MPs angered by support for Woodhead

30th July 1999 at 01:00
The Government this week risked the fury of MPs by backing Chris Woodhead in the face of calls from a Commons select committee for measures to curb the "intemperate" style of the chief inspector.

David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, has rejected proposals to make Mr Woodhead's Office for Standards in Education accountable to a board of commissioners.

Mr Blunkett made it clear that the Government is not convinced there is case for making changes. He also defends the right of the chief inspector to express his views in the way he sees fit.

The Government's formal response to the MPs' inquiry into OFSTED says:

"Part of HM chief inspector's job is to 'tell it as it is', speaking plainly and openly ....Chris Woodhead has been prepared to speak up where standards have not been good enough and the Government believes this has contributed to the raising of standards."

The unfortunate perceptions of Mr Woodhead among teachers, have, says the Government, been shaped by unbalanced and unhelpful media coverage.

However, a number of the MPs are angry at what they describe as the arrogance of the formal reply from OFSTED. Mr Woodhead is to be summoned to appear before the committee again in November. "This is not the end of the story," said one.

In particular, MPs are incensed at the claim that they, for the most part, chose to interview known critics of OFSTED. One said: "We went to huge lengths to try and find witnesses who would put forward pro-Woodhead views. We asked both OFSTED and the Department for Education and Employment for names. The fact is they were in short supply."

The OFSTED reply suggests MPs should provide documentation to support their inference that Mr Woodhead's views are not always grounded in evidence. It says: "We reject the assertion that some of Mr Woodhead's views cannot be substantiated by inspection or other evidence. They can."

It goes on to say that OFSTED is puzzled by the report's suggestion that it should work in partnership with the teaching profession. Teachers' morale will only improve, it says, when standards in schools have improved. "Any other approach to low morale is, at best, superficial and, at worst, dangerous."

One committee member added: "The response to the committee - doubtless written by Mr Woodhead - only confirms what we said about him.

"His style is intemperate and arrogant. The sheer cheek of criticising the witnesses that were asked to give evidence must be without precedent."

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