Looking at the front page headlines in The TES recently, we could be forgiven for thinking our favourite newspaper is trying to scare us. Or, more likely, Ofsted is trying to and the paper is just revealing its tactics.
One headline told us that the contextual value-added measure is disappearing, putting schools in tough areas on a level footing with schools down leafy lanes. In other words, force Emily - second in a family of five, with a mum who does drugs and a dad who has long since disappeared - through a level 4 hoop or else. And these days there are rather a lot of Emilys. A headline the following week told us thousands of schools could fall foul of the new Ofsted regime because inspectors are going to be "even tougher" on schools' raw results than they were previously.
And, as we know, raw results these days are everything. Developing the whole child? Music, art, drama? The joys of a wide primary curriculum? Teachers being allowed to get on with their job - to actually enjoy their job, for heaven's sake - without intense monitoring from the clipboard brigade? Forget it. None of that is important. Just show me your computerised achievement read-out.
One headteacher even says: "We were delivering the curriculum that we knew was right. But I can't afford to do that any longer. I have got to join the game." Why does he feel the need to do this? Because he could be in danger of losing his job, that's why, and so could members of his undoubtedly capable staff.
When I began headship many years ago, the primaries around me were rich in diversity, often inspired by the interests of the headteacher. One school sent chess teams all over the country; another had mini gardens everywhere, including the rooftop; a third put on incredible art exhibitions. My own school currently offers an amazing amount of music - including a full orchestra - because I feel music is essential for young children, but headteachers these days are wary of creating an individual flavour for their schools.
Instead, data is king, and children are outcome units to be force-fed turgid maths and literacy strategies. Whether or not they appreciate the joy of good writing or the pleasure of solving mathematical problems seems neither here nor there.
Let's be honest about this. We're afraid. I wouldn't mind betting there's barely a teacher in the land who doesn't experience stomach tremors when they know the inspectors are calling. For headteachers it's worse because, however hard they work, they are in real trouble if their data doesn't stack up. So what's to be done? Are we really going to carry on accepting this, ad nauseam?
Years ago, pre-Ofsted, the headteacher of a school near mine had to deal with an arrogant and unreasonable local inspector. Suddenly, she had had enough. When he was due to visit next, she slapped a chair down in the corridor, sat on it and refused to let him pass. She thought she would get into terrible trouble with the local authority, but instead it merely allocated a different inspector to her school.
I won't get another Ofsted inspection before I retire. But if I did, I would be very tempted to say, "Sorry, I refuse to talk to you on the phone for two hours. You can come to my school, but I'm not telling you anything about it beforehand, so you can't pre-judge it with a pile of numbers. Explore my school in detail and after two or three days you can tell me whether we're failing our children."
Because that's what any visitor with even half a brain should be able to do after spending just a few hours with us.
Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Discuss in the forum