'Unbalanced: typical OFSTED'

Edinburgh's newly appointed director of education is not mincing his words as he defends his record in his current patch, Manchester, against criticism by the English inspectorate.

ROY Jobson, Edinburgh's incoming director of education and currently chief education officer in Manchester, is at the centre of a high profile wrangle over failing schools in his authority.

Mr Jobson beat off the challenge from some of Scotland's leading directors for the post in the capital and is due to take over in the autumn.

But he has been forced to issue strongly worded rebuttals to allegations by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) of serious shortcomings in Manchester, one of the largest authorities in Britain.

The row has provided a foretaste of what could happen if HMI in Scotland was allowed to investigate education authorities as well as school performance. OFSTED was involved in a similar controversy over its report on Birmingham schools.

The OFSTED report on Manchester criticises the authority's poor exam and test results (despite improvements in recent years), high truancy levels and failure to close schools.

Mr Jobson, in turn, accused the OFSTED report of being "unbalanced" and "overplaying weaknesses in a major way".

He told The TES Scotland: "This is typical OFSTED. I am very excited about the prospect of moving to Scotland and to what I think is a better approach. It has a lot of advantages over the English system."

It has been known for some time the Inspectorate report would criticise the Labour authority. But Elizabeth Maginnis, Edinburgh's education convener, rejected any implication the report cast doubt on Mr Jobson's ability to do his job in the capital.

"Manchester's own situation is unique to Manchester and I'm certain there will be a different agenda here in Edinburgh," she said. "The issues in the OFSTED report will be handled by Mr Jobson in Manchester."

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister in England, has set a deadline of July 17 for Manchester to produce a report on the steps it will take to provide suitable education for excluded pupils, and to improve the rate at which children with special needs are assessed.

Mr Byers is also ordering the city to produce an action plan by September 1 that sets out a strategy for dealing with surplus places, high levels of school budget deficits and low attainment.

Mr Jobson accused OFSTED of producing a commentary to the report written to "grab a headline. The report makes it seem that, because of the inspection, we have just woken up to the problems. Rather, most of the report's findings come from our own self-analysis."

The report points out that Manchester is placed 110 out of 132 English education authorities in terms of English scores among 11 year olds and 108 in maths. And it comes 127 out of 131 authorities in GCSE rankings.

However, the report admitted that rates of improvement are above the national average and the quality of teaching is better than average.

The inspectors were also highly critical of the city's failure to pursue excluded pupils. The report says there were 142 pupils permanently excluded without a school place in March this year. The authority was not able to say what educational provision was being made for 140 of the 142. "These young people are potentially at risk," the report says.

Manchester is also criticised for not dealing promptly with schools' budget deficits. Around half its schools ended 1996-97 with an accumulated debt of around pound;6.2 million - substantially greater than any other education authority.

The city has identified a 23 per cent surplus in secondary school places, higher than for any other metropolitan authority. OFSTED estimates this costs around pound;2 million a year.

However, the city is commended for the quality of its pre-fives and arts provision and the inspection and advice it offers schools.

Manchester accepts the findings. But officials object to the language in the commentary and the comment from Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, that the service is failing parents and children.

Mr Jobson, who is not directly criticised in the report, points out that there is clear evidence pupils are making progress. This is in a city where children enter schools with scores well below the national average.

"It is not fair to say we are failing children," Mr Jobson says. The record on failing schools compares well with the national average. The city has 10 failing schools, three of which the authority intends to close. Two others are being considered for closure.

Mrs Maginnis, who believes HMI is not qualified to inspect education authorities, backed Mr Jobson and said there was "some considerable dismay about the one sided views which are being expressed by OFSTED."

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