Lord, don't ask me questions

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
My wife has put her heart and soul into teaching for 25 years, the last five as head teacher. But one week in November her life's work of effort and dedication came close to being totally destroyed.

The preparation for inspection week had dominated the lives of not only our family but the whole staff for several months. They had worked tremendously hard and the school looked immaculate.

I am familiar with quality checks in industry but for me that has meant one "inspector" visiting for one day to monitor procedures. In my wife's case there was to be a team of three inspectors, plus a lay inspector, an HMI to inspect the inspectors, and an RE inspector (hers is a church school). These six people were to harry the four teachers for almost an entire week (midday Monday to midday Friday), from early morning to late evening.

Their first cause for complaint was the low achievers there were too few of them. The inspectors implied that the school was using selection to avoid taking such children. This assumption, understandably, caused great offence. I was astonished that people in positions of power could draw such a conclusion without any evidence. Everyone who knows the school, is well aware that its good results are due to endless care and effort by everyone involved with the children.

My wife is a teaching head and spends at least one whole day in the classroom a day when she was observed non-stop by one or more inspectors. There were early morning grillings on curriculum, management and finance, and late night meetings on health and safety and endless policy documents. Everything was taken apart, criticised and argued over.

My wife was especially proud of a maths system she had recently cross-referred with attainment targets to bring the system in line with the national curriculum. This was cast aside so casually that she was made to feel it was worthless.

At the end of "Black Wednesday" she broke down for the first time in her life (except when she's been bereaved). She felt that everything was in ruins and the only option was resignation.

I knew if she followed this course of action, her fellow teachers, parents and governors would rally round, furious with the inspectors who'd caused her distress and determined to persuade her to carry on. So, resignation was not an easy solution. Not to mention throwing away a lifetime of professional dedication.

At the time, I felt she would survive the experience and continue teaching afterwards, but I was also aware that OFSTED had inflicted damage that could never be repaired.

In my view there were two things that caused my wife to collapse under the onslaught: she tried too hard and she cared too much.

Many teachers and head teachers resign after an inspection. If these were the 15,000 who are said to be unfit to teach, then perhaps the process might benefit education as a whole. However this is not the case.

The inspectors identify below-par lessons in an anonymous manner, lay the responsibility on the head teacher to deal with it somehow, and then leave. The "dealing with it" is just as difficult as it was before the inspectors arrived. The ones who resign are often the most dedicated, whose self-confidence has been shattered by inspection.

The process itself is aggressive and destructive. Nothing in industry compares with the pressure and stress it inflicts. For the record, the report on my wife's school was good. Which shows that the damage is caused not in the results but by a gravely-flawed inspection process.

The writer is the husband of a Devon head.

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