Special measures not just for poor

2nd January 1998 at 00:00
I used to think that a school in special measures must be a poor one. However, I have just been visited by HM inspectors and realise that it is far easier than I thought to find yourself in special measures.

Ours is an inner-city school with GCSE results and attendance figures towards the lower end of the league tables. However, our Office for Standards in Education report a couple of years ago recognised our difficulties and found us to be a good school. HMI did not agree.

Our first mistake was to assume that OFSTED inspectors and HMI used the same standards. Despite improving, the school failed in areas which OFSTED inspectors had passed. Lessons can be "failed" for not having fully-documented plans or for not following the work scheme. I know from teaching in some "good schools" that this would catch out many.

Lessons were viewed for about 20 minutes with no opportunity to explain or justify their context. Lesson plans were checked against work schemes. My teaching was judged on one such piece of evidence with a class that I had only been teaching for five weeks. Teachers with poor lessons are named in the final report, with no chance to discuss the findings or appeal in the case of unfairness. The whole inspection was like being watched by the secret police. Colleagues felt that the inspectors were often trying to ask questions to catch them out.

Most of our lessons were judged to be good, but enough were unsatisfactory for us to fail. Therefore, presumably most teachers in our school are good, although the judgment of "failing school" applies to us all.

The system of shaming schools is management from the 19th century - by fear and punishment. We all know that recruitment to teaching is going down, and it's no coincidence. The fact that it is the inner-city schools, which are tough teaching environments, that are being singled out for this treatment makes it seem doubly unfair.


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