We have only one question: what are they trying to hide?


The schools watchdog Ofsted does not publish inspection reports on failing schools in the run up to elections, it has emerged. Ofsted said it fell under the same ‘election purdah’ restrictions which apply to the civil service during the three weeks leading up to an election. This year, in the run-up to local elections in England and Scotland, and elections of the national assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland and the Scottish Parliament, purdah rules apply from April 12 to May 3. Under the purdah guidance, which comes from the Cabinet Office, the civil service is banned from publishing anything which could be used by any political party for political gain. Ofsted said that the decision to adhere to the principles of election purdah had been in place for ‘a number of years’.

Although Ofsted was set up 15 years ago, it is understood that the decision to ban the release of some inspection reports has only applied for around three to four years. In a statement Ofsted said the ban applied to any inspection reports that place a school in ‘special measures’ or ‘give notice to improve.’ Monitoring reports of school academies - the flagship government education policy - were also banned, as well as reports which assessed local authority social services and children's services. However reports on childminders and children's daycare providers are not covered by the ban and still appear on its website. Ofsted issued a statement about its position on publishing school inspection reports during an election campaign yesterday after it emerged that a report on a failing secondary school in Buckinghamshire mistakenly appeared on the Ofsted website during Easter, while the purdah restrictions were in place. Ofsted refused to say anything beyond its statement, and would not comment on whether the decision to ban certain publications had always been in place or had been brought in around three to four years ago. It also refused to comment on the suggestion that banning reports that failed schools was an attempt to 'bury bad news'. However, Ofsted confirmed that any reports not published during campaigning would be released after the elections, once the purdah period has expired.

The school whose report appeared on the Ofsted website and Buckinghamshire county council said yesterday they are to make an official complaint to the watchdog. Burnham upper school headteacher, Max Bilsborough, said: ‘We had in place a plan which would have offered parents full access to the report and the school so that they could ask detailed questions and be fully informed of how the school, and the local authority, were going to respond to the report's criticisms. ‘Unfortunately, the mistaken publishing of what we are now told is a report which has not been finalised, has thrown this plan into disarray. I am writing to parents to assure them that we will share the report with them as soon as we can, and to reassure them that an action plan to turn the school around, and extra resources, are already in place.’ The council's cabinet member for achievement and learning, Marion Clayton, added: ‘Our business is providing the best possible life chances for Buckinghamshire students. It is outrageous that this school and its community have been put in this position. Why on earth should a school, which is not a political body, be hindered by a purdah rule for district council elections? Our priority is to support the school in its plans for continued improvement.



Disused railway lines should be protected from development because they may have to be re-opened to relieve overcrowded roads, according to the Tories. Chris Grayling, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said that the lines in most urgent need of protection were the Lewes to Uckfield line in East Sussex, the Oxford to Milton Keynes line, the Woodhead tunnel route between Manchester and Sheffield and the Leamside line in the North East. He wrote to the Government asking it to prohibit developers from building on the routes and demolishing stations. His letter said: ‘I am writing to ask you to impose a two-year moratorium on the sale of land on former transport routes; establish an independent study to assess the potential of each disused route including old stations and car parks for future transport needs and then put in place long-term protections.’ Mr Grayling said that many housing developments were designed with inadequate public transport links. Transport 2000, the environmental group, welcomed the Conservative initiative and called on the Government to set out long-term plans for reopening lines in its rail White Paper, due to be published in July. Stephen Joseph, its director, said: ‘Reopenings will be needed to serve the many new and planned developments, and also to provide better regional links. This is about giving people real choice for more journeys, and tackling congestion and pollution. ‘But many of these lines are under threat from development. For years we have been saying they should be firmly protected through the planning system, and we support the Conservatives’ call for a moratorium on development and a review of their potential. ‘This should be a nonparty issue, and we hope the Government will agree to the Conservatives’ request and protect lines for future use.’