Stand down or deliver;Letter

14th August 1998 at 01:00
ASTHE Education and Employment Secretary considers the future of Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools (TES, July 31), three criteria should guide him: Effectiveness: Do we have evidence that standards and quality rise as a direct result of inspection and the publication of inspection reports? The experience of preparing for an OFSTED inspection does at the very least force you to tighten up on paperwork and sort out clear aims and objectives. Does this necessarily improve learning? Would standards have risen anyway had OFSTED not existed in its present form?

Cost: The public needs reassurance that its education service is meeting high standards. But have we found the right balance between the costs of providing this and the benefits to the system? How many of the millions spent on the quality industry could better have been spent on the education service?

Trust: This is the most difficult issue, but it is the most important. Trust must be earned and equally shared. It is clear that Sheila Lawlor speaks for a section of society which feels reassured to know that someone is prepared regularly to berate teachers and "the educational establishment".

On the other hand, the judgments handed out in inspections must also carry the trust of those inspected, and Chris Woodhead has not gained the trust of the education profession. We badly need in our chief inspector someone who can make the message felt, even when it is unpalatable.

The chief inspector holds a pivotal position in our education constitution: as the person who stands at the meeting-point between the policy-makers, the public and the profession. The imperative is for someone who can command the respect and trust of all three constituencies.

If these three criteria are met - if OFSTED and its chief inspector can, through their commentary, help to improve quality and raise standards, doing so at minimum cost to the education budget consistent with the necessities of the task, and if they can achieve the trust of all concerned which comes from authoritative and measured judgement - the nation will be well served.

If Mr Woodhead can demonstrate that he has delivered these three things and can continue to do so, his term of office should be extended. Otherwise, someone else should be brought in.

Professor Michael Newby. Dean of the Faculty of Arts amp; Education. University of Plymouth. Devon

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