The fightback begins

8th June 2012 at 01:00

The tide seems to be turning at last. Much has been written about Ofsted in recent editions of TES. We've had Mick Brookes, former general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, saying that teachers need to start biting back; we've learned that Ofsted has no idea how many inspectors have relevant experience or competence; exasperated teachers on the TES forums have shared stories about inspectorial incompetence; and even the editor has pitched in with a leader suggesting Ofsted might benefit by accentuating the positive a little more.

Frankly, I can't imagine any school leader or teacher saying that inspection isn't essential. The education of children is far too important. But since the early 1990s, when Ofsted was created with the ludicrous notion that every school, countrywide, should be inspected in exactly the same way, there has been constant concern about the process.

Over the years, this concern has increased rather than diminished. Capable leaders have seen careers destroyed, competent classroom teachers have been reduced to tears, suicides have been caused and the whole process has become increasingly data driven, to the point where teachers would bet that most inspectors judge schools only by what they read from their graphs.

Recently, an adviser went to a primary school near me to give a talk about primary education. Did he discuss good classroom practice, techniques for making sure the children behaved well, ways in which lessons could be made exciting and relevant or the range of experiences it was important for a child to have at primary school? No. He discussed current Ofsted requirements and how to make sure the school passed its inspection.

This is happening all over the country. Even though I am retired I receive at least six emails daily from consultants and consortia desperate to show how my school can achieve greatness by pandering to the latest bits of Ofstedian diktat. Everything that enriches a child's primary years is no longer considered of value, which has led to some pretty odd judgements about what actually makes a school outstanding.

Ofsted constantly bats away the slightest criticism, saying that it receives very few complaints, that most headteachers find inspection an invigorating process and that all its inspectors are highly trained, courteous and competent.

This is blatantly and demonstrably not true. A retired police officer who's had a bit of Ofsted instruction is now sufficiently knowledgeable to be an expert in the early years? A solicitor who thumps her fist on a head's desk while demanding lists of data is courteous? An inspector who goes into a nursery class and asks how old the children are is competent? I really don't think so.

But school leaders have been pushed to the edge and things are changing. The NAHT has unveiled its new website, School View, which will enable heads to talk about the performance of inspectors. If particular names appear repeatedly alongside adverse comments, something may actually be done.

So well done the NAHT. It's certainly a start. Who knows, we may eventually get to the point - recommended by the NUT - where schools simply refuse to put up with aggressive and bullying tactics from inspectors and order them to leave the building. Now that really would be progress.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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