Someone call the doctor

1st March 2013 at 00:00

I have listened to reports of the Mid Staffordshire NHS scandal with mounting horror. After all, in a decade or so I could be needing help and care from the health system that we once believed was the best in the world and the prospects at the moment seem frightening. I could hardly believe that such an appalling lack of care could have been allowed to go on for so long, and on such a scale. But as I listened to the nurses, medical students, doctors and hospital assistants talking, another concern began to gnaw at me.

"We are in constant fear of speaking out," one nurse said. "There is a culture of bullying and our jobs could be in danger. It's easy to see what is going wrong, but few are brave enough to say anything, and if you do, you are ignored or cautioned."

Isn't this happening in education, too? In a recent survey of teachers, a staggering 50 per cent said they had been subjected to extreme pressure or bullying from senior managers.

"It's the awful target and tick-box culture," another nurse said. "The constant targets mean that patient care is actually worse. I even have to tick a box when I've put a wristband on a patient. It's ridiculous. I can see I've put one on, for heaven's sake."

Isn't education obsessed with the target and tick-box culture, too? Primary schools used to be places where children could be introduced to an exciting array of learning experiences. Aren't they now measured simply by statistics, data, graphs, pie charts and how many level 4s can be squeezed out of Year 6? Is there a school in the country where an inspection team has deliberately not looked at its data, to form an unbiased initial impression?

"The trouble is," a third nurse said, "the management has no real interest or involvement with the patients. I was told that targets absolutely have to be achieved. We have even been leaving very sick patients to process minor complaints, to manipulate the target figures. And the paperwork... half of it is useless and simply takes time away from being with the patient, but health-and-safety rules and regulations demand that we do it, and I'm constantly worn out."

Sound familiar? Heads, deputies and managers are moving away from the children and into offices where they can inspect teachers' work plans, performance-manage overworked staff and make demands that are becoming increasingly unrealistic.

"The number of audits we're subjected to is beyond belief," an exasperated doctor said. "When I dared to point out that the audits weren't useful or helpful, I was told by the leader of the team that they had organised a further audit to find out why. He genuinely thought that was a sensible suggestion."

But isn't that how Ofsted works? If they say a school is inadequate because the data aren't good enough, don't they constantly harass the school with mini inspections every five minutes rather than offer helpful and supportive guidance?

At Mid Staffordshire, we have the horrifying statistic of the number of patients who had probably died needlessly. I thought: "Well, at least teachers aren't dying." Then I remembered the teacher who was ill on the first morning of her Ofsted inspection but crawled into school and collapsed, dying, on the floor.

It wouldn't surprise me if, before too long, I'm listening to a programme about the scandals in education. The parallels seem all too obvious.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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