Two takes on teaching

4th May 2012 at 01:00

Last month was interesting. I experienced first-hand both ends of the education spectrum. I gave a talk to 30 primary and early years trainees from Cornwall. The party had come up to London for a few days and hired a room at the Department for Education for their final morning. I hadn't visited the DfE before, and it's certainly a stunning building in which to give a talk. The pot plants alone would have consumed most of my school budget, and when you buy crisps to have with your coffee, they are handcrafted and come three to a bag.

They wanted an "inspiring" speaker, so in the space of a couple of hours I talked about everything I thought a primary school should be. I had taken along lots of large, colourful photos of my school. I showed the group huge wall displays; children crafting, painting and constructing; busy and stimulating classroom environments using the latest technology alongside traditional equipment; pupils experiencing a wealth of music and drama; early years classrooms where children had the opportunity to explore all the areas of learning; and pictures showing how a school can be fully involved with its local area and community.

Then it was down to the practical stuff. I had brought along my deputy, who gave the group invaluable advice about setting up and running a key stage 1 classroom. She established an instant rapport with the trainees because she has been teaching for only a year and fully understands the situations and difficulties the newly qualified teacher is likely to encounter. If I had been a student about to finish my training, my notebook would have been out and I would have been scribbling down everything she said. Indeed, as I looked around the room, a lot of people were doing just that.

Interestingly, though, this teacher nearly left the profession after her first two terms, even though teaching was something she had always wanted to do. She had been appointed to a school where the head rarely came out of her room, where incessant paperwork demands were made of her and where she experienced children who were virtually out of control. I happened to meet her by chance, liked her very much, and suggested she apply to cover a vacancy I had.

From the moment she walked into my school, she proved to be a truly outstanding teacher. She is now very happy indeed, and I shudder to think that this talented teacher could have been lost to the profession.

Which brings me to the second part of the education spectrum. Later on in the same week, I talked with a first-class headteacher who has been hounded out of his job after an aggressive and unfair Ofsted inspection. His previous two inspections were good ones, but this time he encountered the team from hell, who - he feels certain - had made up their minds from the data before they entered the school. They watched few lessons and spoke to just a couple of children. They were also aggressive, disorganised, made astonishingly inaccurate judgements and had no interest in the general life of the school. The local authority was unsupportive, too. Sadly, this head has joined many others in leaving education.

I can only hope that the Cornish trainees I spoke to will experience what primary education can be at its best. In today's culture, though, I am concerned that many of them won't.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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