Woodhead blamed for 'intemperate' approach;OFSTED Inquiry

18th June 1999 at 01:00
This week MPs delivered their long-awaited verdict on OFSTED, criticising the polemical stance of the chief inspector

THE chief inspector should curb his intemperate approach and rely on evidence, not conjecture, says a report from MPs on the education select committee.

The all-party inquiry into the work of the Office for Standards in Education concludes that Chris Woodhead's statements appear sometimes to be more about ego than education.

But ministers are not keen to appoint a board to supervise OFSTED, despite a proposal from the committee.

Malcolm Wicks, chair of the select committee, said MPs had not been able to judge whether Mr Woodhead was correct in asserting that the achievements of OFSTED would have been diminished if he had adopted a more conciliatory, even-handed style.

However, they had concluded there was a danger of the chief inspector being seen simply as pundit or polemicist, unless his publicly-expressed views were clearly based on evidence from inspection reports.

The report warns that low morale among teachers inhibits the drive to raise standards. It says OFSTED's unbalanced presentation was demonstrated by media reports of the last review of schools from the chief inspector. Newspapers focused on the figure of 15,000 failing teachers, rather than the rate of improvement in the quality of lessons.

The report says: "A responsible organisation such as OFSTED should seek to ensure that a balanced message is conveyed to its stakeholders and the general public."

At the launch of the report, MPs questioned the commitment to greater supervision of OFSTED. Phil Willis, committee member and Liberal Democrat spokesman on higher education, said: "Given the unqualified support for Chris Woodhead so far, they do not seem prepared to clip his wings."

The report recommends that the select committee should be given an advisory role in appointing or re-appointing the chief inspector. Parliament, the MPs say, should debate the annual report from the chief inspector. The select committee also wants the National Audit Office to report on whether OFSTED is giving value for money and for it to be subject to five-year reviews similar to those undergone by the education quangos that advise the Government on the curriculum and teacher training.

While the committee concludes there is no case for radically changing school inspections, its recommendations include:

* grades awarded to teachers during inspection should not be used for appraisal;

* unannounced snap inspections;

* school governing bodies should nominate an observer to the inspection team;

* more serving teachers should join inspections as part of training and professional development;

* inspection rules ought to take more account of high mobility among pupils;

* lighter-touch inspection of good teacher-training colleges;

* minimum notice to schools to be reduced to two weeks;

* more "professional dialogue" between inspectors and teachers.

Mr Woodhead, responding to the report, said many of the suggested changes reflected those OFSTED was in the process of making. "As to my personal style, I have praised excellence and challenged complacency and mediocrity. That is what I am paid to do and what I shall continue to do."

The report has been welcomed by heads and teachers' unions.

Doug McAvoy, National Union of Teachers general secretary, said: "The Government must be under pressure to make OFSTED more accountable and to instigate its own review of the figure of 15,000 incompetent teachers."

MEMBERS OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE

Malcolm Wicks (Lab) Croydon North (chairman)

Candy Atherton (Lab) Falmouth and Camborne

Charlotte Atkins (Lab) Staffordshire Moorlands

Joe Benton (Lab) Bootle

Graham Brady (Con) Altrincham and Sale West

Yvette Cooper (Lab) Pontefract and Castleford

Valerie Davey (Lab) Bristol West

Caroline Flint (Lab) Don Valley

Derek Foster (Lab) Bishop Auckland

John Hayes (Con) South Holland and the Deepings

John Healey (Lab) Wentworth

Paul Keetch (Lib Dem) Hereford

Eleanor Laing (Con) Epping Forest

Judy Mallaber (Lab) Amber Valley

Gordon Marsden (Lab) Blackpool South

Nick St Aubyn (Con) Guildford

Phil Willis (Lib Dem) Harrogate and Knaresborough

Letters, 19

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