Here we go again. "Coasting schools slammed for failing pupils," shouts a newspaper headline. "Far too many schools coasting,"
shouts another. Who's behind this? Ofsted, of course. Thousands of state schools are apparently failing to provide a good standard of education.
Thousands? Where on earth has that figure come from? Or is it the latest Ofsted ruse to show the public how indispensable it is?
There's more. "Schools blamed for making class assistants a risk to pupils," says another headline in the same week. Apparently schools risk damaging children by leaving teaching assistants in charge instead of qualified teachers. I haven't found one teacher who supports the idea of TAs supervising classes, so what's the real story behind this headline? And shouldn't Ofsted be pointing out that it was the Government's idea to use classroom assistants to support the new planning, preparation and assessment time, not that eternally easy target, the teachers? In my school we've covered PPA by employing two part-time teachers. Nevertheless, part-time, fully qualified teachers are expensive. Of course, if vast amounts of money weren't committed to Ofsted, there's a running chance PPA could have been funded more effectively in the first place.
I'd like to point out to Ofsted a revealing statistic. Forty per cent of schools advertising for a headteacher have difficulty in appointing one.
Forty per cent is a frightening number, but talk to any head and the reasons become obvious. Long hours, poor behaviour from parents and children, endless and meaningless paperwork, not enough money in the budget, initiatives that seem to come along weekly, and always the dead hand of Ofsted waiting round the corner, ready to pounce on the slightest weakness. No wonder people prefer to stay lower on the promotion ladder.
Undoubtedly, two days of Ofsted is more bearable than five. The trouble is, as soon as inspection undergoes the slightest change, an entire industry springs up around it. Need to write your self-evaluation form? Don't worry, there's an army of consultants out there, willing to show you how to produce one that's Ofsted-proof. Of course, their advice isn't cheap, but a lot of schools will take up the offer. And I wouldn't mind betting it won't be long before some enterprising soul sells a model SEF you just type your school name into.
Instead of bashing schools in the newspapers every five minutes, Ofsted ought to look more carefully at the quality of its inspectors and the usefulness of its procedures. After all, who inspects the inspectors? Ofsted does. Hardly going to be an impartial judgment, is it? And questionable practices during the new inspections are already coming to light. Two headteachers recently told me how, on the day they got the call to say an Ofsted inspector was on the way, they were told to put aside an hour after school to discuss their SEFs on the telephone. The discussions turned out to be intensive grillings. Even worse, they were told they weren't "obliged to answer all the questions". The inspector might just as well have added "Ibut if you don't, an assumption will be made and could be used in evidence against you". It's been five years since I was last inspected, so I'm expecting the midnight knock fairly soon. But I wouldn't dream of talking to faceless inspectors on the phone for an hour about my school, especially without a CV to show they were qualified to inspect it.
Hopefully, neither would you.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.