Knives out for the chief inspector

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
Fresh from a drubbing by MPs, Chris Woodhead faces a major legal challenge A MAJOR threat to Chris Woodhead's inspection empire emerged this week as MPs and London's largest seco ndary school launched a twin assault on his authority.

The moves came as fresh rumours circulated in Westminster that the controversial chief inspector is planning to resign.

Crown Woods school, in Greenwich, south-east London, is to launch an unprecedented High Court battle later this month against an Office for Standards in Education decision to place it in special measures.

In a test case that could pave the way for further legal challenges, the school's governors will ask a judge to reverse a decision made in April to label it as failing.

They have been granted a judicial review hearing on November 30, when they will argue that a report by OFSTED was unreliable because the inspection team saw so little of the school's work.

Pressure on the chief inspector intensified after a stormy encounter with members of the all-party Parliamentary select committee on education, which attempted to call him to account over a string of recent outbursts.

The committee attacked Mr Woodhead for exceeding his remit, making comments without evidence and being "offensive" to them and other public bodies.

Members of the select committee heard that since the summer Mr Woodhead had:

refused to be interviewed for a major report on ethnic-minority achievement by the Commission for Racial Equality

written to Gurbux Singh, chairman of the commission, telling him "your sef-righteousness astonishes me" after Mr Singh had accused him of not taking the commission's report seriously

not written back to John Randall, the chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, six weeks after being asked to discuss his claims that some university degree courses, such as media studies, were "vacuous". Mr Woodhead apologised to the committee.

Pressed on his reported claim that A-levels were "too easy", Mr Woodhead admitted to MPs that the evidence did not exist to make the statement.

Following the encounter, two senior MPs said they believed Mr Woodhead was negotiating his way out of the job he has occupied for seven tempestuous years.

One MP told The TES: "I understand that he plans to stand down. There are many rumours flying around the Commons and they all say he is planning to go."

The other said: "It's fairly open knowledge. The fact that he's going has been common gossip for a while now."

The TES understands that Mr Woodhead is negotiating to write for a national newspaper in the run-up to the election. While he remains a civil servant, he is restricted in what he can say.

OFSTED denied that Mr Woodhead is on the point of leaving.

The Department for Education and Employment refused to comment. Number 10 would say only: "Anything the chief inspector does would have to be consistent with the terms of his contract."

Mr Woodhead, who is appointed by the Queen, took up his post in 1993. He was re-appointed in 1998 on a pound;100,000-a-year, five-year contract to 2003.

High Court challenge, 5

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