One simple way to inspect the inspectors

29th March 1996 at 00:00
The two articles on the Office for Standards in Education inspections ("Lord, don't ask me questions" and "Who will speak up for the condemned?", TES2, March 22) are just the latest in a long list of similar disturbing pieces which have appeared in your columns and other publications since OFSTED started its operations some years ago.

It has become obvious that there is a significant number of "failing inspections" regularly taking place in our schools. These inspections fail irrespective of the outcome.

As your anonymous husband of a Devon head writes: " . . . the damage is caused not in the results , but by a gravely-flawed inspection process." The trouble is that we do not know how many of these are occurring, since there are no published figures. I suggest that it is high time that the consumers are asked to rate inspections on a scale similar to that used by the inspectors themselves. OFSTED has published its own code of conduct for inspectors, so the criteria for assessment are readily at hand.

OFSTED expects its teams to be courteous and fair in dealing with all individuals and groups, to show sensitivity to the circumstances of the school, to respect the integrity of teachers, pupils, parents and governors and have sensitivity to the impact of judgment on others. Clearly an inspection which caused a head to break down for the first time in her life (except when she's been bereaved), making her feel that everything was in ruins and that the only option was resignation, was an inspection which failed by its own criteria. Especially when one remembers that the report was good.

It is reasonable and just for the Government to subject OFSTED to the same stringent quality controls as those applied to schools.

We urgently need an independent body which would be responsible for designing a simple form based on the OFSTED code of conduct which would require schools to rate inspections on a four or five point scale from outstanding to awful.

These would be completed and sent in after every inspection , and the results published half-yearly to enable the public to assess OFSTED's performance, and to identify each inspection team and its registered inspector. Who knows, there might be even more than a 15 per cent failure rate?

I would be interested to hear chief inspector Chris Woodhead's reaction to this proposal.

JOHN BUTT Recently retired secondary adviser 4 Monmouth Street Topsham Exeter.

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