'There has been so much fear'

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Inspections get TV grilling. OFSTED inspectors rarely use all the grades they could according to unpublished figures

Last night's Dispatches programme was the first television investigation into the Office for Standards in Education.

It lined up a string of high-profile educationists and academics, many well respected by the Government, who called for OFSTED's abolition or reform.

The inspectorate was accused of striking fear into schools, damaging professional morale, and spending large amounts of public money to producing unreliable data.

Tim Brighouse, joint head of the Government's standards task force along with Chris Woodhead, called for an independent inquiry into Ofsted and told Dispatches that the inspection regime has "caused ill-health and set schools backwards".

Former senior inspectors Tom Wylie, now head of the National Youth Agency, and Colin Richards accused the agency of operating "within a climate of fear".

Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon, an educational statistician, from Durham University, says that it is "absolutely insupportable" for the current inspection regime to continue.

The programme was produced by former Observer journalist Paul Lashmar for Just Television, and presented by Sarah Spiller.

It featured a survey of 300 heads from the National Primary Centre, led by David Winkley, another member of the Standards Task Force. Ninety-five per cent of those responding said that OFSTED's inspection model was flawed.

Sixty per cent of schools felt that staff morale was damaged; 53 per cent said they had learned nothing from the process and 53 per cent felt they had been set back. Only 13 per cent thought Ofsted had improved the school significantly.

On the programme, Chris Woodhead defended Ofsted, saying its work of identifying and helping to improve weak schools is "tremendous value for money".

"It has been a very, very hard programme to make because there has been so much fear about," said Paul Lashmar, the producer. "There's a perception in the education profession that if you criticise Ofsted, you leave yourself open to harsh inspection judgments. I have no evidence that this is actually true. By we have to ask whether that is a healthy way to carry out a debate?"

A spokesman for Ofsted said: "We've acknowledged that inspection, as in any appraisal, brings with it a level of stress. But Ofsted believes there's no reason to panic.

"Ofsted is not a complacent organisation. We have reviewed the inspection framework through consultation and are always looking for improvement. We will consider seriously any well-made points, but we're confident about the methodology, the benefits of inspection and also confident of the support of Government ministers."

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