An Inspector Writes

12th January 1996 at 00:00
Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax 0171-782 3200. e-mail:letters@tes1.demon.co.uk

As our OFSTED inspector took away a set of our documents, some derived from others' ideas, but many of our own devising, I wondered to what extent our material is covered by copyright. Will the inspector feel at liberty to use our ideas in another contract where she or he may be employed to offer advice to another school?

Is there a part of the OFSTED contract which forbids an inspector making any use of material gathered during an inspection, other than for the purposes of that particular inspection?

I assume that the documentation is concerned with the school's aims, objectives and policies, and defines in detail how these are to be achieved through development and financial plans, through staffing structures and forms of management, schemes of work and provision for teaching, learning, assessment and evaluation.

Significant aspects of such guiding documentation may derive from various sources. But invariably schools will shape and modify it to suit their particular needs and aspirations. In its final form it will often represent extravagant labour and trial and error. Consequently, the documents may be as sacrosanct to the school as a battle plan to an army.

Does this mean, therefore, that those who visit schools to evaluate them are free to describe or publish what they encounter only in the context of inspection or other official reports? We need to bear in mind that an increasingly important part of successful inspection is the identification, analysis and dissemination of effective practice and its causes, in order to inform the thinking of policy-makers and support the highest possible development of teaching and learning.

OFSTED is already publishing material to this end, based on evidence gained from inspection. It has long been common for inspectors and advisers to use examples of effective practice encountered in particular schools in articles and in-service training. However, such references tend to be very broad, and to stop short of naming individual schools and teachers, except where permission has been granted.

But a kind of plagiarism that enables inspectors to fulfil other contracts is a very different matter. Such documentation is likely to comprise the essential detailed blueprints that provide for practical implementation, as distinct from broad policies or strategies. So, for example, to outline to others the main priorities of a school's mathematics policy would, in most circumstances, be quite acceptable; to circulate, without permission, the school's scheme of work, with its detailed provision for teaching and learning, continuity and progression, assessment and so on, would be a serious breach of professional behaviour. Such materials must surely remain the exclusive property of the authors until they grant permission for their general use.

The inspection process means that inspectors become familiar, quite legitimately, with literature and materials that would be invaluable in developmental work with schools and teachers. The strict OFSTED code of conduct does not make specific reference to the proper use of such material, but there can be no doubt that inspectors would be free to use it in the context of other contracts only with the knowledge and permission of the teachers and schools to whom it belongs.

Even where permission is forthcoming, it should be sought only after the inspection report is published, to avoid any possibility of inspection judgment being compromised.

It might be helpful for OFSTED to provide specific guidance on this matter. However, perhaps an ideal solution would be the promotion of a climate where teachers felt encouraged to publish, for the benefit of a wider audience, some of the valuable material they create for their own schools.

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