Shedding too many pounds

Richard Masters

OFSTED's report was heartening then came a financial bombshell.

During the spring term my middle school in Somerset had its OFSTED inspection. Our preparation had been excellent, the report itself was very good, but the conclusion to it all was simply soul destroying.

We made sure we prepared properly, making every effort to show our school in a favourable light. After all, it is over-subscribed and there is a genuine affection amongst parents, pupils and staff.

My own children are pupils which meant I could attend the parents' meeting with the registered inspector. I was quite taken aback by their attitude. One after another spoke about the caring staff, the happy environment, the standard of teaching. They would have none of the complaints put forward by trouble-makers and shouted them to silence. Of course there were issues - homework was the main one - but nevertheless the message was clear: we are proud of our school.

I was extremely nervous at the start of the inspection week. The inspectors were business-like but pleasant and the week, in general, went well. One or two things did make us feel uncomfortable, including heavy criticism of key stage 2 RE - despite only 15 minutes of one lesson being observed.

The senior staff were given a verbal report at the end of the week. We were told whether departments were sound, good - or even very good. My own department, maths, was sound and sometimes good, whatever that means. Our one-teacher art department came out best with good to excellent. However with all the stick she has had since, I think she wishes she was poor to non-existent.

The official report arrived telling us what we already knew. Most of the school was functioning and developing well, some parts were not. Action plans were drawn up and committees formed. Fifty reports were produced and offered to parents for Pounds 2. We sold one.

Throughout the report there was a common theme that the school offered good value for money. Despite my reservations towards the whole process of OFSTED inspections, I was proud of the report the school had gained.

Then this term the financial bombshell hit us; everywhere millions of pounds were being wiped off school budgets. The local authorities blamed the Government for under-funding education in general and teachers' pay in particular. The Government blamed the local authorities for wasting money and schools for hoarding it.

Somerset probably suffered as much as any. Seven per cent was wiped from my school's budget.

We have been slightly over-staffed for some years a policy decision to keep class sizes down and use teachers as support in the classroom. Educationally it worked - it was part and parcel of the ethos of the school that OFSTED approved of. But to protect jobs in the future, we started procedures to make two colleagues redundant.

Now, as the summer holidays are upon us, the process is at an end. The tears, frustrations and threats of union action are over. The unsuccessful appeals have ended and one colleague is in the process of placing her house on the market and cancelling the family holiday. At our end-of-term "do" we said goodbye to our two friends. Not that they, nor some other staff, were there - the bitterness goes too deep. How deep only time will tell.

I am left to reflect on our OFSTED report - value for money! Now, our staffing is down, our class sizes are 30-plus, our excellent support programme is in tatters and our morale is lower than I have ever known it. If our inspection took place now, would the results be different? In fact, does anything that was in the report now have any meaning?

Galling indeed when we look at how much the inspection cost - Pounds 33, 000, not far off two teachers' annual salaries.

Richard Masters is a senior teacher in a Somerset middle school

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