I can just imagine the conversation Ofsted inspectors might be having down at the Frog and Nightgown after Michael Gove's recent announcement...
"Evening Anthony, Theresa. What'll it be?"
"Stiff whisky, Grahame, I think. Been a hard week. Trouble with primaries is that pupils keep getting under your feet. Some of these heads don't make proper provision for us. All we ask for is a room well away from any children. But I've interviewed an amazing Senco this week. Does wonders with children from the most appalling home backgrounds. They really love going to school."
"You gave her an 'outstanding', then?"
"Oh no. Had to fail her. She couldn't prove all her pupils had made two sub-levels of progress. How's your week been, Theresa?"
"I've been at an interesting primary. Children were happy, on task, no behaviour problems, lots of good planning, excellent staff morale, enthusiastic parents. Had to give the school notice to improve, though. Two children in Year 6 couldn't tell me their levels, a reception teacher hadn't put her learning intentions on the whiteboard, and there was a 1 per cent dip in the mean average of the lower quartile of the key stage 2 maths results. Your week been fruitful, Anthony?"
"I've been at St Barstools Primary. Thing is, when I checked their data before I arrived it was pretty grim, so I drafted my report to save time after the inspection. The children are drawn from a very rough estate and teachers cope with massive social problems. Amazing the kids make any progress at all, but they do, and the staff are exceptionally dedicated. Had to fail it, though. A lot of the children didn't seem to know what I was talking about when I asked for their personal targets. Headteacher tried to tell me they weren't very important. 'Who's the expert here?' I asked him."
"Funny old game, this inspection lark. I have to say I still get a frisson of pleasure watching the staff running around like headless chickens pretending they haven't been in school the entire weekend panicking about our visit. Is that last week's TES you've got, Grahame? What's the headline?"
"Oh my God! Just look at this! That wretched Gove fellow is telling schools they can abandon the self-evaluation form! How on earth are we supposed to inspect schools if we don't have their data to read online first? After all, that's what tells us whether a school is surviving or failing. Visiting the place is not half as important."
"Absolutely, Grahame. Teams of civil servants have worked for months getting the SEF properly comprehensive. And headteachers can't say it takes a long time to fill in. We've provided a helpful 99-page instruction document and a mass of stuff on the website for them to look at. It cost a fortune to produce."
"I'm sorry, I couldn't help overhearing ..."
"Who are you?"
"A local primary headteacher and I'm raising my pint to Mr Gove because I shan't have to spend countless future hours on the SEF. I can design my school year with a simple development plan. And parents don't need charts and graphs to decide whether a school is any good, and whether they want their children to go there. You inspectors spend three days in a school, so you should be able to do even better. Get to the heart of a school and what it's doing for its children - it really isn't that difficult - and don't expect us all to be identical. With a bit of luck, Mr Gove will soon be saying you need hardly any data at all. Cheers!"
Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.