Heads say Patten interfered in blacklist (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Online
CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 9 FEBRUARY 1993) APPENDED TO THIS ARTICLE

Headteachers complained of political interference in the new school inspection regime yesterday, after the inspectorate warned nearly 130 schools that they have been placed on a poor performance blacklist.

Heads have been told during the past week that they are on the list. The letters came from Anthea Millett, director of inspection at Ofsted, the new standards authority which is using members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate to train independent inspection teams. Those teams will this September begin inspecting every secondary school at least once every four years, followed by a similar programme for primaries starting the year after.

Stewart Sutherland, senior chief inspector, disclosed last September that Ofsted had a list of more than 100 schools which had already been classified by HMI as causing concern. About 50 are secondary schools, 60 are primaries, and the remaining 20 are special schools.

Of those, a small proportion are causing 'serious concern'. They are the schools most likely to be designated as 'at risk' - which could lead to the Government removing them from local authority control, and setting up an Education Association to take over the schools.

A large proportion are in London: the National Association of Head Teachers said yesterday that it knew of 15 schools in Hackney, four in Westminster, three in Islington, one in Barnet, one in Waltham Forest, and another in Brent. Another is in the West Midlands borough of Sandwell, but some are in rural areas.

Gus John, Hackney's education director, said some of the schools which had received an Ofsted letter had not been visited by HMI in the past three years. 'We are seeking an urgent meeting with Ofsted to review the information it is using.'

Ms Millett said: 'As far as Ofsted is concerned, the important issue is that pupils should be getting the best education available. That is why it is necessary to give special attention to the schools which we believe are causing concern. But we want to be as open in our dealings with schools and authorities as possible, and get away from confidential lists.'

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said he believed the decision to target these schools followed political pressure from John Patten, Secretary of State for Education. 'It is, in my view, reprehensible that schools received no prior warning that they have been placed on this list, even if they were the subject of previous HMI inspections.'

Mr Hart said he knew of a case where the listed school last received a full HMI inspection seven years ago, and had only been visited once since then.

Mr Hart replied to Ms Millett yesterday asking her to tell the schools how they could challenge Ofsted's decision. Ofsted's spokesman said not all the schools had received a full HMI inspection, but they had all been seen by inspectors, and heads knew their performance was causing concern.

HMI inspectors will visit all the primary schools, and the 50 secondary schools will be placed in the first 925 schools to be inspected by the new independent teams next year. That means that all the listed schools will be inspected before summer 1994. 'If, in the light of those visits, we find that schools have improved, they will come off the list,' Ofsted said.

The spokesman said Ofsted had taken its decision independently: 'The only area where the Secretary of State has expressed an opinion is that he wrote to Stewart Sutherland saying that these schools ought to be inspected as early as possible. Professor Sutherland agreed with that for educational reasons: schools should not be allowed to languish.'

CORRECTION

In an article published on 27 January, the National Association of Head Teachers incorrectly stated that a school in the London borough of Barnet had been placed on a list of schools 'causing concern' to inspectors. No Barnet schools were on the list.

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