Stop tinkering and abolish

21st May 2004 at 01:00
More surprising than chief inspector David Bell's admission that failings in the inspection procedure could be responsible for the sharp rise in the number of failing schools is the fact that it has taken him so long to realise this (TES, April 30).

When changes in evidence-gathering produce massive changes in statistical results, alarm bells should immediately ring. Schools do not, for the most part, change their character overnight - nor then should the description of their effectiveness.

There appears to be no evidence to suggest that Mr Bell has made a general apology for the failings of the Office for Standards in Education for which he is ultimately responsible and no suggestion either that faulty designations will be corrected.

Schools wrongly accused of "failing" are still traumatised by their reports and are still having to devote much valuable time, effort and money to try to correct their "weaknesses". Processes of appeal for a school are cumbersome and ineffective and are weighted firmly in favour of an acceptance that an Ofsted report cannot possibly be wrong. For the individual teacher criticised in an Ofsted document there is no effective channel of appeal whatsoever.

I wonder if Mr Bell has ever considered, or even been informed of, the real human costs of Ofsted's failings? Does he know, or does he care, that an Ofsted inspection team departing from a school leaves the misery of resignations, nervous breakdowns, divorce and death?

There is a very natural reluctance on behalf of teachers to admit, even to their doctors, the true levels of stress encountered during inspection.

After all, who would want to admit that they have sat weeping on the bathroom floor the night before, or that their sex-drive is all but non-existent?

Sleep is achieved only with the help of a packet of tablets or a hefty slug out of a comforting bottle. The lucky few get comfort and support from their families - the others face the daily ordeal of the slow disintegration of family relationships.

And, under these conditions, the teacher must "perform" for the benefit of their Ofsted inspector. Mr Bell may believe that tinkering with a new framework will solve all the ills of his organisation. It will not.

So much damage has now been done by a deeply flawed system, seen by the majority as the enemy of education, that I really feel that there can be no alternative other than the total disbandment of Ofsted.

The present format must be replaced by a system which is acceptable to the teaching profession - one that could work with, rather than against, teachers and would have a true aim of improvement rather than the currently perceived objective of fault-finding and condemnation.

Andrew Broadhead

80 Woad Farm Road Boston Lincolnshire

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