Stop the 'demonising'

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Clare Dean and Frances Rafferty report on two more surveys which asked school managers their opinion of the value of inspections by Chris Woodhead's OFSTED

CHIEF inspector Chris Woodhead has accused teacher unions and other critics of "demonising" his Office for Standards in Education.

Citing a survey conducted by MORI for OFSTED, Mr Woodhead announced this week that an overwhelming majority of primary schools (81 per cent) said they were satisfied with the way inspections were conducted.

He said a similar number - 82 per cent - believed that OFSTED's overall judgments were fair and accurate.

"Trade unions and those people within the education service who attack OFSTED should ask themselves: Does it help anyone to peddle misinformation?" said Mr Woodhead.

"Trade unions are as hostile as they possibly can be to OFSTED. Our survey was done by MORI and that is credible. The National Union of Teachers' is not," he said, referring to a survey by the union suggesting that OFSTED inspections have proved unhelpful to schools (see below).

Doug McAvoy, the NUT general secretary, said that where MORI asked the same questions the results had been similar. MORI found more than a quarter of schools believed the detrimental effects of inspection outweighed the benefits compared with 35 per cent who said it did more good than harm.

Just 27 per cent of schools saw inspection as a way to raise standards and only 15 per cent said it helped improve teaching.

The MORI survey also confirmed that inspection generates high levels of stress: for three in 10 schools inspection proved a worse experience than expected. Only one school in 10 was pleasantly surprised.

Top of the complaints were the increased pressure on staff (89 per cent), followed by staff having to work excessive hours in preparation for inspection (76 per cent).

Schools in county or unitary authorities were more satisfied than those in metropolitan areas and London, and complaints generally came from those with poor inspections.

OFSTED is considering shortening the notice given to schools for inspection in an attempt to reduce anxiety for "heads of a nervous disposition". As for dropping in unannounced: "It's not off the agenda," said Mr Woodhead.

He claimed to have the support of Prime Minister Tony Blair and David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, in his quest to make schools accountable.

He said: "It has to be said that part of the demonisation of OFSTED is from those who should know better."

Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer, who has complained of OFSTED's "reign of terror", and Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University and TES columnist, were singled out for criticism.

The survey was based on a questionnaire sent to 2,041 primary schools inspected during the summer term and completed jointly by heads and chairs of governors. MORI received 1,260 returns - a 62 per cent response rate.

MORI'S MAIN FINDINGS ABOUT OFSTED

* 44 per cent of schools very satisfied and 37 per cent fairly satisfied with the way the inspection was conducted.

* 37 per cent strongly agreed that the overall judgments were fair and accurate, 45 per cent tended to agree

* 64 per cent strongly agreed that the registered inspector had established good, professional working relationships with the school, 23 per cent tended to agree

* 34 per cent of schools were very satisfied and 38 per cent fairly satisfied that inspection was an independent diagnosis of strengths and weaknesses

* 36 per cent of schools believed the report reflected the strengths and weaknesses of the school, 44 per cent tended to agree

* 31 per cent of schools strongly agreed they were satisfied with the professional knowledge and competence of the inspection team, 41 per cent tended to agree

* 8 per cent of schools strongly agreed that their teachers did not generally gain from professional dialogue with inspectors, 22 per cent tended to agree

* 35 per cent of schools believed the benefits outweighed the detrimental effects - 27 per cent said the reverse.

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