Called to account

26th May 2000 at 01:00
MARTIN Stephen asks a very pertinent question on our Platform this week (page 15). Why, when teachers, heads and local authorities are being held publicly accountable for their performance, should Office for Standards in Education inspectors be above systematic scrutiny?

His proposal that every inspector should be graded by the schools they inspect will, of course, be no more welcome to the inspectorate than league tables were to schools. But if teachers and local authority officers have to be placed under public pressure to achieve the standards expected, why should individual inspectors working on commercial contracts not also be susceptible to the threat of public exposure if they underperform?

OFSTED, which should be a model of accountability, might have been expected to welcome such a performance indicator. As another headteacher, Mike Kent, points out (Friday magazine, page 29) how inspectors should contribute to school and teacher development - and the sensitivities they are expected to show to reduce stress - are clearly specified. Why, then, should heads not be asked to rate how well individual inspectors meet those specifications? The resulting rankings would not be perfect, of course, any more than league tables or nspectors' reports have ever been. More like "rough justice", to borrow David Blunkett's phrase.

OFSTED objects that schools are more likely to be negative about inspectors if they get a bad report. But so what? Martin Stephen is suggesting a published grade spread across all schools inspected so any such tendency would be balanced out. And in any case, are struggling schools and teachers not also entitled to constructive and sensitive behaviour on the part of inspectors? Is all comment by failing schools to be dismissed as defensive or vindictive? Telling teachers that they are failing in a manner that is helpful and supportive is a much more challenging - and stressful - job for an inspector than reporting success. And since it only applies in a minority of cases, it may be a skill inspectors do not practise - or get feedback on - very often.

The High Master of Manchester Grammar's proposal has been given short shrift by the Chief Inspector. But we would like to hear reactions from both sides of the clipboard - from OFSTED inspectors as well as teachers, heads, governors and administrators - by letter, e-mail (address above) or on the special forum we have set up to debate this idea on our website (

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