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Science safety clash with OFSTED

Government inspectors are exceeding their remit of policing school standards by interfering in routine health and safety matters, it was claimed by science teachers and advisers this week.

Classroom safety groups insisted that common infringements in science lessons are a matter not for the schools inspectorate but for the Health and Safety Executive.

The school science service CLEAPSS (the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services) and two other bodies dealing with the teaching of science have published guidelines on what they say the Office of Standards in Education should be looking for when inspecting school science.

The guide, Inspecting safety in science: a guide for OFSTED inspectors, is available in primary and secondary school editions. The publishers aim to mail a copyto all inspectors, although they claim OFSTED has refused to co-operate with distribution.

The guidelines set out the legal framework for maintaining standards in health and safety which gives responsibility to education authorities or governing bodies. It recommends that inspectors avoid reporting minor transgressions, which it says are covered by current checks, and that they look instead for "the bigger picture".

Dick Orton, a senior adviser at CLEAPSS, said: "Inspectors have made a song and dance about small infringements in the classroom. Sometimes they are giving advice on the fringe of their expertise."

He said CLEAPSS have received a number of complaints that OFSTED inspectors had often made "inappropriate and wrong" recommendations, some of which had found their way into the final report.

A series of case studies included in the guidelines showed that inspectors were incorporating minor infringements into main findings on a school.

For example, a minor violation during a relatively safe experiment displaying a volcano effect should not have been featured in the final report or used to illustrate a bigger problem, it stated.

In another case, a clean bill of health given to the science department of an independent school by the Health and Safety Executive was challenged soon afterwards by OFSTED inspectors.

A spokesman for OFSTED said inspectors would continue, where necessary, to challenge the view of the HSE. "We cannot just turn a blind eye," he said.

Copies of the guidelines produced by CLEAPPS together with the Association for Science Education (ASE) and the National Science Advisers and Inspectors Group can be obtained from CLEAPSS School Science Service at Brunel University, Uxbridge, UB8 3PH.

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