Whistleblowers: High Court urged to quash Ofsted report

A mature student plans to ask the High Court to tear up an Ofsted inspection report on his former college, claiming that some of its findings are "perverse and irrational" and that inspectors failed to comply with their published guidelines.

Solicitors acting for the student, whom The THES has agreed not to name at this stage because he has mental health problems, have sent Ofsted draft grounds for a judicial review of the recent report into Newcastle-under-Lyme College.

The student wants the High Court to quash Ofsted's judgement, because he says the inspectors ignored a dossier of evidence he provided to his claims of mismanagement.

The inspectors gave Newcastle-under-Lyme a clean bill of health for the quality of its management.

The student, who took a special course for mental health service users and a part-time computing course, made a complaint about the conduct of one of his tutors in September 2000.

His draft application for judicial review says: "During the handling of the complaint by the college serious concerns arose on the part of the claimant, not only in connection with the manner in which the college operated its complaints procedures and equal opportunity policy, but also in respect of the management of the college."

The THES has learnt that the college initially refused to investigate his complaints, arguing that the incidents that had been cited did not relate to the tutor's actions while she was "on duty" as a college employee. When it did investigate, the student was not happy with the findings or the procedures used.

The college has denied him access to the later stages of the complaints procedures, arguing that his objections to certain investigators and his demands for an acceptable adjudicator have been unreasonable.

The student wrote to Ofsted setting out his concerns about the implementation of the complaints procedure two weeks before it was due to visit the college.

He argued that his concerns fell clearly within watchdog's remit, as the Ofsted Handbook for Inspecting Colleges makes it clear that inspectors must consider whether colleges have "effective measures for dealing with appeals and complaints" and that "inspections should be conducted in such a way that the evidence gained from observations, from learners, from staff, from others and from documentation is sufficient to secure judgements".

After the inspection had been completed on November 14 2002 Ofsted's chief inspector David Bell wrote to the student. He said: "Ofsted has no responsibility for the investigation of complaints between individuals and colleges... the information you provided us (with) and which was shared with the inspection team provided contextual background and may have informed the emphases of some of our inspection activity. We do not, however, have any authority to follow up and report on the details of your complaints and shall not be doing so."

But when the report was published in March 2003 it praised the college for "very effective measures to respond to complaints (and) appeals". It said:

"The college is regarded by... students as very responsive to issues raised through the well-publicised internal procedures. An atmosphere of trust and collaboration pervades all levels of the college."

The judicial review claim says: "That decision is clearly perverse and irrational, not least because Ofsted was provided with documentary evidence to the exact contrary."

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said this week: "Ofsted has received draft proceedings for judicial review. Ofsted's solicitors have replied to that.

Any person seeking judicial review must seek permission from the High Court to do so, and whether or not that permission is granted is a matter for the judge."

A spokesman for the college said: "We understand that the inspectors considered his complaints but, as is evident from their report, did not consider them to be in any way relevant to their inspection."

He said the college did not believe that the student's complaints could properly form the basis for a judicial review application.

Want to blow the whistle? Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email him at phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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