Silence over TES visit

14th June 1996 at 01:00
On May 2, two of your reporters visited the Office for Standards in Education to examine the data used in the annual report of the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead.

Your readers, who were informed of our invitation, may be wondering how to interpret the eloquent silence which has so far followed that visit.

Could it demonstrate a reluctance to admit that earlier articles in your journal, which questioned the quality and interpretation of inspection data, were found to be unsubstantiated? We think we should be told.

MIKE TOMLINSON JIM ROSE Office for Standards in Education 33 Kingsway London WC2

The editor writes: Two reporters were invited to visit OFSTED after the former senior primary HMI Colin Richards claimed in an interview and in an article written by him in The TES of April 19 that the chief inspector in his annual report had used a contentious new interpretation of statistics from primary inspections and, in Mr Richards's view, presented an unduly negative assessment of primary education.

TES reporters explained that, for this year, OFSTED had changed the way it interpreted the grade 4 mid-point on the seven-point scale used by inspectors. The explanation of this given in the annexe to the report was quoted as follows: "The mid-point on the OFSTED seven-point scale is used to record that, in the inspection team's view, neither strengths nor weaknesses are dominant. Such neutrally-judged features of a school may still promote sound achievement, but inspectors' judgments and the weaknesses identified in the reports on individual schools show them to be, nevertheless, amenable to improvement. In this report, therefore, schools judged neutrally are included in the number requiring improvement."

Chris Woodhead was given an opportunity to rebutt Mr Richards's claims, and TES reporting of them, in the following week's issue. He corrected a mistaken suggestion in the previous week's TES that this approach to interpretation could be changed again for his next report. A new scale in which the mid-point will be regarded as positive (that is, "satisfactory") rather than neutral will not be reported on until 1998. OFSTED had been unable to provide this information for the previous week's paper.

Nothing the two TES journalists were shown by OFSTED on May 2 added substantially to the different views about the statistical interpretations already published and reported on. They were not shown anything which indicated precisely what inspectors had understood by the grades they awarded, as Michael Madden suggests.

The doubts Mr Richards and two other former HMIs expressed about the way inspection statistics were interpreted were matters of judgment and opinion rather than fact.

They could not, therefore, have been substantiated or otherwise by a visit to OFSTED.

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