My trial by inspector

25th February 2000 at 00:00
One headteacher'sharrowing ordeal at the hands of OFSTED would have thrilled Kafka.

If Kafka had known about the Office for Standards in Education, he might have written this tale. My Trial began when what can only be described as an official box-ticker arrived at my school. Discussion, examination of issues, exchange of ideas and communication there was not, and the encounter became decidedly Kafkaesque.

The following is a true and faithful account of our conversation (I shall remain anonymous in order to spare her blushes).

Inspector: "Who is responsible for your data analysis?" Me: Stunned silence. After all, I was in a school, not a Rover factory.

Inspector: "Your targets for 2000, 2001, 2002, please."

Me: Dumbfounded silence.

Inspector: "What has been the effect of the literacy hour on the rest of the curriculum?" Me: "Some parts of the literacy strategy might need modification."

Inspector: (with a sneer) "Are you a literacy expert?" Me: Incoherent frustrated noise.

Inspector: "You are getting upset because you cannot answer my questions. Has the literacy training been effective?" Me: ...

Inspector: "Yes. We have to get on, I have five pages to get through."

And so it went on, with only a short break when I went to teach and she went to observe lessons, until: Inspector: "You need to pay more attention to global targets."

Me: "I don't have much faith in global targets. They might as well just be plucked from the air."

Inspector: "Are you telling me that you plucked your targets from the air?" Me: "That is not what I said. I am saying that the only targets that really matter are individual targets."

Inspector: (writing) "Does not believe in global targets."

As the interrogation came to an end she launched into her "debrief": Inspector: "Please convey to the teachers and the children my thank for letting me observe them today. The teachers are doing a splendid job and the children are very well behaved."

Me: "Thank you, I will certainly pass on your remarks."

Inspector: "Write it down."

Now, it may be that this was a one-off experience, the result, perhaps, of a disastrous chemistry between us. Unfortunately other members of staff who met her gained precisely the same impression. I have also heard echoes of my encounter in the experiences of many colleagues around the country. In some ways, the situation was a comic one - the uncomprehending facing the incomprehensible. On the other hand, as a commentary on the demise of HMI, it was altogether more serious.

What used to be Her Majesty's highly respected Inspectorate, a source of inspiration and ideas, has been transformed into an intellectually bankrupt bureaucracy. OFSTED inspectors seem to be peddling one line and one line only - they know all the answers and are no longer questioning or even listening. Teaching strategies are measured against fixed yardsticks, and it is no longer a matter of what works, but whether what is being taught and how it is being taught matches what it says in the manual.

Both OFSTED and individual inspectors are committing the sin of being anti-intellectual and if the business of education is not about thinking, about openness to ideas, and about seeking after truth, then we are all playing pointless games.

My meeting with this particular automaton ended swiftly and without ceremony. Striding for the door, her parting shot was that she was accountable too, her targets had to be met and this affected her pension. At least the day's encounter was accorded a certain symmetry, for it ended, as it had begun, with the sort of remark that, in the past, would never have passed the lips of a member of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools.

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