2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Dear Mr Tomlinson, I've just read your article about Ofsted (TES, February 2). You know, the one where you say that tales of horrible inspections are myths, and not a true reflection of the service (service?). Sorry, but the deeper I read into it, the more I began to wonder if we're both living on the same planet.

Five years ago my school was among the first to be inspected. We didn't relish it, but we received a pleasing report and were told that aspects of our work were "excellent". Last April, we had our second inspection. It was a disaster. my teachers were extremely angry and we compiled a comprehensive complaint dossier. The inspection agency was unable to resolve the matter and it's with your complaints department now, nearly a year after our inspection.

I wrote about our experiences in Friday (May 26, 2000) and was staggered by the response. I'm afraid there may be rather more "horrible inspections" than you realise. Like the school where the head asked the registered inspector to be compassionate with the new reception teacher, and instead four of the team visited her on the first day. Or the head who had spent several years turning around a tough school and, instead of being given praise and encouragement, was torn apart. She left the profession shortly afterwards.

A friend told me the news of an inspection in the new year ruined her Christmas. What kind of inspection system can do these things to people, or engender these levels of fear? We've read about the suicides. And yes, I found it hard to believe that an inspection could push people into contemplating suicide... until a colleague was so affected by her Ofsted she couldn't even telephone by Friday to say she wouldn't be able to face the day.

You tell us complaints from schools are minimal, which shows the vast majority must be satisfied with their inspections. Im afraid it doesn't show that at all. I phoned the schools who'd written to me, and I asked them if they'd made a formal complaint. Only one had. The others all said the same: they'd been worn down by the experience and just wanted to put it behind them. And although you tell us you have slashed the documentation requirements, I can't see where. Among the data and percentages, I was even asked to state the ratio of books to pupils in the school. For a moment I thought I might have to camp in the building for a weekend and count them.

You tell us school leaders should be serving on inspection teams. Really? Shouldn't school leaders be leading their schools? You seem to be proud that one head is "a successful contractor in his own right". I wonder if his staff feel the same, or whether they feel his time might be better spent supporting them - or even teaching now and then?

I agree that schools should be inspected. But surely not by a vast bureaucratic machinery such as Ofsted, which spends millions that could be spent on things such as the textbooks you require us to count. And although it may come as news to you after the constant attacks by your predecessor, most schools are filled with hard-working people who achieve extraordinary things.

Is it really not feasible for a local education authority to employ a handful of first-rate inspectors, and for them to concentrate on the few schools in their area that really do need help? The rest could be left alone because we do know what we're doing, and a quick check from an inspector of HMI quality would prove it.

Teachers are flocking from the profession. I'm sure you must have noticed. Everyone, apart from the Government, seems to know the reasons whyI and one of them is Ofsted.

Mike Kent

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary school, Camberwell, south London

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