Inspectors sent to the bottom of the class

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The Independent Online
School inspectors, who spend their days telling teachers that they could do better, are themselves given poor marks in an unpublished report seen by The Independent.

The report, from the Office for Standards in Education, the inspections watchdog which awarded the same inspectors their contracts, says their reports are vague and woolly, and use sloppy grammar and punctuation.

Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, has said repeatedly that reports must be well-written so that they can be understood by schools and parents. A review by Ofsted, which looked at 400 reports completed during the summer and autumn terms last year, says that the writing of one in seven school inspection reports is not up to scratch and few are good throughout. One in seven has very good features.

Grammatical errors occur in many: the most common is the lack of agreement between a verb and its subject.

The apostrophe, downfall of many pupils, also catches out the inspectors, for example: Childrens' . "Punctuation is generally accurate but there are reports in which the use of the apostrophe is erratic, with omission, misplacement and even superabundance." They are accused of bad grammar: "Attainment and progress is good"; truisms: "When teaching is good, pupils are challenged": jargon: "Continuity and progression"; vagueness: "Teaching is usually satisfactory or better."

Inspectors are accused of inconsistency. Reports tend to start off by painting "an unduly rosy picture of a school" but then they change their tune.

One begins by noting that "teaching promotes sound educational standards" yet the same report reveals that progress in one-third of lessons is not up to standard and pupils are underachieving in many subjects.

In many reports, judgements are vague. "Skills in spelling and writing are less well developed." Less well developed than what?, asks the watchdog's report. And what do terms such as "some", "variable", "uneven" or "mixed" mean when they are used without explanation?

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that the inconsistency between and across reports had been one of teachers' concerns. "Ofsted must put in place quality control for its own inspection judgements."

Leading article, page 13

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