End the confusion over inspections;Letter

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Chris Woodhead is to be congratulated for his openness ("Where do you stand?" TES, June 5). I was heartened by his admission that not every judgment made by his inspectors was exactly right, but that he was "pretty sure about the judgments on failing schools". His use of the vague word "pretty" confirms what a lot of heads and teachers have been thinking for four years - that the system is flawed.

Mr Woodhead says that "inspection is not perfect. Benchmarking is not a science". Of course, teachers know that the subjective judgments of Office for Standards in Education inspectors are not based on empirical evidence, but a lot of parents do not. This is not surprising since the results are presented as if they are scientifically analysed. Teachers also know that inspection teams vary, but parents are not made aware of this.

I was surprised Mr Woodhead was prepared to ignore OFSTED's policy of not discussing individual schools in order to defend his position. However I hope he will reflect that when he says that he "is not going to pretend that every judgment was exactly right" during OFSTED inspections, this must apply to schools that have been seen as successful as well as those seen to be failing.

For my part, I will be reflecting upon Mr Woodhead's notion that "it is absolutely right that there should be a disjunction" between OFSTED and the QCA's benchmarking results. If both services are being provided by the education system, should not one branch be supporting the other for the benefit of schools and children?

Why can't heads and teachers be given information which is clear and lacks confusion? Why, when we have a Government committed to looking at value-added information, should inspectors use the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority benchmarking results with discretion?

This lack of clarity leads to misunderstandings both within the profession and among parents.

I agree that parents should express their concerns, but they should be able to do so from a position of knowledge and understanding. If lay people are to be able to criticise in a responsible way, it is imperative that the government and its departments show clarity and act in a responsible manner.

Unity between the QCA and OFSTED is essential if dedicated and committed professionals are to be able to get on with the job of educating our children successfully.

Hilary Carnihan London SE 18

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