I am a 14-year-old pupil who was interviewed during an Ofsted...

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
...I felt the decisions had already been made - I was even asked if I was telling the truth. What's going on?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

What is going on can be seen as benign and commonsensical, or sinister, depending on the inspection team involved. Asking pupils what they think about their school is a common enough practice, something we all do in casual conversation. But this is different from the high stakes setting of an Ofsted inspection, when a school's whole reputation can be made, or broken.

Inspectors are supposed to find out pupil opinion, but they must do so skilfully and with an open mind. They should be genuinely curious, not asking leading or loaded questions. It is fair enough for them to check out whether pupils have been briefed by their teachers, and are merely repeating someone else's words, but not appropriate to suggest pupils are lying. These are all clear dividing lines between reasonable and unreasonable inspection practices.

It is courageous of you to speak out about your misgivings. I suspect many pupils may feel it is not their place to do this, but they must be free, like any other citizen, to state their views. It is for you to decide whether you felt the inspectors were genuinely listening, or using you in some way. You might check with other pupils to see if their reactions were similar to your own. From what you say, it sounds as if you are uneasy about both the tone and the motivation of what was happening.

If you are unhappy with what took place, you should have no qualms about complaining to Ofsted. People are sometimes under the impression that Ofsted inspectors are so powerful they can do what they like. But they must be accountable and subject to scrutiny.

You say

A lesson in interrogation

Congratulations! Your fleeting involvement with Ofsted has afforded you not only a privileged insight into the process of inspection, but will also help you in your history coursework.

The inquisitorial grilling you experienced is very much the house style of certain regimes throughout history - notoriously, the Spanish Inquisition, the Gestapo, the House Unamerican Activities Committee and now Ofsted. Just be pleased you got away with a full set of fingernails.

You do well to question the purpose of your meeting with Ofsted. This is but the first step along the road to enlightenment, which will lead you in time to question the very purpose of Ofsted itself.

John Bateman, Worthing,

West Sussex

Methods in the madness

You are to be congratulated upon not only your selection as a member of the school community who met the Ofsted team, but also on having the confidence to write to The TES about it.

On one level your experience is reassuring. After all, you are a customer of the school, and it is natural that a body such as Ofsted will be interested in hearing your views. This "stakeholder" approach gives a fuller picture on whether your school is delivering the goods.

But you seem concerned at the way in which this was done. If you were very positive, the inspectors might have considered you well briefed by your teachers to come up with the party line. On the other hand, if you were critical, they would be probing a bit further to ascertain whether you had any hidden agenda. They will take your views into account and factor them into their overall evaluation, alongside their other data.

Rest assured that you have acted responsibly, and that if the experience was in any way uncomfortable, you will have had a valuable insight into the real world at a relatively early age.

I Hayward, East Preston, West Sussex

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