Councils round on Woodhead

20th August 1999 at 01:00
THE most senior figure in local government has launched a blistering attack on Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, describing him as "a serial breaker of his word".

In a letter to the Education and Employment Secretary, Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Local Government Association, describes Mr Woodhead's behaviour over the recent publication of Leicester City's report as astonishing.

He accuses Mr Woodhead and his inspectors of changing the agreed publication date, refusing to let the local authority read the highly critical draft report and failing to keep an agreed embargo on press coverage.

Sir Jeremy said: "In the case of Leicester, as with Manchester and Islington, to take but two examples, he has fallen short. He is now widely regarded as a serial breaker of his word, a failing that brings into disrepute the principle and practice of inspection."

He believes the inspectors published ahead of time, or broke a press embargo, in all three cases.

Later in the letter, Sir Jeremy said: "What ultimately is most unprofessional about Mr Woodhead's habit of playing fast and loose is the demoralising effect his behaviour has on those working hard to help schools turn themselves round."

He told David Blunkett that by breaking the embargo, Mr Woodhead put his own spin on the story, suggesting that the Department for Education and Employment was planning to intervene in Leicester. The DFEE's own press release on the report, he said, did not imply this.

Officials at Leicester City said they were not given the draft inspection report. It was read to them during a five-hour meeting and they were not given a copy. It is at this stage of the proceedings that a council can answer the findings and correct factual errors.

They say none of their comments was taken into account in the final report.

Chris Woodhead's Office for Standards in Education found that a quarter of the city's schools were failing or had serious weaknesses, and Leicester lacked the expertise to raise standards.

It did acknowledge the task faced by the newly-created unitary authority was daunting. Schools minister Estelle Morris is to appoint consultants to draw up options for the future.

Mr Woodhead said: "Leicester has not been treated unfairly. As chief inspector, I have a duty to publish education authority reports which contain serious criticisms, and that is what I did in this case. Nobody from OFSTED spoke to the press prior to publication.

"The fact that the education director resigned on receipt of the report suggests he does not agree with Sir Jeremy Beecham's defence of the authority's record. The LGA would do better to support Leicester now when it needs it, rather than make ill-informed criticisms of OFSTED."

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