Too poor to sue Ofsted

24th September 2004 at 01:00
Headteacher wants to challenge inspectors over inaccuracies and alleged plagiarism, but needs pound;6,000. Martin Edwards reports

A Birmingham headteacher is appealing for pound;6,000 to mount a legal challenge against the Office for Standards in Education.

Jane Hattatt, head of Lordswood girls school, believes inspectors failed to recognise fully the achievements of her 910-pupil comprehensive, which topped last year's value-added league tables.

In a 42-page letter of complaint to the watchdog she criticises the inspection report as poorly written and containing factual inaccuracies, including claims that the school had no A-level students who achieved A or B grades. In fact half the school's English A-level candidates attained these marks.

She believes the draft report was plagiarised from other reports after tracking down the school previously visited by the lead inspector and comparing its report with hers.

The team of inspectors who visited Lordswood in November said the school was good - but that is not enough for Ms Hattatt.

"We were acclaimed as the highest value-added school in the country in the national league tables last year," she said. "This seemed to me to warrant more than just 'good'."

Her quest for redress follows the planned legal challenge by the Business academy in Bexley, Kent which inspectors criticised as unsatisfactory.

Sir David Garrard, the millionaire sponsor of the academy, is taking legal advice amid claims inspectors intimidated and humilated staff before producing a flawed report.

Ofsted is now reviewing its findings in the light of the academy's complaints although it has said it stands by its conclusions.

Ms Hattatt has been in touch with a firm of local solicitors who are willing to take on her case.

"Hearing about the academy in Kent was really heartening," she said. "I'd be prepared to take that legal action but pound;6,000 is a lot of money and it is difficult for us to justify using public money in that way."

"If you're a vulnerable school, it's very difficult to challenge the inspectors. I don't have a million pounds spare in my budget I'm afraid, I don't even have pound;10."

Ms Hattatt will seek help from Ofsted's independent adjudicator if she fails in her attempt to set up her legal fund.

"In some ways it's really hopeless because I have lots of other things that are more important than this but it's a matter of principle," she said.

Ofsted confirmed that Lordswood had made a complaint. It said the school was not satisfied with its reponse.

"If schools are dissatisfied with the outcome of Ofsted's investigation into complaints made they are fully entitled to contact the independent adjudicator," a spokesman said.

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