New year fears on road of red tape

Mike Kent

Happy new year!

I'd like to think it might be a good one for education, but there are already worrying signs. Bureaucracy would be cut right back, the Coalition told us, and heads given more freedom. Yet we still have the worst offender of all, the ludicrously detailed annual school census - and those questions about the colour of teachers' cars are still there. I assume admin officers all over the country are wasting hours filling this in, and yet it's easy to say no. I have, and I haven't been taken out and shot just yet.

Then there's the General Teaching Council for England. It's certainly making the most of its death throes. I had a fascinating conversation with an officer from this illustrious body last week. He asked why I hadn't paid the annual subscription. I reminded him the GTC was being abolished and questioned the value I'd get for my money. "Oh, it won't be going yet," he said. "It'll be at least a year once all the appeals are in." I asked again what the GTC gave me for my money. "Well," he said, "we, um, arrange functions." I told him I'd think about paying my subscription, but it might take me a year...

Testing will still be with us this year. Although most schools want to see the back of key stage 2 Sats, we made a pig's ear of the 2010 boycott. I'm not against testing, but Sats aren't the way to do it and the secondaries take no notice of them because they don't indicate accurately what a child can do. They simply prove that primary teachers are pretty adept at honing a narrow agenda for squeezing their children through that essential level 4 - essential to the school even more than the child, to avoid Ofsted giving it a hard time.

But rather than decrease the testing regime, the Government has decided to step it up, with its astonishing intention to publish school-by-school results after just one year of formal education. This is to "give parents more information". About what? The quality of education taking place in the school? If I were choosing a school for my child, I would visit a few and ask some in-depth questions. I'd learn nothing from a league table. In fact, two of the most miserable schools I know, where staff morale is so low that new teachers have to be recruited every year, have both been labelled "outstanding" by Ofsted, whose blinkered vision can't see past a set of data.

Ofsted will still be with us in 2011, unfortunately, but one does sense this awful organisation is thrashing around a bit to justify its existence. Its current obsession is safeguarding, and it appears its inspectors will be looking in mind-blowing detail at it when they visit, even asking you to show that supply teachers have arrived with a passport photo to prove they are who the agency says they are. Presumably, Ofsted suspects the agencies might be packed full of paedophiles. Perhaps the unions could start standing up to Ofsted in 2011. Or perhaps headteachers should start showing its inspectors the door when they behave like this.

And talking of headteachers, I find the National College for Leadership particularly worrying, and worthy of Mr Gove's investigation. I watched a video the other day in which a group of suited, earnest, humourless prospective primary headteachers were obsessing about data, targets and assessment outcomes. The college seems to be growing heads who are automatons. Where has childhood fun gone?

But I'm ever the optimist. You never know, 2011 could be the year when the Coalition re-reads the Cambridge review and starts to realise what primary education should be all about.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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