Thank God it's Friday

17th October 1997 at 01:00
Monday: I sit in the car park enjoying a last puff on the early-morning fag. This is OFSTED week in our small infant school. We have the timetable for the inspectors' observation-of-lessons programme, and I'm acutely aware that I am on a two-term contract.

In assembly the head plays a blinder on the theme of caring for each other and for the wider community. This morning the inspectors are engaged in what is described as work sampling, so we can go about our normal business in the classroom. I am the reception class teacher, so I decide to tell the children about our visitors, hoping this will prevent the predominantly Asian children from clamming up in the face of white, middle-aged strangers. Monday passes uneventfully.

Tuesday: The observation of lessons is now in full swing. Half way through the morning I have the only male inspector observing a maths lesson. I become aware of him advancing towards a group of children. Sod's law indicates that he will pick Imran to engage in conversation. He does.

After five months in school Imran will talk only when really pressed. The inspector gets nowhere. He then approaches other children but quickly retreats to his observation corner. I've read his CV and note that he seems to have been a very recent convert to the inspection of primaries from a career spent in secondary schools and further education colleges. Such are the ways of OFSTED its wonders to perform.

Wednesday: The head endeavours to cajole the children into remembering the names of the performers featured in this week's assembly music. Nobody raises a hand - not even my children, who in the classroom will raise their hands before a question has been asked. Eventually a brave or foolhardy child raises his hand and gives the name of our newly elected Labour MP. New Labour, New Awareness.

It's not the answer the head wants, but what can you expect when you play The Carpenters in 1997?

Thursday: This is the longest week of my life. Normally the week passes so quickly you wonder why you planned to do so much, and by Friday you are seriously underachieving. Not so this week. Every lesson seems interminable and every break overdue.

At lunchtime I reflect that no other profession has to undergo such scrutiny. No one in education is against accountability, but this particular system is so seriously flawed it loses any validity. It was imposed on a demoralised profession without being piloted, and was a cynical replacement for local authority and HMI inspection.

Friday: We're demob happy. Our inspectorate team spends today in their hotel preparing their draft report which they will deliver to us verbally at the end of the day. We can return to our normal enjoyment of the job and the children.

I decide that the reception class children will bake cakes, using, of course, the new school mini-kitchen. If nothing else, we can prove that we can offer decent hospitality in this school.

It's 3.30pm. The registered inspector and her team are assembled in the staffroom with flip chart, reams of paper and a sense of purpose. This is a Friday before a bank holiday.

The RGI (jargon goes with the territory) begins by telling us that we have had 13 days of inspection, 47 lessons have been observed, 27.7 inspector hours have been spent on scrutiny of children's work, hearing children read, attending assemblies, school lunches etc, etc, etc. You begin to realise that this is a way of justifying the enormous costs of OFSTED.

This RGI's verbal report is certainly comprehensive. It goes on for 100 minutes and does not tell anyone anything that they did not already know about the school. What I cannot forgive - and will never understand - is that an OFSTED team spent a week in our school and never once mentioned that we have more than l00 children who speak at least two languages and are being judged against standards reached by mono-lingual school populations. Languages of the Indian sub-continent do not rank highly in the hierarchy of recognition of status of foreign languages in the UK.

Make no mistake about this - if our children were bilingual in French and English, not only OFSTED teams, but Chris Woodhead et al, would be beating a path to our door to find out how it was achieved.

Come on, Mr Blunkett - do something about it.

Muriel Gilmour was a reception teacher in Slough. She now lectures in an FE college

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