Councils critical of inspections
An independent analysis of Office for Standards in Education inspection reports suggests a mismatch between strong criticism and the evidence to substantiate it.
The study, carried out by The Education Network, a research group supporting state education, said attempts to redress the imbalance were likely to prove futile since the relationship between OFSTED and councils was not one of equals.
"Moreover, the media will undoubtedly reinforce this unequal distribution of power - serious criticism in an OFSTED report will always make headline news whereas an LEA's attempt at self-defence will attract little coverage."
The analysis, based on the experience of 13 councils, compares in detail the reports of the neighbouring east London boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets.
Newham's glowing report held up the authority as an example to the country. Tower Hamlets was accused of low standards and poor use of public money.
Yet the network said the two had similar exam results despite Tower Hamlets having higher numbers of pupils on free school meals with English as a second language. Tower Hamlets scored higher than both Newham and the national average on a number of school improvement factors, including support for pupils with behavioural problems, but its OFSTED report said little about it.
Councils are concerned because a bad report could be used by ministers as a reason to hand over services to outside contractors.
Hundreds of organisations have already expressed interest in these proposals and the Department for Education and Employment is now sifting through responses to its advertisement for the work.
OFSTED, along with the Audit Commission, began inspecting councils just over a year ago and all are due to be inspected by 2001.
The report is available from TEN, 1-5 Bath Street, London. Price pound;10.