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Woodhead gets snarled up

A FASCINATING war of a thousand snarls is developing between the office of The Man Who Inspects Schools For The Queen and local education authorities.

Relations - never particularly good - have deteriorated since Chris Woodhead's views on the value of LEAs to schools (limited) were widely disseminated and have gone downhill fast since he began inspecting their activities.

The saga of the Manchester inspection is now plumbing new depths of mutual antagonism. It can only be a matter of time before a duel is called - but the Diary believes smart money would go to the Man from OFSTED, thanks to his apparently limitless powers.

But we digress. What's been going on, you ask. Well, the current spat centres round the apparently innocent invitation from the Local Government Association to Mr W to appear before its spanking new scrutiny committee, set up to look at how inspections into its members were carried out.

First item on the agenda is the conduct of the Manchester inspection, which has attracted controversy thanks to the city's complaint that OFSTED rushed the report - and carefully selected lowlights - to hacks a fortnight before the agreed date, with just one official copy turning up at the council's offices. This, they felt, was not playing ball.

The Scrutiny Committee wanted both to look into these claims and the way Manchester ran the service. So it set a date and invited Mr W, who - it turned out - was on holiday. Undaunted, the LGA announced its plans, adding that it thought Mr W would be "delighted" in having the chance to present his views to the committee.

The Man Who Speaks For The Man Who Inspects Schools for the Queen was apparently not so sure. Incandescent with rage, he called his opposite number at the LGA to rail against the unfairness of announcing that Mr W had been invited while he was on holiday. An insouciant Graham Lane - chair of the LGA's education committee - argued Mr W would take it in good part. "And if he doesn't, it's a bit ironic considering that OFSTED's press release on Manchester went out before the city was told anything about it," he said.

That was late last week.

This week, back from hols, the invitation was turned down - with some relish - by Mr W. "Even if I had been free, I would not have judged participation a good use of my time," he said, adding: "The LEA's officials ought to be getting on with acting on the report, instead of coming down to London to engage in a talking shop."

The last word goes to an "amazed" Mr Lane. "He has never been known to turn down a speaking opportunity before."

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