It's Ofsted - let's bolt the doors

4th December 2009 at 00:00

The Cambridge Primary Review believes Ofsted needs overhauling. It says: "The Government needs an inspection system which assesses standards and quality in a way that retains the confidence of parents and teachers."

Well, you can say that again.

I've long wondered why the teaching profession tolerates such an aggressive, useless form of inspection. The unions don't complain about it enough, the National College for Leadership accepts it and the General Teaching Council for England, supposedly representing the profession, never raises an eyebrow. Perhaps it is no longer possible to stop this pernicious juggernaut, which seems to inspect just about everything now, often making its own rules up as it goes along.

Ofsted was created because the Government wanted all schools to be inspected in exactly the same way, because that would be "fair". In keeping with this supposed fairness, it evolved a strangely sterile vocabulary, making it impossible to discern a school's individual character from reading an inspection report. The language often encompasses the extraordinarily trite: "Where lessons were good, children were on task and concentrating." Wow!

In the primary sector, the sole arbiter of success is the number of level 4s a school attains, which should rise annually unless you want to be told you're not aspirational enough. And the inspection process is obsessed with making schools churn out ludicrous amounts of data, little of it reflecting reality and causing inspectors to make some very odd judgments.

Knowing Ofsted is on the way often terrifies teachers. A handful have even taken their own lives. One crawled into school ill, and died on the floor. Ask anyone who's living with a teacher. They'll say they hardly recognise their partners when Ofsted's on the horizon. Yet we accept all this, sigh with relief when we don't go into special measures, thank God when the inspection is over, then spend much of our school year keeping up with the changing and ever-increasing demands.

Inspecting every school regularly, and training (I use the word loosely) an army of inspectors, costs vast sums of money that could be put to much better use. I've endured four Ofsteds and been staggered at the lack of ability, sensitivity and knowledge shown by many inspectors. In my first, only one had any primary experience. Another inspection included a failed head. Criticising others was presumably much easier than doing the job himself.

I've been inspected by a farmer's wife, a police officer and a minor lawyer: none understood the intricacies of our job. I've been tut-tutted by a "devout" lady who said we weren't celebrating many religions ... until my RE co-ordinator walked her round 10 displays of work. I've been told our special needs teaching could only be considered successful if the data shows children have made rapid sub-level progress, and our Spanish teaching should involve much more written work, rather than oral.

I've fought an appalling inspection team for two years, and in the complaint process found that the commissioning agency, which showed sympathy at first, mysteriously withdrew its support. In the final stages, the independent adjudicator recommended the lead inspector should be cautioned. Ofsted reluctantly agreed, and by chance I happened to intercept the letter they wrote. "Looking after one's own" is the politest way of describing it.

I knew a head who battled with an insane chair of governors and ultimately refused to let him in the building. Wouldn't it be great if we all did the same to Ofsted ... until a properly fair, sensible and effective system is devised.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London. Email:

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