Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to Clerk of the Education Sub-committee from the Director of Education, Durham County Council

9 November 2000

Many thanks for the opportunity to comment on the uncorrected evidence given by Mr Woodhead and colleagues on 1st November. The issues for specific correction of the evidence are:

  • Question 14: "No Government Department has a Board": This error was corrected at the Select Committee, when a member pointed out that the Inland Revenue has a Board. But there is a significant error of omission which needs to be corrected. OFSTED is the only Government Department which is not covered by the PCA (Ombudsman). If HMCI wishes to have OFSTED treated as a Government Department, then it should be subject to the Ombudsman, both institutionally throughout the whole of OFSTED and personally as far as the office of HMCI is concerned.

  • Question 17: "Durham did not want to tell us the schools that were complaining, so it made it difficult..." This is incorrect. The main school concerned was named in the complaint, with the approval of the school by the County Council from the very beginning. The significant number of other schools which had complained to the LEA did not want, for fear of reprisal, to be named but specific complaints were nevertheless made to OFSTED with respect to these schools.

  • Question 17: "The Registered Inspector said that an LEA employee had interfered with the inspection; this was logged in the evidence base for the Inspection at the time." Again a significant error of omission. The OFSTED investigation and outcome has specifically not supported this allegation. Indeed, the apology from OFSTED collectively and HMCI personally to the complainant includes an apology specifically to the LEA officer concerned.

  • Question 17: "So the OFSTED Complaints Adjudicator then thoroughly reviewed the case and concluded..." This is an error. The OFSTED Adjudicator never interviewed or sought clarification of any kind at any stage from Mr. Woodhead, despite the fact that he was the main protagonist in the complaint. Durham County Council has consistently argued, and continues to argue, that no investigation of this matter can be regarded as "thorough" - or even adequate in such circumstances.

  • Question 17: "The OCA is independent of OFSTED, and it is important to stress that her view represents an adjudication that is not, in any sense, influenced by myself or any of my colleagues." The County Council does not accept this as a correct statement. The OFSTED Adjudicator is appointed by, and dismissible by, HMCI and is not in any reasonable sense of the term independent". OFSTED's own definitions of "external inspection" and "contamination" for school inspections mean that OFSTED itself could not, by this analogy, regard the post of Adjudicator as being independent of OFSTED. The County Council also remains of the firm view, as indicated by its legal advisers, that the "unwarranted" and 1mplicitly threatening" intrusion by Mr Woodhead into the process of investigation at the outset, and before the County Council's side of the complaint had been heard, meant that all OFSTED personnel and processors were contaminated from that point on.

  • Question 20: "That review, by sheer chance, coincided with the first letter from Mr Mitchell; it was not done at Mr Mitchell's request, it was done as a result of other matters that prose. And, it is quite right, as the OCA properly pointed out, we should have indicated in our earlier letters that we had conducted that review. But it was much wider, the review, than the matter of that single complaint that Durham made, and there is the matter of confidentiality, therefore, about how much of other business that is not pertinent to Durham should be revealed to Durham at that point in time."

  • This needs to be corrected for a number of reasons, even if the Committee is persuaded to accept the notion of 'sheer chance' or blind coincidence. First of all County Durham's complaint was a wide one, not only the one named school, but other schools in County Durham and indeed one other LEA in the North East where a similar complaint had been made to OFSTED, meetings had taken place between the LEA and senior OFSTED personnel and the outcome had been an agreement that the Registered Inspector in question would not longer inspect in that authority. Durham County Council as the complainant consistently asked for a review of the whole work of this Registered Inspector in the light of the specific complaints that were raised from the one school and the generality of complaints from other schools and LEAs in the area.

  • Secondly it is wrong, by omission, to agree simply that OFSTED should have indicated the fact that it had conducted that review of the Registered Inspector. The fact is that OFSTED in its three-year correspondence repeatedly informed the complainant that it had not carried out a review and rejected the County Council's call for a review of her work.

  • Question 27: "Now, Durham remained unhappy. I find it difficult to know what else we can do, I would love to know what else it would be possible to do in this particular case, I cannot see anything further that we can do, but then I may not be bright enough to see what the alternatives are." This error must be corrected. County Durham has specifically and repeatedly written to OFSTED over the years of this complaint to indicate what OFSTED should do, namely as a minimum:

    (a)  Ensure that Mr Woodhead and other OFSTED officers as appropriate are interviewed and give an account of how the "unwarranted" and implicitly threatening" intervention occurred by Mr Woodhead, who was responsible, what action should be taken and how it can be prevented from happening again;

    (b)  OFSTED should agree, as repeatedly proposed by the complainant, to a third party which can carry out a full investigation and review of this matter on an independent and impartial basis, with full access to all the documentation to which the complainant has been denied access;

    (c)  OFSTED and HMCI should answer the outstanding issues requiring further information and clarification, which remain unresolved in this matter and about which HMCI has instructed his staff to enter into no further communication with the complainant.

Further, in the Committee both the Chairman and Mr. Woodhead himself stressed the importance of the "principle of external inspection." We believe that the principle of external inspection — and not merely a properly external complaints mechanism as recommended above — should apply to OFSTED. Even the existence of a board, such as suggested at the Committee, would not provide the necessary external objectivity which OFSTED and the Select Committee believe, rightly, is necessary elsewhere in the Education Service. That necessity should apply also to OFSTED itself, both institutionally and to the position of HMCI personally, and without it we believe that OFSTED will never be perceived as fully accountable nor, indeed, as professionally credible as an organisation whose raison d'être is external inspection.

We in County Durham are most grateful to the Select Committee for the considerable attention which is now being given to this matter. We hope that the Select Committee will continue to press for answers to the questions that have not been answered by OFSTED, and which require to be answered if progress is to be made by and within OFSTED, particularly under new leadership. We remain of the view that an independent enquiry instigated by, and, responsible to, the Select Committee remains the best way forward.

Keith Mitchell

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