As a journalist on a school governing body, it fell to me to write the post-Ofsted press release for the local papers. I am probably the only person, apart from the headteacher, who has actually waded through all 37 pages of one of the most turgid pieces of writing I have ever come across.
We had an excellent Ofsted overall. I use the word "overall" because it cropped up 17 times, and those were just the instances I spotted at the beginning of sentences. Overall, the quality of teaching in our small C of E primary is good. Teachers' planning, knowledge and confidence is good overall. Our assessment procedures are good overall. So is our management, value for money, standards of handwriting and pupils' progress. Pupils' attitudes to mathematics are good overall. Even our word processing is good overall.
What excuse is there for this grudging stuff? By anyone's standards, ours was an enviably positive and well-deserved report. Why write a report so carefully guarded and so grindingly laborious that no one is going to be the slightest bit interested in reading it?
I get no picture of what goes on in the classroom. There is no life in these fossilised pages. One reference to an author, Philippa Pearce. One tantalising glimpse into a design technology project about boots and shoes. A mention that pupils can identify elements of the human skeleton and understand the circulation of blood. A snapshot of children and teachers practising with recorders. "Pupils work in groups or pairs to perform their own score. Pupils' musical appreciatio is developing satisfactorily. Pupils listen to music and pick out particular aspects," the report intones in robot-speak. What are they listening to? That's what I really want to know. What are they reading? "Overall, there is an adequate supply of resources to support the teaching of English." What do they do in geography? "Older pupils use a range of secondary sources to compare and contrast two localities and use their knowledge of Mozambique to inform their thinking about climate and its effect on locality."
The language of the report is ponderous and the sentence structure convoluted. "They make studies of environments for example study the local area and have made satisfactory links with *'s history in comparing man's effect on the environment in the past with effects in today's society," report the inspectors, with a sweeping disregard for punctuation. "The physical education co-ordinator who, whilst not a specialist and having no opportunity to monitor the subject, has been successful in exploiting the local sporting clubs and national initiative to enrich the teaching."
Everyone knows the punishing effect of an Ofsted on a small staff. It would be some small boost to morale if the process produced a decent, well-written and absorbing report with the courage of its convictions. Put this report in a time capsule and what would it really tell you about our school and our children a thousand years on? Sweet FA, overall.
Pat Ashworth is a foundation governor at Bramcote C of E primary school, Bramcote, Nottingham