Special pleading

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Most teachers who bothered to read Professor Kogan's Platform (TES, November 15) article on the proposed inspections of LEAs must have concluded that this was a classic piece of special pleading.

Why should LEAs not be inspected? They control up to 15 per cent of the educational budget. They remain responsible for a variety of important services. They offer a range of professional advice to schools.

Like schools and teacher training institutions, LEAs must be accountable. Does Maurice Kogan really believe that a "connoisseurial and interactive" process of peer review can deliver that accountability?

Having just re-read his piece, I think he does. I think that the debate of the past five years has passed him completely by. On one hand, in the terms of his outmoded dichotomy, there is the evil of "summative" inspection; on the other there is the "formative and developmental" process of self-evaluation.

Why does it have to be an eitheror? As with schools, so with LEAs: we need both self-evaluation and external inspection, and real accountability depends upon genuine externality.

On the evidence of 11Z2 inspections (Staffordshire and Kirklees, which is not yet completed), Kogan then appears to question OFSTED's ability to inspect LEAs. In response, I can only quote the Staffordshire chief education officer, Philip Hunter's letter to me of July 18, 1996: "Your team . . . have achieved the respect of the Kogan team. They deserve our congratulations." No, HMI are very well placed to come to judgments about whether a LEA is supporting its schools in raising standards, and as Kogan himself recognises, if we do need additional expertise then we shall "buy it pretty quickly" from the Audit Commission or wherever.

I should add that I have never said there is no strategic role for LEAs. I do think it is crucial for schools to debate the question of where local management ends and strategic LEA leadership begins. It was quite clear from the meeting I recently had with headteachers who took part in the Staffordshire review that there are views at both ends of the spectrum on this point. To raise the question is not, however, to have come to a conclusion, and to be misinterpreted in this way is more an index of professional paranoia than prophetic zeal on my part.

And, finally, thinking of prophets, I'm still not sure whether or not to be flattered by the comparison with Ezekiel. Prophets were, after all, men with outstanding insight into the affairs of their day. They were not afraid to speak out against the majority view, no matter how unpopular their message. They were also invariably right.

CHRIS WOODHEAD Office for Standards in Education Alexandra House 33 Kingsway London

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