Chief inspector seeks to limit role of councils in improving schools

5th December 1997 at 00:00
The Office for Standards in Education wants limits on the powers of local authorities to deal with schools that they consider to be under-performing.

In advance of the drafting of a code of practice for local authorities, Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, has made clear his opposition to a more interventionist role for councils.

Ministers have already ruled out giving local authorities greater powers of access to schools, but this autumn's Education Bill will place a statutory duty on them to raise standards in schools.

However, Mr Woodhead is opposed to local authorities being given the major responsibility for school improvement. He told a conference organised by the London borough of Haringey and the Department for Education and Employment: "Personally, I am not in favour of early intervention by local authorities or the constant monitoring of schools by local authorities."

The problem that currently exists, he said, is that local authorities often work excessively with schools before inspection by OFSTED with the aim of ensuring they do not fail. For the future, local authorities that provide a great deal of support for schools will find it difficult to make impartial judgments, he said.

The policy of publicly naming failing schools was one that he supported.

The legislation is expected to give local authorities the power to inspect where data or other objective evidence suggest a school is performing badly. The chief inspector suggested that in cases where schools refuse to co-operate, OFSTED would be willing at relatively short notice to send in an inspection team.

It was his view, he said, that schools should be the agent of their own improvement. In turn, local authorities should have a well-defined strategy for raising standards, focused on ways to improve the quality of teaching.

Chief education officers have informed ministers that they need to be able to monitor classrooms. Roy Jobson, Manchester's chief education officer and chairman of the Association of Chief Education Officers, has argued that statistical data is not sufficient to provide early warning of potential problems in schools.

Mr Woodhead said he was also concerned that schools should not be bombarded with statistics. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is about to send to schools national benchmarks for tests at seven, 11, 14 and 16. In addition, next year OFSTED will issue heads and local authorities school with profiles comparing exam results against national figures and attainment in similar institutions.

The QCA and OFSTED adopted a different statistical base in preparing information for schools. The QCA benchmark figures take account of the range of results adjusted for the proportion of children receiving free school meals.

The OFSTED data for comparing similar schools takes account of the numbers eligible for free meals, which is greater than the take-up figure. The problem for schools is that, in deprived urban areas, the different statistical base produces widely different results.

LEAs seek role in heads' appointments, page 14

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