Listen here, Sir

2nd March 2012 at 00:00

He spoke to me. Well, not exactly me personally, but Sir Michael Wilshaw clearly had people like me in mind when he called for support from college staff for his planned "reforms" to the inspection system. You can be part of it, the new Ofsted chief inspector seemed to be saying to teachers, if you are "equally passionate about improving our education system". Teachers are important, he added, "because good teaching is at the heart of a good education".

Were he a different man, you might think that such words represented an overture, part of some sort of charm offensive. But he is Sir Michael Wilshaw, so you are probably aware that, of those two words, it's the latter rather than the former that he is best known for. In case you think I'm being mean, just remember that Sir Michael is the headteacher who once famously said: "If anyone says to you that 'staff morale is at an all-time low', then you know you are doing something right."

But, still, he spoke to me. And I would like to return the compliment by replying to him. My main message is, if you want to achieve your stated aims, don't pussyfoot about. Take that inspection grade that has received so much publicity recently: satisfactory. Isn't it a bit mealy-mouthed to simply rename it "requires improvement"? Why not call it what you mean: the "Crap, so what are you going to do about it?" grade.

While you're fixing that one, Sir Michael, what about the other three? "Outstanding" could be "All right ... for now". "Good" could be known as "Keep looking over your shoulder". And grade four, the grade that dare not speak its name, could become "Call that a college? You're having a laugh".

I suggest you toughen up your stance, too, on that other area of maximum concern: poor teaching. We all know it's rife in colleges and that managements conspire to cover it up with over-generous grades for lesson observations. Ofsted more or less said as much even before you arrived. OK, so you have proposed a no-notice inspection regime from September, but when you think about it, no notice is still too much notice. Most of the time teachers are not under observation in their classrooms at all. They could be doing anything in there.

The solution? Simple: use the technology available. Put CCTV in every classroom and make every lesson an observed lesson. It could even save money. Instead of sending inspectors into classrooms, all you would have to do is demand the tapes.

There you have it, Sir Michael - a way of "doing something right" in colleges. Bring those reforms in and I can guarantee that teacher morale certainly will be at an all-time low.

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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