A letter to the next PM

2nd October 2009 at 01:00

Dear Mr Cameron. I'm considering voting for you next year. Cautiously, mind, because I haven't forgotten the leaky roof we couldn't afford to mend, or the playing fields that were flogged off, or the curriculum confusion under previous Tory governments. There are curriculum issues now, but I can't complain about funding under Labour. It's the data-led agenda that's driving me crazy and if you intend doing something about it, I'm your man. Let me give you an example ...

At the start of term, I attended a meeting about the new Ofsted arrangements. Yes, they've been changed again. You'd think the local authority would avoid meeting heads in the first week, but Ofsted agitates the bowels of all teachers and local authorities, and since the new rules start right now, heads are gathering all over the country to learn what's in store when the inspectors call.

No barrel of fun. The inspections will be even more intensive, and although they'll still last two days, they'll go on longer on the second day. There will be more emphasis on classroom visits, also known as "rigorous monitoring", and both head and an inspector will sit at the back of your classroom bearing clipboards and fixed grins while you try to teach normally and pretend they aren't there.

Late on the second day, the head will be invited to join the inspectors while they sum up. This is Ofsted's bid to show how fair it all is. The head can even chip in his two penn'orth or, heaven forbid, disagree! I suspect, as before, the head will be so stressed by the end of the second day that they'll just want to go home and get drunk.

Primarily, Ofsted inspections will still be about data. It doesn't matter how time consuming it is to gather, or how much time it takes away from teaching pupils, or how unreliable it all is. Data is everything today to Ofsted, so the inspectors will be scouring all of it, often using it to make incorrect assumptions.

But back to the meeting ... It was accompanied by a 77-page handout. By page three, I was drifting. With statements like "inspectors will take into account overall contextual value-added data, learning achievement tracking and, where relevant, differing key stages, including pupils with learning disabilities or difficulties as indicated in Raise online and the performance and assessment report", I was amazed to find anybody still awake. I looked around the room at the grim faces. Where was the joy of educating the young? We seem to have lost sight of what primary education should be all about.

"Isn't this boring?" I asked those at my table. "Extremely," someone replied. "But we have to do it, don't we?" Would we be doing it if you were in charge, Mr Cameron?

Then an LEA officer said we were lucky to have sophisticated software now that could tell us what our children had achieved. Funny, that - when I was a class teacher, I knew exactly what my children could and couldn't do, and there wasn't a computer in sight.

Then, a piece of news that astonished me. Apparently, it won't just be parents who receive questionnaires during an inspection, it'll be staff and children as well. The inspectors won't be able to collate all that information in two days, so inspectors will now have admin assistants. At what cost, I wonder? Though you have to admire Ofsted's skill at protecting its empire. And won't naughty Charlie Bloggs in Year 11 have fun filling in his questionnaire ...

So, Mr Cameron, are you going to rescue the profession I love and recognise that children are children and not bits of data or form-fillers?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London. Email mikejkent@aol.com.

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