OFSTED smokescreen masks inspection issue

30th January 1998 at 00:00
The Office for Standards in Education's dissembling letter (TES, January 16) makes a number of incorrect statements, misleads by implication and misses the point. However, it asks that the facts speak for themselves and that does seem like a good idea.

On April 21, 1997, OFSTED wrote to Durham University's initial teacher trainers. It asked for a sample of students to be drawn "to conform to the numbers and proportions set out in the annex". In that annex, grade 3 is the lowest passing grade for students and providers are asked to split that group into two. The lowest of these two includes students that are "among the weakest but expected to pass". I call that a borderline group. David Taylor writes "Tymms makes much of the alleged request by OFSTED to see borderline students. We do not".

The annex of the letter includes an "indicative profile" of a grade 4 (fail) for a provider. It starts: "At least one student is graded 4 by an inspector". David Taylor writes "Tymms repeats the canard that providers are 'failed' on the strength of one borderline student underperforming. Professors Peter Mortimore and Ted Wragg have both peddled this myth recently - but that does not make it true".

There is further spin. If an institution does not pass I have said that it fails. OFSTED seems to feel that it has control of the English language and can impose their own technical definition of the term.

The letter creates a smokescreen and dodges the main issue which my paper addressed: How likely is it that a perfectly good institution will fail an inspection?

The chance of failing is more or less independent of the quality of the institution. What is more, a very good institution inspected by a very reliable team would have about a 50:50 chance of falling foul of the inspection. Having read OFSTED's letter, I stand by that statement.

PETER TYMMS Reader in education University of Durham

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