Hey Sir! Ofsted says that you're rubbish!

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Concern that new post-inspection letters to pupils are betraying identities of staff, reports Michael Shaw

Critical letters from inspectors to children about standards in their schools are inadvertently identifying individual teachers, headteachers have warned.

The letters in pupil-friendly language have had a mixed response since they were introduced last September by Ofsted. The education watchdog says that three-quarters of headteachers believe they are helpful but some heads have complained that they shatter staff morale and encourage pupils to criticise their schools.

Jack Cornall, head of St Mary's Bluecoat school in Bridgnorth, Shropshire said two newly-qualified teachers at a school in his area had been indirectly identified in a recent critical Ofsted letter, leading one to leave the profession.

"Why should an inspection team be allowed to give ammunition to pupils so they can taunt teachers?" Mr Cornall asked. "In come the 15-year-olds saying 'Hey sir! You're no good - it says so'

"I am amazed that we as headteachers are allowing this."

Tim Roberts, head of Chirbury primary in Montgomery, Shropshire said a young primary teacher he knew had nearly quit teaching for similar reasons.

Her small school was praised for its outstanding work and the inspectors' only criticism was that pupils did not make quite such impressive progress in Year 3 and 4.

The comments, which clearly identified the young teacher, were repeated three times. "After the news was broken to her she had to be driven home by a teacher, while another was on standby to help her pick up the pieces," he said.

"How can we have a situation where someone gets kicked in the teeth, simply because she had very experienced colleagues and was herself - at worst - satisfactory?"

The letters angered delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers'

conference in Harrogate this week.

Liz Paver, head of Intake primary in Doncaster, said that they were "the one thing I would actually strike about".

Monica Galt, head of King's Road primary in Old Trafford, said she would refuse to pass on the inspectors' letters to pupils when her school is inspected shortly.

"What are the children supposed to do?" she asked. "Give the teachers a hard time? Tell them their school is rubbish?"

Ofsted said it was a legal requirement for schools to send parents copies of their inspection reports, which included the letter to children.

As part of an evaluation study, senior inspectors have asked to be able to speak to pupils on the telephone for 20 minutes out of earshot of to gauge the effectiveness of the letters.

Ofsted said that it would modify the study in the light of the concerns and would be investigating other complaints about the letters.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

WHAT THE LETTERS SAID

Extracts from inspectors' letters to pupils Secondary in Shropshire:

"Too many lessons are not of good enough standard. In these lessons, teachers do not make the subject interesting or challenging enough for you.

Some pupils then start to behave badly and this disrupts the lesson making it even harder for the rest of you to learn."

Primary in Shropshire:

"We have asked the head to make sure that you learn more in Years 3 and 4, and to teach you more about the way people live in other parts of Britain."

Secondary in Dorset:

"There is too much messing around in lessons and this spoils opportunities to learn and should be tackled."

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