Ofsted: an offer we can all refuse

March 17, 2000

How wonderfully selfless of Ofsted chief Chris Woodhead to offer the facilities of his organisation to the higher education community (Soapbox, THES, March 10). It seems a splendidly postmodernist idea to engage in the judgement of university subjects on the basis of little or no expertise.

Can I therefore, in the spirit of reciprocity, offer my services to him? I know very little about the operation of his department and I am sure that I could find a number of equally altruistic academics who would offer to help him and his employees to do a better job.

This seems particularly apposite, given the confessed anxieties about his (and his associates') inability to engage in self-reflection. Perhaps an hour or two in the bath would help?

Don Blackburn Head, applied social science and social work, University of Lincolnshire and Humberside So Chris Woodhead now looks forward to the likely expansion of his Ofsted empire into further education and asks, "mischievously", how the Ofsted approach might benefit higher education.

He says six principles underpin Ofsted's activities. As someone working in HE who has witnessed at first hand the Ofsted inspection of a primary school, as a "critical friend", I too have six principles: n Impression management characterises Ofsted inspections

* The process can discourage diversity in provision

* Bureaucratic demands are excessive

* Evaluations are mechanistic

* Hidden costs and opportunity costs are high

* There is no effective monitoring of the monitors Calculating the value for money offered by the work of Ofsted must remain elusive.

David Tonks University of Lancaster

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