The Week

27th November 2009 at 00:00

Floods took Cumbria by surprise, but an altogether more predictable deluge rained down on Ofsted this week. Its annual report never fails to provide an opportunity for national newspapers to belch out stories about the "state of our schools" with as much grip on reality as an acid-fuelled reading of a Dr Zeus classic. This year, the fantasy line was "Nearly a third of schools failing children" (plus variations on the theme). Except the Ofsted report found that only 4 per cent were inadequate, a huge improvement on four years ago when the figure was double. Unusually, however, not all the blame should be placed at the door of our favourite edu-correspondents. Some responsibility must also be apportioned to Christine Gilbert's predecessor as chief inspector, David Bell. For it was he, you see, who first informed a slightly baffled public that "satisfactory was no longer good enough". If one takes this civil service double-speak at face-value, then perhaps those headlines are right. Or not.

Lobbing headline hand-grenade after headline hand-grenade in the general direction of Ofsted andor schools (delete as applicable) clearly meant the papers took their eye off Ed Balls' wriggling about over key stage 2 Sats. Will he abolish? Or won't he? Does he know? Presumably what his strategists do know is that the decision last Thursday to publish teacher assessment scores alongside Sats results from 2011 - with the possible removal of Sats altogether left open for 2012 - has left the unionistas in choppy waters regarding next year's proposed boycott. Members of both the NAHT and NUT will be asking Mick Brookes and Christine Blower all sorts of awkward questions in the next month or two. Watch this space.

And finally, a week is hardly a week these days without some business magnate having a pop at the state of English schools. Following criticism from Sir Terry "Tesco guru" Leahy a fortnight ago, MS "saviour" Sir Stuart Rose chose the CBI conference as a great opportunity to segue from the credit crunch to education. "They cannot do reading. They cannot do arithmetic. They cannot do writing," he said of the school-leavers his company employs. This pair are serious global heavyweights with vast analytical brains that deal with hugely complex markets and impenetrable data; why is it, then, that they make ill-informed claims about schools with seemingly little more evidence than provided via a perusal of the Daily Mail?

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