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Political spotlight turns on OFSTED

The role of the chief inspector and the inspection service is to come under the scrutiny of a House of Commons committee which crossed swords with Chris Woodhead earlier this year.

The cross-party education and employment committee has launched its inquiry into the Office for Standards in Education. It will look at its accountability, the reliability of inspectors' reports, its contribution to raising standards and value for money.

Mr Woodhead received a hostile grilling over his role in the report on Birmingham's education service in February. Margaret Hodge, the chair, subjected him to a stream of critical questions.

Although Mrs Hodge has stepped down since becoming an education minister,other members, notably Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, will be ready to continue the assault. The remit of the inquiry is ostensibly not so personal this time. But the chief inspector can expect to be back in the line of fire.

During a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat annual conference, Mr Foster questioned Mr Woodhead's re-appointment, criticised his confrontational style and questioned whether OFSTED inspections improved standards.

He told Mr Woodhead: "Your performance-related pay scale is based upon targets agreed between you and the Secretary of State. I hope you agree that they be made public just as the targets given to schools and local education authorities are."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association and author of a book on the history of the inspection service, said he believed Mr Woodhead should be questioned by the committee for acting in a politically inappropriate fashion - for example writing an anti-local education authority pamphlet for the right-wing think tank Politiea.

He said: "I am also concerned that Mr Woodhead has been re-appointed with a new remit before the results of the inquiry."

Analysis, page 28

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