Morale officer tells the troops: don't panic!

4th April 1997 at 01:00
I can't listen to the car radio on the way to school any more. Invariably someone is having a go at teachers in the daily education update. I listen to tapes of Dad's Army instead and chortle at the antics of idiosyncratic performers, dramatising a war and advising each other not to panic. It's an accurate portrayal of what is going on in schools that are preparing for Ofsted.

Today is part of my own pre-inspection campaign. I join a rather faded man, recently returned from sick leave, who confides that he might be off at lunchtime if today's pre-Ofsted meeting is too harrowing. We enter a room full of heads and deputies in varying degrees of fadedness. All up for it.

The registered inspector is talking through a video of someone teaching. The audience is shooting it down. "Sometimes I think I'd fail it, and sometimes I don't," muses Reggie. "Challenge the inspectors. Sometimes they're skating on very thin ice. Demand evidence for their judgment."

I am tempted to punch him on the nose, but join in the mood of passivity that encourages someone to murmur, "Good of him to share his uncertainty". Good! He's perpetuating a system which is killing teaching and creating the group hysteria found in Walmington-on-Sea.

A local headteacher talks us through his recent, very successful inspection. The atmosphere is awed. "Aim high," he briefs the troops. "You're not alone. Involve the LEA. They come in, light a few touchpapers and retire. People don't like it, but it's worth it. Stay positive. Give the inspectors a comfortable room and a tin of biscuits." Is this what they call catching the enemy off guard?

"It's a game," he continues, "but all the other schools are playing it and they might be ahead of you." Grizzled heads nod in agreement. "I can't pretend that I didn't wonder if my whole career was to be judged in four days and on a few sheets of A4."

This man has been a headteacher for more than 20 years. He obviously didn't panic. I thank him for lending us his binoculars and rejoin the colleague who's managed to make it past lunchtime. We're subdued as, eyeball to eyeball, we wish each other luck with a firm handshake, but I'm soon chortling away at Le Mesurier. Suave, urbane and good on the biscuits, he's been chosen to welcome a gilt-encrusted inspector to the platoon. "I say old boy," he queries laconically, "is all this really necessary?" Linda Pagett is deputy head of a primary school in the West Country

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