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Woodhead trains sights on colleges

CHRIS Woodhead intends to turn the spotlight on teacher and student performance when he takes control of inspecting college provision for 16 to 19-year-olds in April next year.

Methods with which the Office for Standards in Education chief courted controversy in schools - raising the spectre of 15,000 incompetent teachers - would play a leading part in the regular inspection of colleges.

Information-gathering on student performance could be extended into sensitive areas such as the achievements of ethnic minorities and a focus on student performance would be used to help combat social exclusion.

Under proposals in the Learning and Skills Bill, now before Parliament, OFSTED takes over inspection of non-adult provision, while a new Adult Learning Inspectorate controls post-19 and work-based training. The FEFC inspectorate and the Training and Skills Council will be abolished.

Both OFSTED and ALI will follow a common framework which is being thrashed out by Mr Woodhead and his counterparts - Jim Donaldson at the FEFC and David Sherlock at the TSC. "It's quite unacceptable to have colleges burdened with two distinct inspection systems," Mr Woodhead said.

There is little disagreement among the three on the framework - to be published next month - or on the overall inspection arrangements, which will go out for consultation later this year. But they are divided over the shift of emphasis towards teacher performance.

"Precise and open judgments about teaching are important," he told the Association for College Management council meeting in Chester, a full report of which appears in the March edition of TES College Manager.

All teachers and managers would be told thei individual grades as the basis for improving personal performance, Mr Woodhead said, though he would be unlikely to make them public.

But college leaders argue that this would be unworkable. A spokesman for the FEFC said: "The big difference between OFSTED and ourselves is over the observation and grading of teachers. That may be fine in a sixth-form or school but when you move into FE, it's a huge task.

"In some colleges, such as Sheffield and the biggest colleges in London, you have up to 100 staff in a department. Such grading is an impossibly complex task."

The task will be made even more difficult when there are joint inspections by OFSTED and ALI, for example, where there are mixed age groups and in cross-college aspects of work such as student support.

Mr Woodhead made it clear that in such cases the Government expects OFSTED would have the upper hand. "OFSTED has been given overall editorial responsibility," he said.

He wants other changes, including shorter periods of notice of inspection to reduce staff stress, reduced influence of the "college nominee" appointed to inspection teams and closer attention to the views of principals.

He wants less bureaucracy and much less external scrutiny of colleges by the Learning and Skills Council when it takes over from the FEFC. Such reforms would give OFSTED a strong influence over the flow of information between colleges and the LSC.

The Association of Colleges said that making judgments about individual staff would not help promote inclusive learning. "Our experience shows you do it by helping everyone to improve, rather than singling out individ-uals," said Judith Norrington, curriculum director.

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