Shephard ultimatum to Ridings authority

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The Independent Online
Inspectors will be sent into all schools in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, unless the Labour authority agrees to an investigation of its services by Friday, Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, threatened yesterday.

She asked Tony Blair, the Labour leader, and David Blunkett, the shadow education secretary, to support her demand for an inspection of the council, which admitted that it had failed the Ridings school.

Labour said she was merely trying to divert attention from an international report on maths and science which shows English 13-year-olds lagging behind most of the rest of Europe in maths. A spokesman said Calderdale had already said publicly that it would co-operate with an inspection. The only issue was timing.

Mrs Shephard asked Calderdale to volunteer for inspection after inspectors failed the Ridings school. They said bad teaching, poor management and the authority were all to blame.

The Government cannot force a local authority to co-operate with such an inspection, though the Education Bill going through the Commons would enable it to do so in future.

However, the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has powers to inspect any school and could inspect all Calderdale's schools.

Last week, the council said in reply to Mrs Shephard's request that it was considering setting up its own independent review and wanted "detailed discussions" on the scope of the proposed inspection.

Mrs Shephard said: "Calderdale's handling of the Ridings school has achieved national notoriety. It is outrageous that the authority should be anything other than wholly co-operative in welcoming an independent Ofsted inspection of their services to pupils and parents." In a letter to the council, she demanded a definite response without conditions by the end of the week. The inspection is scheduled for the first week of December.

An Ofsted spokesman said: "We are ready to inspect Calderdale and are disappointed by their prevarication."

A Labour spokesman said: "Mrs Shephard knows perfectly well that Calderdale has agreed to co-operate. She seems to be trying to create a conflict where none exists."