Ofsted under fire in MPs' report

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The Independent Online
MPS ARE expected to demand new checks on Ofsted, the schools standards watchdog, in a report to be published on Monday.

The report from the Commons Education Select Committee is likely to contain implicit criticism of the personal style of Chris Woodhead, the controversial Chief Inspector of Schools. But the committee will make no direct attack on Mr Woodhead or any reference to his personal life .

He has been accused by his ex-wife and former colleagues of having an affair with a sixth-former when he was a teacher 23 years ago. Both he and the former student have denied that the relationship started while they were at Gordano School in Bristol.

The MPs are expected to propose a ministerially appointed supervisory board to oversee the activities of Ofsted, which Mr Woodhead heads.

Ofsted has a unique status as a government department without a minister. Mr Woodhead is answerable to the Prime Minister directly, to Parliament through the Education Select Committee, and to the Public Accounts Committee on financial matters.

Mr Woodhead has already dismissed the idea of a board during one committee hearing. He argued that if Ofsted were to be held accountable to a board then the same would have to apply to the Treasury and the Foreign Office.

During the four-month inquiry, MPs have heard evidence from academics and teacher unions who suggested that Mr Woodhead's confrontational style depressed teacher morale.

Questioned by MPs about his style, Mr Woodhead said that it would not change. "It is necessary that the message which emerges from inspections should be communicated with absolute clarity," he said.

Overall, MPs have been impressed by the inspection system and believe that most schools now accept it. MPs on the committee have been divided over how much they should criticise Mr Woodhead and the inspection service and have reached a compromise over their differing views.

Malcolm Wicks, the committee chairman, suggested to Mr Woodhead during one hearing that there were two Ofsteds. The first was the calm process in school where teachers met inspectors and generally accepted their judgement. "And then there is another Ofsted which is about blood and thunder and guts and is about giants stalking the land and firing at each other."

Teachers' unions are likely to be disappointed by the committee's findings. Mr Woodhead has been an outspoken critics of schools' failings and has said that 15,000 poor teachers should be sacked.

At the weekend, Lord Putt-nam, who is running the Government-backed teaching awards, accused Ofsted of a "regime of intimidation and terror in schools" and suggested that the time might have come for a different type of chief inspector who would be more supportive towards the profession.

Mr Woodhead has argued that his "blunt" approach has helped to raise standards and change attitudes in schools.

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