Victims of brute force;Talkback;Opinion

18th June 1999 at 01:00
A special needs teacher tells how the delicate balance of his centre was crushed by OFSTED's clumsy intrusion

I work in a centre for students with special educational needs. Some are students that schools refuse; some refuse school. Many are statemented. Many are on police and social services registers because of crimes they have committed or crimes committed against them. Our work is as much social work as education - picking up the pieces, changing attitudes, acting as advocate.

Into this special atmosphere arrived the OFSTED team.

After 30 years in education, I have been "inspected" many times. As an adult educator, I accept adults watching me and commenting on my performance. But this particular intrusion seems to me to have served no constructive purpose. At the pre-inspection meeting, the team leader reminded us they were all human and approachable. He spoke about dialogue and empathy. We expressed practical reservations about the process which were duly noted.

Then they arrived. By their own admission, none had worked in a centre like ours. They watched. They took us from our work for personal interviews. They scrutinised everything. Picked holes in everything. I was asked where I got material for my worksheets. I replied that I wrote them all. Their constructive response was to point out that I had started a sentence with "but".

Since the teaching team is small, any comment about the curriculum was indistinguishable from comment about the person who contrived and delivered it. A "bad" subject meant a "bad" teacher.

They left. We had failed. Their comments and body language told us that before their report. Now what? Their intrusion has created several undesirable outcomes. First, because we failed, the whole disruptive process is to be repeated. Second, the centre is likely to be closed and we will be re-housed. Nobody knows where; our authority is trying to find a good alternative.

One colleague was so demoralised he left at the beginning of summer. No amount of reassurance that the criticism was of subject and not teaching will change his mind. After 20 years in the classroom, Steve is off.

One of our more withdrawn students has refused to attend since the inspection as he felt threatened by so many adults. On one afternoon, the teacher plus OFSTED team, outnumbered the students.

Another colleague had a "good" report. No wonder her students make good progress. They've worked out a cunning plan: tell her they don't understand something, wait for the answer and then write it in their books. By the time she gets round to marking their work, she thinks they've got it right. (I'm sure you spotted that inspectors.) The result of this "good" report is that she has now taken on a superior attitude, expounding her theories, attempting to change the ethos of the centre; driving a wedge between her and the students.

And me? In my feedback I was told I should create work featuring topics of more relevance to the students I was working with. I explained that my experience of being sexually abused, taking drugs, stealing cars and teenage pregnancy was limited. Could they suggest other topics "relevant to the students" that I might use. There was no response.

I continue to teach and have a good rapport with the students, even if they don't make the desired level of progress. I continue to pick up the pieces - like reassuring a student who had attempted to commit suicide that none of us would judge or pass information to other students.

I continue to create worksheets that don't include sexual abuse, taking drugs. I wait for the appointment of the new team member to replace Steve. I wait to see where we will be re-housed. I wait for the second coming but with little hope of revelation or salvation.

The writer wishes to remain anonymous

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