Put your mini on for Ofsted

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Compliance, compliance, compliance, compliance. Obedience, obedience, obedience. Control, control. Submission, submission, acquiescence, conformity, er... uniform. That is it. Uniform.

Sorry about that. I was just rifling through my mental thes-aurus, trying to brainstorm a few synonyms for the compliance and control culture in which teachers must now work, to find a link with the latest Ofsted capers.


That is the connection.

Only someone with a heart of stone could fail to laugh at the announcement that people who work for Ofsted will have to follow a dress code in future.

No jeans, no T-shirts, no denim, no short skirts. I quite agree. Who wants some bloke from Ofsted bursting into your classroom in a short skirt? He would look bloody stupid and the kids would crack up.

Compliance - uniform. It makes an ironic link. "All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword," according to the King James Bible.

Those who live by control shall die by it. The agents of conformity must themselves wear a uniform. Tee-hee.

Anyone who swallows the candy floss about schools being set free will have only themselves to blame when the reality becomes clear. There is more chance of swimming across the Atlantic in a day than being liberated from state control. Power over the lives of others is a narcotic, not easily given up.

It starts early. We still have the 117-item checklist which reception class teachers must complete on every five-year-old, even though it is monumental cobblers and a criminal waste of time. Department for Education and Skills statisticians gleefully report aggregated scores to a totally uninterested public.

The average citizen does not know, or care, how many five-year-olds "understand their own culture and that of other people", know what is right and what is wrong, and why", plus all the other gobbets of meaningless information. Painfully gathered, painlessly ignored.

We still keep state-determined curricula, tests and league tables. Wales has had the sense to scrap all the enforcers, national tests and league tables, and base its early-years strategy on intelligent play, not box-ticking. In England, the DfES regularly rains down ever more demands on schools.

Ofsted still acts as the state enforcer. Inspectors have been specifically warned not to challenge government policy. They are encouraged to state that teachers are boring children stupid in the numeracy hour, but not query the folly of every single maths lesson being divided into three parts, willy nilly.

As a citizen, I am free to say that the "research" basis for the numeracy pedagogy is weedy, because it merely drew on one chapter of Merl Wittrock's Third Handbook of Research on Teaching, a 1986 American publication describing mainly short-term research based on simple pupil tests. Ofsted inspectors are gagged on the matter, their job being to check compliance.

Thus the latest Ofsted report criticises primary maths lessons where "pupils (are) sitting passively for excessively long periods of time, rather than having the opportunity to work on the mathematics themselves".

Fair enough, but didn't the Government trumpet proudly that it was restoring traditional methods? Sitting passively was precisely what characterised the worst features of Victorian education. Come on, spit it out.

Instead, Ofsted moans about teachers not following the primary strategy.

Hurrah, good for them. Perhaps they have still got a few brain cells that have not been pounded to a fine mulch and so can think for themselves.

Last month I heard a consultant neurologist talking about the Government's desire for control and compliance. If such symptoms of obsessive control over educational routines were referred to him about a patient, rather than a political system, he said, he would diagnose it as a mild form of Asperger's syndrome.


Ofsted has also banned alcohol in the office for its employees. Keep a bottle on the window sill and then lean out for a swig from time to time is my advice, so you are technically carousing outside the building.

Perhaps we can help Ofsted to create a uniform for all its inspectors to wear, in keeping with the denim and mini-skirt ban. I suggest that they go into schools wearing a large Mexican hat with "Kiss me quick" written on it.

Huge baggy clown trousers, cloth braces and massively long shoes should be worn, as well as a big red nose, rouge on the cheeks, and a kipper tie that squirts water on heads and teachers, guaranteed to raise a laugh at the end of a long day.

Heads and teachers could in turn wind up inspectors by wearing mini-skirts and T-shirts, and waving a bottle of alcohol at them when they are gasping.

"Wanna shwig, little shunbeam? We don't care if you do put our shkool into shpeshal meashuresh ... hic."

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