Inspectors brush off fly-on-the-wall film

10th November 1995 at 00:00
The Office for Standards in Education has complained about a BBC2 documentary showing an over-stressed teacher breaking down in tears during a school inspection.

Modern Times: The Inspection, a fly-on-the-wall account of an OFSTED team's week at John Ellis Community College, Leicester, to be shown on Wednesday, November 15 at 9pm, follows the mounting tension as staff prepare for and undergo inspection. But the programme's emphasis on the emotional strain put upon teachers has upset OFSTED, leading to a written protest to the programme makers about what it claims is a lack of balance.

"The film gives a very distorted picture of the inspection process by focusing on - and indeed setting up - confrontations between the inspection team and individual teachers," said Jonathan Lawson, OFSTED spokesman.

He believed the programme was produced with a "pre-determined thesis", namely that "inspection costs a lot of money and doesn't give good value. The editing of the film was designed to demonstrate that thesis."

The leader of the inspection team George Gyte, from the Northamptonshire inspection and advisory service, also expressed concern that the final edit of the programme would fail to represent "the complex nature of inspectors' work".

The BBC rejected accusations of bias and said the tension presented in the programme was not an exaggeration or distortion of the OFSTED process. The film has also been defended by Sue Thistlethwaite and Jon Sherwin, the school's principal and vice-principal. They denied that there was any playing to the camera or misrepresentation of events.

They said the inspection was "traumatising for us to a degree which none of us had expected. In de-briefings, teachers were by temperament either in tears or angry, not because they had failed, but because they were told that they were doing a sound or even sometimes a good job. The whole monolithic process was reduced to that single verdict - and what a sledgehammer to crack such a tiny nut."

The 50-minute documentary, produced for the BBC by Touch Productions, begins with the school's preparations for the arrival of the inspection team - staff being briefed, windows being washed and gardens being dug.

The most powerful moments come as experienced teachers express deep anxieties about the inspection which surface with either tears of relief at commendation or resentment at the expense and distress of the experience.

In one scene, which OFSTED specifically objects to, a teacher accuses the OFSTED process of being "a complete and utter waste of money" and part of a "Government machine" during his individual interview with inspectors.

OFSTED claimed the confrontation was set up - a claim vigorously denied by the school and the programme makers.

Stephen Lambert, series editor, said there was no prior agenda. "The programme makers went in with an open mind, filmed what happened and then included what was representative . . . When people see themselves in the mirror of television, they don't always like the blemishes."

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