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'FLAWED' OFSTED UNDER FIRE FOR GRATUITOUS HUMILIATION

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The Education Network has claimed Ofsted's performance is seriously flawed, marred by inaccurate reports and 'gratu...
The Education Network has claimed Ofsted's performance is seriously flawed, marred by inaccurate reports and 'gratuitous humiliation' of councils.

The government inspectors call, a second edition of a report first produced in March, expresses 'serious concern' over Ofsted's ability to produce accurate reports: 'Most authorities are continuing to take issue with the accuracy of their published inspection report. Ofsted's performance compares unfavourably with, say, the joint reviews of social services departments. Disturbingly, the level of dissatisfaction [about accuracy] has increased.'

TEN, a policy and advisory body funded by local education authorities, warns that 'humiliating' treatment from Ofsted blocks improvement: 'Where the manner of making the findings public includes an element of apparently gratuitous humiliation, then the response is unlikely to be wholly constructive.

'It is essential that criticism is well founded and fairly presented in order that those at whom it is levelled are able to act positively in bringing about that improvement without being so demoralised that their capacity to do so is seriously impaired.'

It concludes Ofsted is working outside the wider government objectives of joined-up working and breaking down barriers: 'The drive to break down institutional boundaries and foster greater collaboration between central and local government, local authority and local authority, service department and service department, lies at the heart of the government's modernisation agenda.

'Ofsted's approach, however, appears to place it outside the main thrust of the governments' reform programme.

'As this publication has shown, there are clearly perceived weaknesses in its performance.'

The report also questions the logic of privatisation as a tool for driving up standards. This creates a huge extra workload for senior managers, which ironically delays improvement and is inconsistent with the ethos of 'what matters is what works'. It undermines the ultimate goal of self-renewal.

However, most councils found their inspections a positive experience and in some cases it was an important catalyst for change.

The government inspectors call is available from The Education Network, tel: 0171 554 2811.

Meanwhile, Ofsted has removed the right of councils to publish their report themselves, as predicted in LGC (30 September).

Schools chief inspector Chris Woodhead cited 'complacency and self-delusion' in education departments as the cause.

He said: 'This move will ensure that Ofsted has a uniform, transparent approach to the publication of reports. It will also give unfettered access to the reports, whilst discouraging local education authorities from issuing excessively positive summaries.

'This practice worries me for two reasons: first, it runs the risk of misleading the local community who have a right to know the facts, and second, it smacks of complacency and self-deception on the part of the LEA.'

The Local Government Association criticised the move. Education chair Graham Lane said: 'From now on, the first time councils find out about their performance is when they read it in the newspapers.

'Without knowing criticism in advance, how can they be expected to respond? This will load the dice in favour of Ofsted, and LEAs will be treated like punchbags.'

He said it was clear Ofsted did not want to work in partnership.

Blackpool BC education director David Sanders said three days to absorb, check and possibly challenge detailed information in such reports was 'tight to say the least'.

'It is a long way short of the ideal. I would have expected at least a week,' he said.

The new systeM:

The education director gets three days to comment on a draft copy

The final report is issued to the council and published by Ofsted with a press release

The lead inspector returns to the council if invited to discuss the report.

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