OFSTED not as negative as you suggest

4th April 1997 at 01:00
Your coverage of the Office for Standards in Education evaluation of independent schools inspections (TES, March 21) will have given readers the impression that OFSTED's report was wholly negative.

On the contrary, the OFSTED inspectors found much to praise, though scarcely a word of this was found worthy of inclusion. We all know that bad news drives out good, but in this instance the result is so misleading that the other side must be put for justice's sake.

OFSTED were absolutely clear that the Accreditation, Review and Consultancy Service (ARCS) meets its current objectives. In the words of the report, "ARCS inspections provide a secure basis for determining whether schools meet the requirements of the Independent Schools Joint Council (ISJC) associations. "

Other strengths identified included the training given to team members, efficient administration, and evaluations made in "a professional and impartial way".

The way that teams are composed of serving, or recently retired, heads and led by former HMIs, who have no affiliation to any association, was also praised as "a good way to combine familiarity with the system, insight into management and independent expertise." The combination, says OFSTED, "also carries credibility with the heads of the schools".

A particular strength of the independent system is the way the ISJC associations follow up reports and check that recommendations have been implemented.

"The follow-up to reports is rigorous," said OFSTED, observing that heads took recommendations seriously and that "the total inspection process undoubtedly contributes significantly to the development and improvement of member schools." The improvement of schools must surely be the principal reason for undertaking inspection at all, and we are pleased to be judged successful in this key aim.

Of course there were criticisms. We expected them, not least because the OFSTED philosophy is different from ours. One of the strongest criticisms concerned the lack of use of standard ability data, which means ARCS reports "would not provide a secure or reliable basis for comparisons between one school and another".

We do not seek to make comparisons between schools. Schools vary greatly in circumstances and selectivity, and elsewhere in the report, OFSTED describes the way ARCS inspections are "properly related to the aims and circumstances of each school" as a strength.

We asked for the report in order to assist the development of our inspection services. It was inevitable that it would highlight, sometimes critically, ways that our inspections differ from those in maintained schools. We welcome the identification of shortcomings and accept the suggestions for improvement. Many are already in hand. However, to present the report as unrelievedly critical is inaccurate, and unfair both to ARCS and to OFSTED.

AVERIL BURGESS Chairman Independent Schools Joint Council Accreditation Review and Consultancy Service 123 North Hill Highgate London N6

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