Education Letter: An Open and shut case

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The Independent Online
SIR JOHN Daniel's assertions (Open Eye, 5 November) about the Office for Standards in Education's (Ofsted) recent inspection of the training in reading and number on the Open University's primary post graduate certificate in education course (PGCE) demand a reply.

The statement that "Ofsted asked the OU to identify a sample of seven students biased towards the weakest trainees in the cohort" for the inspection of the training in reading, and a similar number for the training in number, is factually incorrect on two counts.

First, the only reason the number of students seen at the OU fell below the normal sample of trainees indicated in Ofsted's published methodology for these inspections was because the OU itself withdrew, late in the process, two of the identified trainees.

Secondly, the OU, like all other providers, was asked before drawing up its sample to exclude any trainee deemed to be at risk of failure. Hence, all the trainees seen were ones whom the OU, at the time of the selection of the sample, expected to receive Qualified Teacher Status. Moreover, far from being made up of "borderline" trainees, as Sir John asserts, the sample included those whom the university had assessed as good or very good. The fact that half of these students, in Sir John Daniel's words, "were subsequently assessed by the OU not to have passed their PGCE" may be seen to tell its own story.

Next, referring to coverage of the inspection report in The Daily Telegraph, Sir John states that "for Ofsted to encourage such grotesque distortion of its findings is a grave disservice to the many excellent graduates of the programme". Ofsted did not encourage any statements in The Daily Telegraph; our report, which was published last month, makes entirely clear the sample size and indeed included statements inserted at the request of the Open University to stress that the figures referred to a significant minority of the trainees that were seen.

Finally, the Vice-Chancellor poses the rhetorical question: "Is Ofsted trying to drive universities out of teacher training so that its inspectors can bid for the task?"

The plain fact is that Ofsted, as a government department, is clearly not in a position to contemplate providing teacher training, even if it had the slightest desire to do so.

However, more to the point, Ofsted has absolutely no wish to drive anyone out of teacher training. Our function is to report to the Secretary of State, under our statutory powers, on the quality of training and the standards of trainees.

Others, notably the Teacher Training Agency, use our evidence for their own statutory functions. But to accuse Ofsted's teacher training inspections of demonstrating a "need to fulfil its [Ofsted's] vindictive name and shame policy" is totally implausible, as well as untrue.

One can only hope that the Open University puts as much energy into improving its primary training course as it has in attempting to denigrate Ofsted's inspection methodology.


Head of teacher education

and training

Office for Standards in Education