Ofsted could be disbanded and its legions of inspectors shovelled back into schools to make up for teacher shortfalls

8th October 2004 at 01:00
Ofsted could be disbanded and its legions of inspectors shovelled back into schools to make up for teacher shortfalls. But I suspect they wouldn't be very good at it

I did a silly thing recently. I agreed to appear on Radio 4's Today programme. Not immediately, mind. I'm very wary of the media. But after a couple of insistent phone calls and a persuasive email, I said yes, primarily because the news item was about Ofsted and here was a chance to remove another brick from its crumbling foundations.

A charming young "news gatherer" arrived at school the next morning, armed with a tape recorder and a large microphone. The viability of Ofsted would be discussed at the coming weekend's NUT conference, she said, and she knew my school had fought Ofsted all the way to the ombudsman. Would I care to give my views on the subject?

You'd think the whole Ofsted thing would have been killed off by now. It's cost a fortune, produced a mountain of tedious reports telling little of use about the schools it examines, driven many teachers away from teaching (it's killed a few along the way), and even schools that get good reports agree that it's a disgraceful waste of money. On top of all this, a survey of Ofsted staff earlier this year revealed that the organisation was riddled with bullying and communication problems.

What's the first thing teachers do when they hear Ofsted's on the way? Calmly accept it and plan methodically? Anything but. They're terrified.

They rush around like maniacs, every working hour, weekend, holiday, until the thing is over. It's overkill. A pretence. A sham. The school, and ultimately the inspection process, produces piles of useless documentation.

Where once we celebrated diversity and individuality in our primary schools, now these bland reports try to make us identical.

My school has endured two Ofsteds, with inspectors of widely varying quality. One told me she became a inspector because she was bored with headship. What an inspiring head she must have been! Others yawned their way through lessons. There wasn't one I would have employed. One of my teachers, who has given 35 years of outstanding service to our school, was so distressed it took her months to recover.

The Government would know what state the country's schools were in if HMIs simply walked into them unannounced, and stayed for a day or two. (Yes, Ofsted now gives less notice, but staff will still run around like headless chickens.) An HMI visit would reveal how starved of funding we still are, how we're struggling with ludicrous amounts of bureaucracy, how challenging children and parents are becoming. It would also reveal just how hard most teachers work on a day-to-day basis, and their extraordinary commitment.

Of course, Ofsted could be disbanded and its legions of inspectors shovelled back into schools to make up for teacher shortfalls. But I suspect they wouldn't be very good at it. I'm sure that's why many of them became inspectors in the first place.

My interview was broadcast that weekend. Well, 28 seconds of it. The remaining time was given to - wait for it-a certain Chris Woodhead. The former chief inspector said that Ofsted was still a jolly good idea, the public and profession supported it, and people like me should stop making crass and uninformed comments about it.

In future I'll stick with my column. It doesn't get distorted.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.

Email: mikejkent@aol.com. His complaint against Ofsted was partially upheld

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