Verdict of report is fuel for suspicious minds

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
The report on Birmingham is controversial because of the fundamental disagreements which exist between the two main players, Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, and Tim Brighouse, the CEO.

Chris Woodhead maintains that he was only one of a team of four that produced the final draft report.

The suspicion that he may be responsible for the central criticism - that Birmingham attempts too much and is liable to get distracted from its central task by its CEO - exists because Mr Woodhead's views of Professor Brighouse's management style are well known.

The two men disagree fundamentally about the most effective means to raise standards in schools. Professor Brighouse believes schools should be provided with the research on what makes for effective teaching and supported in improving their performance.

In many respects, his philosophy runs counter to Mr Woodhead's views that schools need to be firmly told how to teach and to have their failings publicised.

In volunteering Birmingham to be in the first batch of local authorities to be inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, Professor Brighouse was confident the results in the schools would indicate the strategy he has put in place to deal with poor standards and low morale among teachers.

In the event, the report concedes that Birmingham is a success story. Within the authority, exception is being taken to the degree of opinion expressed in the report and the personal comments directed at its chief education officer.

When the report refers to the danger that rhetoric may not be line with reality, there is little doubt that the target is Professor Brighouse himself. The report recognises that the local authority has a range of strategies. Some are influential, it says, but a few are "so muddled as to be virtually meaningless".

Senior officers in Birmingham were due to meet the OFSTED team today to discuss what they consider to be inaccuracies, inadequate evidence and the denigratory language used in the report. They have asked OFSTED for the evidence that shows there is a need to concentrate on the teaching of literacy and numeracy. They want to know why a key finding - that rates of improvement in performance in schools are generally above the national rates for local authorities starting from a similar base - is not given prominence.

Professor Brighouse says he remains confident that what he describes as "the errors of drafting" will be put right and that the local authority will learn from the experience.

"We provide efficient support for teachers and other staff. I do not think we are trying to do too much," he says.

There may, he says, be a wider question of whether at a cost of Pounds 175,000, the inspection provided value for money. In addition, he believes that LEAs might have more confidence in reports if OFSTED published the evidence on which it bases its judgments.

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