Dear Michael Wilshaw
Congratulations on your new appointment as head of Ofsted.
I was pleased to hear you say that the great majority of teachers are professional people who do their best. You also said in your conversation with TES last month that it's pretty straightforward to identify teachers who are incapable, and I wouldn't disagree with that.
However, before you get cracking in your new role and go into schools, it would be helpful if you could put Ofsted's house in order. Barely a month goes by when a reader doesn't write to me with an inspection horror story that would do credit to the Spanish Inquisition.
This week, I received a letter from a chair of governors. She is a hard-working volunteer, leading a highly competent team of governors who are passionate about their junior school. A while back they appointed an exceptional head, and three years ago Ofsted judged the school to be outstanding. This summer, right at the end of term, the school was told it was about to receive its next inspection, and though the school had continued to do well, this time the attitude of the inspectors was totally different.
The lead inspector was, the chair of governors said, "the nastiest person I have ever had to deal with". He castigated the governing body for not doing enough number crunching, he accused the body of not having enough professional people on it (which wasn't true) and, after arranging to meet with the chair for 15 minutes, he subjected her to more than an hour of torment, starting with the words "I'll do all the talking ..."
Before long many of the teachers were in tears and, with the consummate determination of a negative inquisitor, he'd totally demoralised everyone in the building. The school ultimately received a "satisfactory" grading - just four months after its school improvement partner had rated it "still outstanding".
Throughout the summer holiday, the chair gathered together a group of people who worked on strategies to raise the English and maths levels, as these appeared to be the bone of contention from RAISEonline that the lead inspector had placed so much emphasis on. They pored over RAISEonline, with one teacher commenting that if a proper statistician had been interpreting the results they'd have come to a very different conclusion from the inspector.
When the final report was received, the chair made a formal complaint to the company that had sent the inspection team. She eventually received an error-filled report back, and was told her complaints would not be upheld. Like the rest of the governors she felt completely demoralised, which is a great shame, because this is how Ofsted's bully boys get away with it.
Yes, making a complaint against Ofsted is tough - it took me 18 months and two newspaper articles to crack it - and they have very clever ways of wearing you down. Anyone who has read Kafka will understand how they do it, and this, Sir Michael, is something you will need to address immediately if you want teachers to have the slightest respect for your organisation.
Everybody agrees that schools need to be inspected. It's how it's done and by whom that needs some serious thought.
Over to you, Sir Michael...
Yours sincerely, Mike Kent
Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, south London. Email: email@example.com.