By the time the external examiner arrived, I was ready for an argument. What an utter waste of time and money

20th January 2006 at 00:00
Dear Teacher Training Agency, Nerine, who is from South Africa, originally came to my school as a supply teacher. She was so good I employed her permanently as soon as I had a vacancy. Despite having a stack of qualifications and years of experience, she isn't "recognised" as a qualified teacher here, and I've had to pay her peanuts. I'd like to reward her properly. How does she achieve qualified teacher status?

Dear Mr Kent, We trust your professional judgment, and we just need to see her qualifications and ask her a few simple questions. Should be able to sort it out in a few hours.

The question is real, but the answer, as you've probably guessed, is pure fairyland. No one in the bureaucratic academic empire trusts a headteacher's judgment, and nothing in education gets sorted out in hours.

The first stage is filling in a form. Well, it would be, wouldn't it? Not just any form, mind. This one has 20 pages, with lots of questions that have to be answered in minute detail. Disheartened, Nerine initially put it away in a drawer and considered not bothering, until I reminded her how unfair it was that she earned less than her colleagues. We dragged the form out again and sat for an hour completing it after school, writing pseudo-philosophical answers to the vaguer questions. One asked for a full description of "planning, expectations, and targets". Given its current buzzword status, targets were bound to be in there somewhere, but targets for what, for heaven's sake?

Next came the procedure known as "collecting the evidence", a game started by Ofsted which rests on the premise that no one should believe anyone, or trust anything, unless there is a mountain of "evidence" to prove it.

Nerine had to work her way through the vast list of "QTS standards", cross-reference them to the "induction standards", and then find some evidence to prove that she'd properly addressed every one of them. Quite an insult for an experienced, successful class teacher.

Gathering evidence wasn't exactly a doddle, either. QTS standard number one required her to have "high expectations of all pupils, respecting their social, cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic backgrounds while demonstrating commitment to raising their educational achievement". In other words, dig out a mass of lesson plans, find the children's work to demonstrate you've put the plans into practice, then prove you've addressed all six elements of the question. And remember, this was only the first standard. It took her another six weeks to gather everything the paper asked for.

Finally, the assessment by an outside examiner. Not for one lesson. Not for a few hours. The assessor would be in the school for two days, monitoring classroom teaching for at least four sessions, "rigorously scrutinising" (how bureaucratic agencies love these awful words) her documentation and then interviewing her at length. Finally, if she was still standing upright, she would be "considered" for qualified teacher status, with the result communicated to her in writing.

By the time the external examiner arrived, I was ready for an argument.

What an utter waste of time and money. What a staggering amount of work for both Nerine and myself. And what if she failed?

She didn't, of course. The examiner was charming, passing her enthusiastically and showing great interest in the work she was doing.

I'd hate to go through it all again. But at least Nerine can now afford the occasional bottle of wine when the lunacy of officialdom gets her down.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.


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