Call for real chance to challenge inspectors

27th April 2001 at 01:00
Outgoing OFSTED complaints adjudicator concedes need for reform. Warwick Mansell reports

SCHOOLS should be given an extra opportunity to question the judgments of Office for Standards in Education inspectors, the service's official complaints adjudicator said this week.

Elaine Rassaby, who is to stand down this summer after three years in the post, admitted that the current system offers schools little chance of winning complaints against inspectors' judgments.

She said that OFSTED should consider giving heads and teachers the opportunity to go immediately to a second inspector if they think, on seeing a draft of the inspection report, that a judgment is wrong.

Ms Rassaby gave a frank assessment of the complaints system in the latest edition of the National Union of Teachers' discussion forum, Education Review.

She said the adjudication office, which was established in 1998 to review OFSTED's handling of complaints, had led to more openness and the agency was now more willing to share information with complainants.

OFSTED had also relaxed slightly its rules on the burden of proof needed to uphold a complaint against an inspector. But the system offered little help to schools unhappy with the substance of an inspector's decision.

At present, if schools are unhappy with an inspection verdict, they can complain to OFSTED. If the agency is convinced that the judgment is not justified, it can say so in a response which would be published alongside the report, and even withdraw a report or order a re-inspection.

The adjudicator, which considers OFSTED's handling of complaints, can order an apology from the agency or get it to reconsider the complaint if it feels the response was inadequate.

But Ms Rassaby said the current system made it difficult for either OFSTED or the adjudicator to take any such action in favour of a school. As long as an inspector could produce evidence for a judgment, it was hard for either party to dispute it, irrespective of conflictingevidence later provided by the school.

Ms Rassaby had suggested to OFSTED that schools be given the opportunity to ask for arbitration from an HMI if they disagreed with an inspection verdict in a draft report.

In the meantime, she said, schools should not regard the complaints system as a way of challenging anything other than procedural failings.

Disagreements on the substance of a verdict should be challenged informally with inspectors before they found their way into the final report.

Ms Rassaby, who is currently appointed and employed by OFSTED, has long voiced concerns about the adjudicator's independence. Earlier this year, the Government responded by announcing that the adjudicator will be appointed by the Department for Education and Employment from this summer, though remaining under OFSTED's employment.

Ms Rassaby told The TES she did not plan to re-apply for the job when her contract ended in July.

An OFSTED spokeswoman said schools had ample opportunity to discuss inspection findings with inspectors before a report was published. OFSTED could withdraw an inspection or order a new one if it considered a report seriously misleading.

BOYCOTTING BONUSES

DAVID Thompson won't take the Government's money. Head for 16 years at Hayden Bridge school, five miles from Hadrian's Wall in rural Northumberland, he has foregone a performance pay rise for years.

So have his deputies.They agreed several years ago that performance pay was unfair while teachers were not entitled to it. More importantly, the schools could not afford it.

"It would be nice to get more but not by taking money out of the budget for books," Mr Thompson said. Other Northumberland heads have taken a similar line. But that may change if and when funding levels rise.

And the launch of performance pay for classroom teachers has made Mr Thompson "more comfortable" with the principle. He and his deputies have now taken a first step to performance pay by agreeing targets.


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