred on by many questions from the floor.

He was applauded for reiterating comments that schools and pupils should be judged on more than just the pass rate for five good GCSEs - a measure which ignored the efforts, often "against all the odds", of many pupils.

And he was hoping to see proper, value-added measures in OFSTED-produced reports on school performance and assessment (PANDAs) by next year o 2003 at the latest. He supported school self-evaluation - while acknowledging the need for senior managers to have time to do it properly.

On bureaucracy, he told governors that schools should not be revising every policy and scheme of work and presenting them in glossy formats for their OFSTED inspection. Nor should teachers be "cajoled into a form of lesson-planning different from what the school has in place".

He said: "A good school is good because of what happens in the classroom, not because of the quantity and extent of paper that surrounds the classroom."

Future inspections will look at the level of bureaucracy in schools, where it comes from, and its impact, he said, adding that he wanted to be able to comment on this issue in his annual reports.

NGC delegates gave him several issues to consider further, such as whether the inspection framework can be applied to newly-formed schools; whether councils are selecting the governors who meet with inspectors during LEA inspection; and whether some inspectors have yet to moderate their own abrasiveness in line with the new OFSTED culture at the top. But they went away warmed by his praise: "Governing bodies of our schools are a remarkable achievement and the amount of time and effort all of you put in is quite tremendous. I would like to thank you for that and the contribution you make towards the improvements we are seeing in our education system."

See for OFSTED's recent paper on bureaucracy

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