Teachers savage reading report

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The Independent Online
Tensions between schools' inspectors and the education establishment worsened as a critical Ofsted report on reading standards was dismissed by academics as "flawed".

London University's Institute of Education has accused the inspectors of "cherry picking" evidence to show inner-city primary schools in a bad light. The controversial chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, says he fails even to understand why such allegations are being made.

The institute has published a stinging response to a survey by the schools inspection body, which said that four out of ten pupils were at least two years behind with their reading. A row broke out when the work was published last May because the local authorities involved said the final report had been rewritten to emphasise its negative side.

According to the institute's director, Professor Peter Mortimore, the evidence it contained was used unfairly to attack teachers and to call for the use of more formal methods such as whole-class teaching and phonics.

His analysis, written with Professor Harvey Goldstein, says that each of the 45 schools studied was visited for one day only, and that children were given inappropriate and out-of-date reading tests. It adds that the schools in the study, all of which were in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Islington and Southwark, were not typical and that the report should not have used them to draw general conclusions.

The boroughs were some of the poorest in the country, it says, and only 45 per cent of the pupils in them were white. More than half were receiving free school meals, many did not speak English as a first language and turnover of both pupils and staff were high.

Professor Mortimore said yesterday that work by inspectors should be subject to peer review. He and Professor Goldstein had been "astounded" at the report's conclusions. "When we looked at the sample we saw it was ridiculous to draw a national picture from this."

The Ofsted report was highly critical of both teachers and teaching methods. It said only one-quarter of lessons were well taught and that the gulf in pupils' performances was "serious and unacceptable".

Mr Woodhead said last night that he was "confused" by Professor Mortimore's criticisms. "We stand absolutely by our findings. The National Foundation for Educational Research administered the reading tests, the local authority inspectors sat with our own HMI and came to joint judgements on the teaching quality," he said.

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