A week of pain and stress? That'll be pound;3,380

19th November 2004 at 00:00
Seven years ago, after we had both taken early retirement from LEA headships, my wife and I set up a small school. She became head and I took care of the administration. Our aim was to establish a completely independent school, run according to the ideas we had formed during our long careers.

As a result we belong to no organisations and, although parents of our pupils pay fees, we see this as a way of ensuring the school is well resourced with a good ratio of highly qualified staff. In other words, we aren't in it to make our fortunes.

When we started we had only three children, so we registered as an "early years provider". Within a year, numbers had risen to such an extent that we had to register as a school. We were visited by an HMI and given a DfES number.We were "official".

For the next six years the school continued to grow. Our roll reached the mid-70s, which is our maximum, the children were passing their exams, and their parents were happy. Then, this summer, we got the envelope. Ofsted was coming.

The inspection began eight days into a new school year, when we had five new staff and 20 new children, nearly a third of the total number on roll.

Fortunately, as we had known we would be inspected at some time, our paperwork was in good order. The two HMIs were polite and friendly, but my wife and I, hardened cynics both, were continually on the look-out for a sting in the tail.

The level of stress among the staff in such a small school was enormous.

Though everyone came out of it well, with no lesson considered to be less than satisfactory and many considered to be good, it will take a long time for them to get over it.

The report is positive and we will be able to use it to market the school.

But for the privilege we have been presented with a bill for pound;3,380 - the sting in the tail.

This is a great deal of money for a dubious "service" that we neither asked for nor wanted. It seems the justification for our inspection is that Ofsted "informs parents whether or not the school meets required standards". This is insulting to parents; they wouldn't hesitate to move their children if they weren't happy.

This year our harvest charity was an organisation that raises money to enable gardens to be created in African schools so they can grow vegetables and be self-sufficient. In our little school we raised pound;200, enough to pay for one garden; I know that our parents would rather have created a further 16 gardens than see pound;3,380 disappear into Ofsted's coffers.

We cannot look back on this stressful experience without thinking it was all a waste of time - and money - for everyone concerned.

Michael Evans is bursar of Madingley preparatory school in Cambridge

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