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OFSTED 'betrayed' boroughs

Josephine Gardiner on the allegation that a literacy study has been given a negative slant.

OFSTED has been accused of rewriting an important report on literacy in the inner city prepared by its own inspectors in order to present a negative picture of standards.

Inspectors from three London boroughs taking part in the study, Tower Hamlets, Islington and Southwark, say they were invited to the Office for Standards in Education last Friday, and given half an hour to read the final version of the report, which is due to be published next Tuesday.

They were not allowed to take away copies. According to representatives from all three boroughs, what they did see differed markedly from the draft version which they had agreed with OFSTED's inspectors before Easter.The authorities said they felt that the draft report, though critical, was also positive and fair, but the final version had been altered to present a highly negative picture of reading in the three boroughs.

These accusations follow the allegations made in The TES two weeks ago by former OFSTED primary adviser Colin Richards that the chief inspector Chris Woodhead had distorted statistics to present a gloomy picture of primary education in his annual report. Mr Woodhead denies the charge.

The three boroughs are apparently so outraged that they have decided to derail OFSTED's launch of the literacy report next week because they fear it will be used to fuel Tory criticisms of standards in "loony Labour councils".

In a statement, a spokesman for Tower Hamlets says that in the final report, descriptions of the social context of the three authorities which appeared in the original draft have been "shortened, moved to a less prominent position, or deleted". The statement quotes a paragraph that details the high number of children with special needs or English as a foreign language which had been removed. It also quotes 13 paragraphs that the author of the final report has either removed or toned down - all of which either praise the authorities' efforts or highlight the difficult circumstances in which teachers work.

"We participated in this survey in good faith . . . now, however, we feel that the promise of professional co-operation has been betrayed."

The survey was planned early in 1995 as a follow-up to OFSTED's 1994 report on Access and Achievement in Urban Education and was intended to be a "closely co-operative exercise", according to director of inspection Jim Rose.

But in September last year John Major gave the impression in a speech on education in Birmingham that the three authorities were being targeted for punitive inspections. The authorities say they were given assurances afterwards that this was not the case.

Islington's chair of education, Phil Kelly, said on Wednesday that he was alarmed to learn of the alterations that had allegedly been made. "Major changes have been introduced into the report since an earlier draft shown [to the authority] before Easter. The slanting of this report is clearly intended to pander to the prejudices of Mr Woodhead's political masters."

He said that instead of concentrating on finding out what methods of teaching reading work best, the new report has been redrafted to emphasise shortcomings in teachers' skills, headteachers' leadership, and "alleged absences of school policies on reading". He said he was also angry that the LEA inspectors had been forced to read the study "in Scott report-style conditions". A spokesman for Southwark said that the council shared the anger of the other two authorities and that the director of education, Gordon Mott, would be making a statement today.

Anne Sofer, chief education officer of Islington, said: "We were very pleased to be part of this venture on the basis that it would pinpoint what methods work."

A spokeswoman for OFSTED, asked about the alleged discrepancies said: "A draft is a draft. We have just sharpened up the points to make it clearer."

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