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Woodhead 'out to undermine us';Conference;Association of Chief Education Officers

The chief inspector is not popular with the new leader of the CEOs' association. Karen Thornton reports

THE NEW chairman of the Association of Chief Education Officers has called for the chief inspector of schools to be removed.

David Mallen, speaking at the ACEO's spring conference in Warwick, said Chris Woodhead was a problem that had to go.

His comments come as the education authority inspection programme gets into its stride. Both Manchester - under outgoing ACEO chairman Roy Jobson - and ACEOsecretary Christine Gilbert's London borough of Tower Hamlets are being inspected by OFSTED.

Mr Mallen emphasised his personal and long-standing support for education authority inspections, but claimed Mr Woodhead was out to undermine authorities - and questioned the evidence base used by the chief inspector to make his judgments.

"Despite his protestations that his views of local authorities are the same as ministers, the evidence suggests he is seeking to undermine us," Mr Mallen told fellow chief education officers.

He quoted "swingeing criticisms" of authorities as "frequently" or "often" at fault from the chief inspector's last annual report, but noted these were based on only five inspections, including that of Hackney.

"All these 'oftens' and 'frequentlys' are Mr Woodhead's prejudices being portrayed as if they are based on inspection evidence."

The chief inspector had lost the confidence of the teaching profession, not because Mr Woodhead was "challenging" them, but because his judgments were not considered reliable, Mr Mallen added.

Some of Mr Mallen's audience appeared to support him but not all.

One London chief education officer said he was saddened rather than angry about the state of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, while another said the office of chief inspector still had the potential to be a great power for good in education.

With the exception of the inspections issue, most chief education officers felt that the association was forming positive relationships with the Government and developing an increasingly influential role in the education policy-making process.

The change in climate and approaches made by Labour were welcomed by outgoing president Roy Jobson: "From the point of view of the Department for Education and Employment and ministers, the association has been involved in a way I thought perhaps it never would be again."

The association also was briefed on the work of the standards and effectiveness task force by colleagues Carol Adams (Shropshire) and Tim Brighouse (Birmingham), and on education development plans and inspections.

But the education junior minister Estelle Morris had to drop out after losing her voice, leaving Robert Green, the DFEE's special educational needs manager, to give her speech.

He said some local education authorities were "not acting within the law in implementing statements (of SEN)" - leading to parental appeals: "If local authorities agreed more promptly to do at the outset what they agree to do at the end, we would hear much less from that small percentage of parents with a genuine grievance."

Mr Woodhead, whose contract ends next year, did not want to comment on Mr Mallen's speech. But in an interview in the May issue of Parliamentary Brief magazine in which he is asked if he would like another term of office as chief inspector, he replies: "I would, if the Prime Minister thought I had a continuing contribution to make. I think there is still a job to be done. I can't think of a job in education or elsewhere that I would rather do. Yes, I am up for it."

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