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Woodhead gets his way

Chris Woodhead is making all the right noises. He wants dialogue with college leaders. He wants more cash spent on teaching and learning, less on scrutiny by external forces. And he wants individuals to know just where they stand when his inspectors dish out the grades.

When the chief inspector for schools takes over the reins from the Further Education Funding Council next spring, he would like to see a stronger focus on the assessment of standards in teaching and learning. He cites Ofsted's particular strength in schools as "its emphasis on quality and observation of teaching".

To this end, all college teachers and managers whose lessons are observed will be told their grades - if Mr Woodhead gets his way. And, of course, he will. There is much ground to negotiate over the next 14 months, but the chief inspector for schools rarely fails to get his own way.

After all, he is New Labour's man, having spotted exactly the lines of continuity between Thatcherism and Blairism in the debate on educational standards.

Mr Woodhead gave the sector much food for thought when he broke his long silence over inspections in further education to seak to a public gathering of the Association for College Management (see page 20).

The managers present were encouraged. He seemed almost self-effacing, offering an exchange of ideas and a trade-off of sacred cows. He promised he would not undermine self-evaluation and the particular role of the professional inspector in FE; they should not constrain his efforts to focus on standards in teaching. And who could possibly disagree when he called for less bureaucracy, less paperwork?

However, less bureaucracy coupled with less scrutiny by external forces can only add up to one thing in this context: more control for Ofsted - and hence less for the new Learning and Skills Council. Mr Woodhead becomes the broker and arbiter of information between the colleges and the new giant quango that will be running further education.

The instincts and experiences that make Mr Woodhead a New Labour man also make him a centraliser, a man who likes to control. Despite all his fine words, college managers will have less influence over the inspection system than they do now. How much less depends on how convincingly colleges make their arguments.

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