They cannot be serious

Mike Kent

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One of the joys of teaching very young children is the unintentionally humorous comments they make. Most teachers will have a mental sackful of these delightful moments. Just before retiring, I remember reading a story to a class of four-year-olds when a bumblebee flew in. Sarah stared at it indignantly. "What's that bundlebee come in here for?" she demanded. "It should be out in the sunshine with its mates, doin' honey."

And I enjoyed the comment made by an 11-year-old in a colleague's school. The boy was often in trouble and sitting on a threadbare carpet outside the principal's room. He was there when Ofsted visited. "What could the school provide to make it a happier place for you?" an inspector asked. "Thicker carpets", came the swift reply.

Talking of inspections, I've discovered a rich seam of comedy in the most unlikely place: school inspection reports. Not laugh-out-loud comedy, but some of the statements are so questionable that the reader can only grin and say, in true John McEnroe fashion: "You cannot be serious." Let me give you examples.

"Where teaching and learning was successful, the teaching was good and the children were purposefully occupied."

Read that sentence twice and you immediately realise what a statement of the bleedin' obvious it is. How many teachers wouldn't know that in order for the children to learn, they have to teach well? And that if the teaching is good, the children will naturally be purposefully occupied? The report might just as well have said: "Where the teaching and learning was poor, the teacher had no control and the children were jumping on the tables."

Here's another: "The school can improve further by ensuring that teachers plan lessons that are closely matched to every pupil's needs, so that every child is effectively challenged."

Think about this for a minute. Doesn't the average class have 30 children in it? How could you possibly cater for all their individual needs? You'd need an army of teaching assistants, 36 hours in the day and the patience of a saint. No teacher could do it. All they can do is arrange the children into groups of ability and then aim to find successful tasks for each group level. Even that is difficult, because in many schools there is a huge range of ability among the children.

Here's one more: "Opportunities should be provided for pupils to check their own work, and other pupils' work, so that they have responsibility for their own learning."

This statement is simply daft. Can you imagine a child of average ability trying to find the mistakes in his own essay? If he had known they were there, he wouldn't have made them in the first place. And should he really be checking the work of very clever Simon, who sits next to him? It seems to me the responsibility for the children's learning should lie primarily with the teacher.

Gather a few inspection reports and see for yourself. The more you read, the more astonished you will be.

Mike Kent is a retired headteacher of a school for children aged 4-11 in England. Email:

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