MPs hear tale of two OFSTEDs

12th February 1999 at 00:00
The week began with Chris Woodhead on the defensive, but he was soon criticising teachers again. Geraldine Hackett reports

CHRIS Woodhead this week rejected criticism of his personal style and the lack of accountability of the inspection service as he appeared before MPs to answer the charges made against it over the past few months.

The chief inspector of schools told MPs on the education select committee that the public image of the Office for Standards in Education was partly a creation of the "Wagnerian way" in which the organisation was reported.

Much of the evidence that has been presented to the select committee has been hostile of the operation of OFSTED and the style of its chief executive, Mr Woodhead.

The Labour chairman, Malcolm Wicks, said MPs had been presented with two OFSTEDs. "The first is the calm, professional inspection of schools and the other, which is about blood and thunder and guts and tears and is about giants stalking the land and sacking people." The problem with the second OFSTED was the impact it was having on morale, he added.

Mr Woodhead said the problem lay "with the disjunction between the experience most teachers have of OFSTED and the rather Wagnerian way in which we are reported in the media."

He said it was necessary for the message from inspections to be communicated with absolute clarity. "I have tried to speak plainly and, on occasion bluntly. On occasion my attempt to do that has provoked strong reaction," he added.

Mr Woodhead told MPs that OFSTED is already accountable and that he would not want a board to be appointed which he would have to report to. He said:

"If it's not broke, don't mend it," he said.

He dismissed the suggestion that OFSTED did not always publish reports. "I cannot think of anything I have suppressed," he said. However, there were times when evidence was collected for internal purposes and was not intended for publication.

The chief inspector also disagreed with submissions to the committee that school inspectors were no longer paid a reasonable rate, nor did he believe, he said, that the rates were forcing people to drop out of inspection.

Mr Woodhead said it was not true that schools are being inspected by geriatrics who had not been in front of a class for years. However, the chief inspector did not dispute that in some cases teacher morale collapsed in the aftermath of inspections. "We have tried to increase the amount of feedback inspectors give to teachers... It is difficult to communicate certain messages and there are heads that feel resentful of the message."

He said there was no clear link between inspection and decline in exam results. School results dipped over a year for a variety of reasons, he said.

MPs will wind up the public hearings in the review of the work of OFSTED next week when Estelle Morris, the standards minister, and Michael Barber, head of the standards and effectiveness, are due to be questioned.

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