Meet the real inspectors

11th June 2004 at 01:00
I read Andrew Broadhead's letter "Stop tinkering and abolish" (TES, May 21) with some interest and not a little astonishment.

I have considerable sympathy with his view that "The present (inspection) format must be replaced by a system which is acceptable to the teaching profession - one that could work with, rather than against, teachers and would have a true aim of improvement rather than the currently perceived objective of fault-finding..." But I would have even more sympathy if I did not judge this statement to be somewhat anachronistic.

The Office for Standards in Education has for some time emphasised the need for inspection to be done "with rather than to schools", and my evidence overall is that the majority of schools value external inspection, set against a form of national calibration, that give the school a yardstick against which to test their own self-evaluation. This has been the thrust of Ofsted inspection.

In the Guardian education section (March 23), John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, wrote: "In fact, the Ofsted framework, introduced in September, has proved popular with many headteachers. Its increased flexibility, in the hands of a good inspector, has given a more useful analysis of a school's position. The problem has been that some poor inspectors have used the flexibility to target specific areas and failed to balance weaknesses with strengths in analysing the school's performance."

I would agree absolutely with him. I also enjoyed his lively description of " intransigent, inflexible and insensitive" school inspectors (TES, May 7).

Inspection is carried out by professionals who are human and fallible.

In my career, as a local authority inspector, an HMI and now as director of inspection for Tribal PPI providing more than 500 inspections annually, my overwhelming experience is of professional inspectors working conscientiously. The vast majority of inspectors I meet have a deep sense of personal commitment to the education young people receive. They recognise the privilege they have in visiting a diversity of schools, meeting a wide variety of teachers and seeing a range of teaching, and being able to share that experience to, in some small measure, support schools in their constant drive to improve.

I have had many conversations with and letters from heads, staff and governors who have shared their satisfaction with the outcomes of their inspection and the benefits that they feel have accrued from their inspection.

Andrew Broadhead's hyperbolic description of a profession rent by resignations, nervous breakdowns, divorce and death following Ofsted inspection, and of swathes of professionals weeping inconsolably on the night before inspection, bereft of libido, is not one that I recognise.

Nor, I would hazard, would most of the teachers I meet.

Richard Whitburn Director of inspection Tribal PPI Barley House Oakfield Grove, Bristol

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