Schools chief in reading row

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The Independent Online
New accusations of political bias were levelled at the Chief Inspector of Schools last night after the leaking of a critical report on reading standards in three London boroughs.

The report, due to be published by the school inspection body, Ofsted, next week, is believed to say that almost eight out of 10 seven-year-olds in Islington, Tower Hamlets and Southwark have reading ages below their actual age. It is expected to add that head teachers show "insufficient leadership" in one in three schools and that teachers are held back by a lack of knowledge and training.

The report is also likely to say that time devoted to reading is not always used to good effect.

Last night the three authorities said the final version of the report had been altered and that an earlier draft had more praise for the work of teachers. A paragraph emphasising the exceptional demands made on teachers by pupils from deprived backgrounds and with special needs appeared to have been deleted, they said. One sentence which had said that two-thirds of lessons were satisfactory had been altered to say that one-third was unsatisfactory.

Mr Woodhead has repeatedly been accused of right-wing political bias. Last year he wrote a pamphlet for a right-wing think tank, Politeia, which questioned the future role of local education authorities. He also suggested on a television programme that 15,000 inadequate teachers should be sacked, prompting protests that he had failed to mention the 45,000 who were outstandingly good.

The plan to inspect reading in the three boroughs was announced by John Major last September.The three boroughs selected agreed to allow Ofsted inspectors into 45 primary schools on the understanding that it was meant to draw attention to good practice. Last night they claimed it had been hijacked for political ends.

Phil Kelly, chairman of education in Islington, said: "The report has been redrafted to emphasis problems in teachers' skills and teachers' leadership. The slanting of the report in this way is clearly intended to pander to the prejudices of Mr Woodhead's political masters."

Anne Worsley, chairman of education in Southwark, added: "The draft of the report has clearly been altered at the instigation of the chief inspector."

A spokesman for Ofsted defended the report but refused to confirm the details.