What's it all for?

8th March 1996 at 00:00
What exactly is the Office for Standards in Education trying to do?

We don't want to hear that schools are failing and that 20 per cent of lessons here or 50 per cent of lessons there are unsatisfactory. That is mere finger-pointing. The real value is in determining how we move forward.

In my experience, governors feel increasing alarm about the destructive approach OFSTED adopts and the failure to challenge this. Why are teachers' unions and associations not more effective in confronting OFSTED? Many teachers in all kinds of schools feel victimised by what the Government, Opposition and OFSTED say about them. Even when praise is given, it comes across as the criticism of others. Where are the teacher unions and associations in this debate? They appear as reactive commentators incapable of sustained leadership. Does OFSTED appreciate that each indictment is taken as a blow to the local community. A "failing" school is interpreted as a "failing" community.

We have learned over the years how harmful it is to label children. Why do we feel that we can label schools? Do schools labelled as successful really feel good about it - or do they feel that they are simply another instrument to beat the "failures"?

Whatever OFSTED's motivation, the perception and impact is of enforcement - the arm of a Government which has politicised education. So much of what is being said comes from outmoded and often unexpressed assumptions about the purpose of education.

We need to reassess what we are trying to do in education. We need to have a community debate about it - after all, education is the single largest local budget for most communities.

Many governors would say that education's purpose is to maximise the potential of our children. That would often come down to trying to equip children to be happy through their lives. In our current uncertain times that is not bad. Only rarely would a governor be found who sees the purpose of education as the development of a competitive workforce. Yet that, all too often, is what the Government, Opposition and implicitly OFSTED seem to be assuming.

We are going through 10 years of change whose impact is likely to be as great as that of the industrial revolution. Nobody knows what education our children will need. It is too easy to talk of 3Rs, rows and rote, too easy to point to Japanese or German schools. Those are solutions of the past and of different cultures. We need to have a debate in this country about what education should be for and how it should work.

JOHN COCKSHOTT

West Yorkshire school governor

41 Grove Road

Ilkley

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