Ofsted told to watch mouth

December 21, 2000

MPs have criticised inspection agency Ofsted for failing to check public comments made by its former chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, on issues such as race equality and degree standards.

In a report on Ofsted's corporate plan for this year, the Commons education and employment committee recommends that the agency put in place procedures to keep a tighter rein on public statements "to ensure they are not ambiguous".

The report, published this week, refers to an interview with The THES in September, in which Mr Woodhead, who resigned last month, argued that "degree courses ought to be more demanding". His comments followed an article he wrote in The Sunday Times in which he condemned "vacuous" degrees taking the place of vocational training.

Mr Woodhead made similar comments about A-level standards in an interview with The Guardian . He claimed the newspaper's headline misrepresented him. The report notes that members of the Commons education sub-committee, which took oral evidence from Mr Woodhead, "were not convinced that he had been misreported".

The report is also critical of Mr Woodhead and Ofsted in their handling of a report from Leicester University researchers on race equality monitoring by schools and inspectors. The report was commissioned by the Commission for Racial Equality.

Ofsted issued a press release dismissing the findings, which Mr Woodhead described as "a shoddy piece of work". After a meeting between Mr Woodhead and CRE chair Gurbux Singh, Mr Singh put on record that he found Mr Woodhead "patronising, rude and sarcastic". Mr Woodhead replied that he was "astonished" by Mr Singh's "self-righteous indignation".

The report says committee members were concerned that Mr Woodhead had not made himself available to meet the CRE's researchers.

"The chief inspector laid himself open to the criticism that he did not consider the subject to be particularly important and thereby compromised his ability to object to any subsequent criticism made of the office for which he had responsibility," the report says.

The committee also recommends that the chief inspector should be made accountable to a supervisory board of commissioners.

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