Involunteers all

17th July 1998 at 01:00
Involunteers all

"Voluntary (adj): Acting or done or given etc of one's own free will and not under compulsion." Oxford Paperback Dictionary.

"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'It means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'" Through The Looking Glass.

A private and confidential letter from a minion of The Man Who Inspects Schools for the Queen raises an interesting question here at the Diary - what does "voluntary" mean?

Apparently the Office for Standards in Education has been organising training courses all over the country to tell lay inspectors all about the wonders of the literacy hour. All they have to do is fork out Pounds 58.75, plus travel expenses and a day of their time.

But perhaps uptake has not been quite as expected, for the Alexandra House computer has been working overtime combing through the records to compile a list of miserable sinners who had had the temerity not to sign on for one of the courses. And out went the following letter.

"Although attendance is still voluntary for lay inspectors," it noted politely, "we expect inspection contractors, as part of their quality assurance arrangements, to engage only those lay inspectors who have attended this training.

"This is because the implementation of the National Literacy Strategy affects many aspects of school life. On future inspections you will be expected to make a contribution to the inspection of the school's approach to improving literacy."

So that's clear, then. Lay inspectors do not have to do the courses but they will not darken a classroom again if they don't. But then again there could be a problem if insufficient volunteers come forward. Of the 65 courses listed in the OFSTED letter, only eight were fully subscribed, despite advance notice in January and a reminder in May.

Bell jarred by bet

And an example of a random act of kindness from OFSTED: Richard Page-Jones, an HMI and statistician extraordinaire, bunged a bet on France to win the World Cup - more than two weeks ago, and at odds of 5-1. Generously, he passed on said tip to Charles Bell, frontman of pressure group Article 26 which badgers OFSTED (and every other educational department, quango, individual and committee) for facts and figures. Very generously, since Page-Jones spends much time chasing Bell queries.

Mr B should be (for once) a happy bunny, being some 25 quid to the good. Alas no. "I put this very complicated series of bets on Brazil," he wails, "and ended up just Pounds 4 up overall."

Slightly foxed

What special training, one wonders, did OFSTED inspectors receive before opining on the effect of foxes in the grounds of Chilwell Infants in Nottingham? Apparently there was "serious cause for concern about the health and safety of the children" because of the foxes.

Since this was nearly the only blot on an otherwise glowing report, the Diary is surprised that the head is not out there chivvying the little beasts (the foxes, that is, not the infants). But no. "I'm not worried about the safety of my children. I'd rather the foxes weren't on site, but they only come out at night and we don't see them during the day," said the head. Her name? Mrs Fox.

Susan Young

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