Recently, I read a piece by a headteacher writing about his Ofsted inspection. It seemed the lead inspector, while addressing the staff on the first morning, had told them she believed intensive Ofsted inspections were vital in forcing standards up, and that Ofsted had made a massive difference. That was why she intended to inspect with great rigour, she said. The staff sat cowed, slumping lower in their seats as she spoke.
I think, if that had happened to me, I would have seen the lady off the premises there and then. I gather the school actually came through the inspection very well, but what staggering arrogance. How dare the woman, who obviously had an inflated view of her own importance, start an inspection in that manner.
The trouble is far too many schools put up with this kind of thing. Teachers are personable, dedicated people who aren't interested in sticking their heads over the parapet. They simply want to do their best for their children. Because of this, they become a ripe target for an organisation such as Ofsted.
What's more, there isn't a shred of evidence that Ofsted has raised standards or caused improvements in schools. For a start, it can only inspect, not offer advice. What it does raise, however, is the fear level.
Someone recently posted me a booklet titled An Inspection First Aid Kit. It's intended to be a helpful guide, particularly for new heads who haven't yet experienced the Spanish Inquisition. The first page depressed me: "Within 30 seconds of the telephone call, your heart surges. You're jabbering like an idiot, laughing maniacally ..." it says. In other words, there's nothing like Ofsted to tie your bowels in a reef knot or cause blind panic in the staffroom. The fear factor suddenly shoots very high indeed.
You know when Ofsted is coming because inspections occur at regular intervals, but what happens when your school actually gets the call? Everybody rushes round like mad, doing lots of things they wouldn't normally do, often spending an entire weekend in school or working in their classrooms until 10pm at night. You try to cover every loophole: are you certain everybody knows who the child protection officer is? Are you all familiar with the content of the self-evaluation form? And what the hell does personalised learning actually mean?
And then, when it's over and you've passed, been hung out to dry, or told you're merely satisfactory, you stagger weakly into the staffroom knowing that at least you won't have to go through all that again for a while.
I've been head of this school so long I've endured three Ofsteds. Incredibly, in the first, only one inspector had any primary experience. Our second was a total shambles: I wouldn't have employed any of the team in my school and we spent 18 months successfully fighting the outcome. The third was fine because the lead inspector understood primary schools, but we learnt nothing about our school that we didn't already know.
What expensive idiocy it all is. I wouldn't mind betting we eventually return to a sensible system using local inspectors who get to know their schools and localities well, offer sensible support and advice, and come into school regularly, while still making sure their heads are accountable for creating efficient, exciting learning environments.
My fourth inspection is imminent. I'm at the end of my career and I'm an irascible old sod who happens to love children. So, Ofsted, send me a sensible, knowledgeable team. Or watch out ...
Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. firstname.lastname@example.org.