A hopalong travesty

25th June 2004 at 01:00
I see that that there are plans afoot to change the school inspection regime.

("Are you going to use this as an excuse to put the boot into Ofsted?"

"Er, not really, I was just going to comment on one or two things that seem . . ."

"Oh, go on, please!"

"Alright then, fair enough.").

The problem of tinkering with Ofsted is that it is merely treating symptoms instead of addressing root causes.

Playing around with the amount of notice that schools are given before an inspection is neither here nor there. If a system is fundamentally flawed, it matters not whether people are told two days in advance, or two years.

It is still a bum steer.

The inescapable truth of the matter is that we have spent the past 15 years in cowed subjugation to an odious model of dictatorial governance. The emphasis has been on ensuring compliance, rather than working in partnership with the professions. It is no use the Conservatives whining on about how they will put an end to big government, because they won't. They started it.

The first principle of big government is that politicians know best. It is a huge and dangerous fallacy. Put baldly, for those politicians who operate in simplicities, there is a significant difference between having been democratically elected (true) and having the right, therefore, to remove someone's liver with a carving knife (false).

Recent Labour governments, like the Conservatives before them, started with the belief that professional groups, whether they be teachers, doctors or police officers, operate purely out of self-interest, against the needs of society, and therefore cannot be trusted. Hence the overwhelming climate of suspicion that has clouded education.

It is true, of course, that not every professional person is competent.

There are poor teachers, just as there are substandard doctors and dishonest police officers. But they are small in number. The overwhelming majority are trying to serve their fellows, that is why they came into the job in the first place.

This conspicuous lack of trust produces three tyrannies. The first is micromanagement: people don't know what to do, so we must tell them. The second is lying: lies about how bad things are, to justify the measures being taken; lies about how wonderful the government's policies have been, to buttress them. The third is enforcement: a state police is needed to ensure compliance.

In education, the first tyranny, micromanagement, has produced such artefacts as the tickbox nightmare, the minute by minute structure of the literacy and numeracy hours, and the QCA schemes of work. People now say that the literacy hour structure is purely advisory, but when it was introduced, it was made clear that heretics and nonconformists would have their vitals displayed on a pole outside the city gates.

I would bury the bloody QCA schemes of work in a thick lead casket five miles under Mount Everest for at least a generation. They are innocuous in themselves, but many teachers have become terrorised into doing nothing else. Time for their funeral.

The second tyranny, lying, has produced a squad of spin doctors who constantly weave a web of fiction. The 117 tickboxes for five-year-olds? Wonderful, very popular. What about Initiative 147B? Er . . . it's going swimmingly - whatever it is.

The third tyranny, a state police, brings us back to Ofsted. In order to ensure compliance, gangs of enforcers have to travel the land, tooled up with the pedagogical equivalent of balaclavas and baseball bats.

As a result most people look forward to the arrival of Ofsted with the same joy that non-believers once welcomed the Spanish Inquisition.

"Hello Torqemada. Thanks for abolishing the 'serious weaknesses' category.

By the way, what's that big machine you've brought with you?"

Changing the period of notice does not alter the prevailing climate.

Schools will simply be in permanent terror of the knock at the door, instead of suffering for a few weeks.

What is needed is a reformed system of inspection, with the emphasis on analysing teaching and schooling in a detailed and constructive way, and helping teachers and schools improve what they do. Partnership is much more effective than intimidation and antagonism.

Ah, but many people have said that they favour the proposed new procedures, comes the response. Of course they do, because they compare them with the old procedures, not with some paragonideal.

Tell people they are all going to be shot at dawn and no doubt three quarters would rejoice when this was commuted to amputating their left leg instead.

Phew. Thank goodness, a concession, a much better deal. Then send in the spin doctors to point out the benefits of learning to hop.

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