Mike Kent column

When I walked out of the shop with it under my arm, my wife threatened to walk on the other side of the road. When I told my deputy I was reading it, she looked at me in disbelief. When the staff knew I had a copy, they threatened to disown me.

Not only have I read Chris Woodhead's book, Class War, but I paid for it with my own money. I read other books on education's parlous state, so it seemed right to read his. And it is extremely readable. In the first few chapters he talks about the untold millions wasted on unwieldy bureaucratic initiatives. The money should be in the schools, he says. Couldn't agree more. He talks about the fanciful and often downright daft teacher training that goes on. Right on target, Chris. He talks about the sterility of the GTC, the desperate need to address unruly pupil behaviour, and how teachers need to be free to teach. A shame he didn't shout about these things when he was in post, but he seems right on target. I'm in danger of becoming a Woodhead acolyte.

Then I hit the chapter on Ofsted, the greatest waste of public money that education has seen, and a haven for people who aren't that hot in the classroom but are happy to sit in judgment on classroom practitioners. And we are talking vast amounts of money. Chris doesn't mention what the average inspection costs because you'd be horrified, and it doesn't suit his argument, but he seems to feel that, apart from the odd maverick, Ofsted's inspectors are experts doing a good job.

Many of them are doing a good job - of demoralising, frightening and patronising teachers. How many heads, even those who've had exceptional reports, feel Ofsted is a productive, worthwhile organisation? I haven't found any. Then he tosses out a statistic, and my mind reels; Ofsted has produced 40,000 reports; 40,000 fat, templated, dull documents that are great for insomnia but never give the flavour of a school.

Maybe I'm biased. I've endured two inspections. In my first, not one inspector had any primary school experience. My second damaged my staff and school so much I've spent two years fighting it. And I was so worried by aspects of the Ofsted complaints department that I went to the independent adjudicator. Chris argues that, because so few schools complain, they must be happy with the system. In fact, plenty think about it, but with the massive amount of work involved, is it any wonder they don't?

The anecdotes in the Ofsted chapter are suspicious, too. We hear about heads who've written to him and said things like: "We were a bit miffed when we were told we were a hopeless team of deadbeats and our school was the worst in the universe, but then we thought, hang on, they may have a point, let's get cracking, roll up our sleeves and drive up some standards!" I'm afraid it rings about as true as the anecdotal tales in the DfES's monthly education magazine.

By the time I'd reached the final chapter and realised Chris had attacked everything and everybody except himself and Ofsted, I'd had enough. Funny how somebody like Tim Brighouse can really raise standards in his schools, but with kindness and unbounded enthusiasm. That's the approach I infinitely prefer.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark. Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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