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OFSTIN is set up to inspect the inspectors

An organisation to inspect the inspectors has been set up by a group of academics and former headteachers to challenge the fairness of the current inspection service and to question its value for money, writes Frances Rafferty.

Carol Fitzgibbon, director of the curriculum, evaluation and management centre at Durham University, is heading the group which calls itself the Office for Standards in Inspection (OFSTIN). She and a group of former headteachers are compiling a dossier of schools' experiences with inspectors and Professor Fitzgibbon will be evaluating the service's reliability and consistency. She said: "We are concerned because there are a lot of cosy relationships between the Office for Standards in Education and the researchers paid by it."

She said people's lives and schools' futures were being determined by inspections: "But if one inspector can make a different judgment to another, then it is meaningless. I have yet to see evidence of reliable consistency. "

Team member Michael Duffy said: "There needs to be an opportunity to apply the sort of checks OFSTED applies to registered inspectors to the whole organisation."

This week Gillian Shephard, Education and Employment Secretary, announced the publication of a consultation document on the future of inspection. This would include requiring schools to be inspected at least every six years instead of four.

OFSTIN has organised a conference in June, at Oxford New College. It will be asking how sound OFSTED's methodology is, how helpful it is as a model for school improvement and whether it offers value for money. The National Association of Head Teachers is expected this weekend to agree funding for the project.

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