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Ofsted failing its staff

Poll reveals high levels of bullying, fear, stress and bad management. Warwick Mansell reports

One in five staff at the Office for Standards in Education claims to have been bullied or harassed at work in the past 15 months, an unpublished survey has revealed.

Questionnaires returned by more than 2,000 Ofsted staff suggest that one in three wants to leave and that there were more than 500 instances of bullying during 2003. Four out of five were attributed to managers.

The survey results paint a picture of an organisation which appears to run, to some extent, on fear.

Other findings include:

* Two out of three staff said they felt unable to speak freely at work or share ideas about changing the way work was done.

* Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) felt so stressed that it was damaging their work.

* Less than a quarter (24 per cent) said they thought the management style was one that encouraged staff to do their best.

* Less than a third (26 per cent) said they believed Ofsted had a climate which allowed staff to challenge established ways of doing things.

* Almost half (49 per cent) believed that little effort was made to ascertain staff's opinions.

* Less than half (46 per cent) were willing to recommend Ofsted as a good place to work.

* Almost two-thirds said objectives changed so frequently that they could not get work done.

The report, a summary of which was leaked to The TES, will be hugely embarrassing to an organisation which oversees judgments on the management of thousands of schools every year.

A source with close links to Ofsted said: "Any school that produced these results in an inspection would be in serious trouble and would certainly be labelled a failing institution."

The seriousness of the findings were acknowledged this week by chief inspector David Bell, who has been seen by many as an effective leader since his appointment in January 2002.

Writing in today's TES, Mr Bell said: "Bullying will not be tolerated within our organisation." He said Ofsted had acted on the comments made in a previous survey and he intended to address a number of issues in the coming year.

The survey, carried out by independent consultants ISR in January, was returned by 2,064 staff, or 76 per cent of the organisation's 2,733 employees.

When ISR analysed answers relating to "culture and management style", Ofsted came out 16 percentage points worse than the average for public and private-sector organisations, and eight points worse than the public-sector average.

Ofsted commissioned a similar survey in October 2002 and many of the new results represent improvements on the previous, unreleased, questionnaire.

Its management has been under pressure from unions to investigate staff concerns amid anecdotal evidence of the disaffection.

Ofsted sources say much of the unhappiness stems from the rapid expansion of the inspectorate in 2001, when 1,900 new early-years inspectors were taken on. The survey shows that it is these staff who are the most dissatisfied with management.

The report has been presented to the Ofsted board, which has now pledged to work with unions to produce an action plan.

Dean Rogers, national officer for the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents employees at Ofsted's London HQ, said: "Some employers faced with a report like this would have tried to hide behind any positive spin.

"So far Ofsted seems to be taking a more honest and positive approach. We will work with them to address these issues."

Analysis, viewpoint 8

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