Quick, grab a paint brush - Ofsted's coming!

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Mike Kent recently wrote that he agrees with the new style, three-days'-notice Ofsted inspections and that schools should be "kept on their toes" (Friday magazine, February 17).

I would go further and suggest no notice at all. The problem with the current situation is that some schools will exist in a constant state of readiness. And therein lies the path to nervous breakdowns. Too few are aware of the new "lighter touch" requirements and are still attempting to create the levels of paperwork and planning that the old regime required.

The previous system found that more schools were achieving a satisfactorygood status and concluded that schools were therefore improving. How naive can they be? Schools were merely getting used to providing what Ofsted wanted to see: ridiculously detailed plans, reams of paperwork and ludicrous systems for tracking progress in subjects such as art and geography for six-year-olds.

Shame on us that we didn't hold up our hands and admit that all this was unworkable, unhelpful and unnecessary. Instead we watched passionate and dedicated teachers go to the wall because they couldn't cope. Meanwhile the machine bulldozed on.

Having fostered a crisis in the profession, Ofsted is now clearly being instructed to "go easy", be "more supportive" and "less critical". The inspectors certainly seem friendlier.

But what is Ofsted for? Is it there because of a lack of trust in the profession? To make parents feel that their children are receiving an adequate education? Or to promote quality in education and question current systems and practice? In which case, why shouldn't inspectors just drop in? They are welcome in my classroom any time. They won't see perfect, rehearsed lessons, but they will see me trying my best and get a better idea of what the profession is up against week in, week out.

My school, like Mike Kent's, also had a new-style inspection last November.

I was determined to plan in my usual fashion. I know it is possible to download perfect plans from the internet, but I prefer to adapt my teaching as the lesson develops. After all, three minutes in, the children may have taken it into an entirely different learning curve, so what a waste of time all that writing would have been.

I once read that the Queen probably believes that the world smells of fresh paint. Similarly, Ofsted is deluded into thinking that schools are permanently tidy, with pristine displays. Even with three days' notice, it's possible to do a considerable amount of sprucing up.

Which brings me on to my main concern. If teachers feel they have to change so much should an inspector call, then how much do they believe in what they are doing for the four years, 11 months, three weeks and two days in the interim?

The inspection process should be overhauled again. At present inspectors force schools to focus on areas of little value to true education; they seem to be a police force monitoring the many foolish initiatives which have been foisted on us. They are interested in lots of data, so now schools will produce lots of data. But it still won't point to why two children "missing" the same target are doing so for very different reasons.

What I would like from my inspection is an approachable group of people who could feed back to ministers what is and isn't working. I would like them to call in without warning, spend longer in the classroom and talk to teachers and children about what is really happening.

Ofsted clearly has a new brief in its current form. Trouble is, I don't think it's any more use than the last set-up. Yes, schools should be kept "on their toes". But not because Ofsted might be on the way. They should be kept on their toes because they are in the business of educating children, and that matters very much indeed.

Helen Barnes

Helen Barnes is a part-time Year 1 teacher at Thurlby CP school, Lincolnshire

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