Schools `being wrongly listed as failures'

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The Independent Online
THE WRONG conclusion is reached about schools in one in six inspections, chief education officers told MPs yesterday.

Professor Tim Brighouse, the Birmingham chief education officer and a senior government advisor on standards, said he had experience of schools wrongly classed as weak, or failing, by inspectors. In one case, he told MPs, a decision to declare a school failing had left an experienced head teacher, brought in to turn around the school, recovering in a psychiatric ward. The judgment came despite comments from senior Her Majesty's Inspectors that the school had been improving.

Professor Brighouse shares the vice-chairmanship of the Government's school standards task force with Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools. But yesterday, members of the Commons education select committee heard the professor make an outspoken attack on the Office for Standards in Education.

In another case, he said, a school which local officers felt had serious weaknesses passed its Ofsted inspection with flying colours. Professor Brighouse declined to name the school, but said the case was one of around one in ten inspections where local education officers felt the inspectorate had got its judgments wrong.

The professor said both over- generous and over-critical reports were damaging to the drive to raise standards. "If you get judgments slightly wrong in either direction they can set a school back," he said. "That is so serious because it can cause a school either to become complacent, or go into despair."

Two other chief education officers, Dr Paul Gray from Surrey and Mr Jonathan Harris from Cornwall, said that in up to one in six cases, Ofsted's judgments were contradicted by their own Local Education Authority inspectors. "We like to think we know our schools pretty well," said Mr Harris. "Different teams could go into the same school and give different reports," he said. "That is something which is not acceptable, and Ofsted should be doing more to address it."

Dr Gray said: "We find sometimes that Ofsted judgements are totally out of line with our own knowledge of a school."

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