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Requiring improvement

So, Ofsted has purged 40 per cent of its inspectors because they're not up to the required standard. Put another way, that means nearly half of Ofsted's inspectors haven't measured up.

It seems the rejects were unable to assess schools effectively, couldn't write meaningful reports or, incredibly, didn't have qualified teacher status (QTS). It beggars belief that inspectors could have been appointed without QTS. Did they craftily omit that piece of information from their CVs?

Ofsted has been in existence for a quarter of a century and, sadly, the public has been conditioned to judge schools by its reports. An Ofsted inspection is now the thing that is most feared by schools, to the extent that their agendas are often entirely geared towards pleasing inspectors.

And these inspections do have the power to destroy careers. A popular and successful headteacher I know suffered a difficult inspection because her Year 6 cohort had many children with special educational needs. In addition, a pupil had recently died in a traffic accident, causing the other children considerable distress. The inspection team had little sympathy and gave the school an eminently unfair report. The headteacher was so upset that she hid behind a clothes rail while shopping to avoid being recognised by colleagues from a neighbouring school.

Stories of bizarre comments and actions from inspectors are legion. One inspector told a language specialist that primary children should spend lots of time writing Spanish down, not speaking it. Another instructed a headteacher to conduct the pre-inspection briefing by mobile phone - because she needed to walk her dog. One school almost failed its inspection because the team was offered coffee before being asked for identification.

The written report a school receives after an inspection is intended to help it move forward. But because these documents consistently employ stock phrases designed by civil servants, they are of little use. Sometimes the comments are merely risible. "Where lessons were good, the children were on task and interested," one states. Another recommends that teachers should ensure that "each lesson is closely matched to every child's individual needs". Noble words, but impossible in practice. But then, it's far easier to criticise than to actually do the job.

We can only hope the culls and yet another revised agenda will improve inspection quality, and we'll no longer meet people like the retired police officer who inspected the foundation stage at my school. When I questioned his credentials, he replied: "I've had a few week's training, you know."

"Presumably, then," I replied, "attendance on a brief police course would make me an expert thief-taker?" He didn't seem too sure.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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