OFSTED needs to account for itself

9th June 2000 at 01:00
I WAS fascinated by your editorial (TES, May 26) on the question of the accountability of the Office for Standards in Education because I have conclusive evidence of its lack of accountability at the highest level.

The facts of the complaint by Durham education authority, against a registered inspector, OFSTED itself and against Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Chris Woodhead, are clear, and a matter of record.

Mr Woodhead intervened personally in the complaint before OFSTED's investigation was complete, to express a view in OFSTED's favour and directed the investigating officer to communicate his view to the complainant. The adjudicator described the intervention as "unwarranted" and "implicitly threatening".

This authority last week - three years after the original complaint, and when OFSTED had found no fault with itself - received an unreserved written apology from the chief inspector to myself, a colleague and the authority.

All that material has been sent to ministers and the parliamentary select committee to which alone the chief inspector is accountable. No one has done anything.

The chief inspector has been personally involved in a complaint outside any published procedures. That complaint has been considered within OFSTED, at the first stage, at the compliance stage and by the OFSTED adjudicator. At no pint has the chief inspector been asked to give an account of himself.

At all stages the LEA has demanded that such accountability be undertaken, and at every stage it has been rejected. From the outset, and continuously throughout the three-year complaint, the LEA has offered that, if the chief inspector is beyond any internal accountability, the matter should be referred to an independent arbitrator. That, too, has been consistently rejected.

Ministers have refused to become involved. Apparently, only the select committee can consider this matter and exercise accountability. It has not done so.

Where is OFSTED's accountability? Wherein lies accountability for the chief inspector's personal conduct? There are massive implications for OFSTED's professional credibility.

OFSTED remains stubbornly and bizarrely unclear why the all-powerful political principles of modernisation and accountability should bind everybody but it.

"Be ye ne'er so high, the law is above you" was a very important watchword in the last millennium for society's struggle to develop from divine right and abuse of absolute power to proper accountability in a modern democracy - that plus, of course, the odd high-profile beheading. A bit of both is well overdue in OFSTED's case.

Keith Mitchell

Director of education

Durham


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