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Waiting in fear for the new inspectors' call

Ludwig Lowenstein again criticises OFSTED's criteria for residential special schools. Teachers, care workers and headteachers have inundated me with letters supporting my call for a thorough review of the OFSTED arrangements for residential special schools (Talkback, March 17).

As head of a therapeutic community recently inspected, my view is that OFSTED exposes a severe threat to children with special needs through its pressure to impose the national curriculum on them all, regardless of their need for care or psychological treatment.

Some of those who have written to me have felt threatened by a message which they perceive to be: "Do what we require or we will blacklist you and your school - or even close you down."

This does not seem impossible to any head of a special school who believes that we should be led by the children's needs and not by the imposition of a formal curriculum for all. I have resisted this imposition and now I note with some gratification that there are others in Britain who feel the same.

Those who work with multiply- rejected children are aware that such children -who are also casualties of our current education policies - primarily require an optimum amount of care, sensitive treatment of their emotional and behavioural problems and an education tailor-made to their specific needs. This means deviating from the requirements of the national curriculum. My thoughts and the correspondence I have received reiterate the following:

* Our children have already suffered and made no academic progress in mainstream schools which hold the national curriculum sacrosanct; their failure is a major reason why they come to us. We should not be judged by the same inspection criteria as other schools. We have a different job to do.

* Our pupils' self-esteem has virtually been destroyed by feelings of inadequacy and many have become delinquent as a result. The havoc they can wreak in terms of crime and violence is a major national concern.

* Teachers involved with these children have been in despair for some time, accepting they are powerless to follow more useful and sensible approaches to redeem and rehabilitate them. They are frightened to bring their views into the open, believing they might be destroyed by the power of the inspectorate and have their chances of promotion blighted.

* As a result, many teachers have left disillusioned or, worse, are attempting to pay lip-service to a system which they do not believe in and which is destined to fail.

Despite the repercussions to myself and my centre, I have decided to be a voice for those unwilling or too frightened to speak openly. I will protect their names but I hope there will be more letters if what I have written now invites agreement.

OFSTED may take more heed of what I say if I quote, anonymously, from several letters. The first is from a disillusioned teacher in a school designated for children with moderate learning difficulties, but where 80 per cent of the pupils have emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Her county special needs adviser "calmly informed us that the OFSTED inspectors will not make any allowance at all for the fact that we are a special school. What a farce! I have been told that there is no place for any kind of therapeutic approach. It doesn't fit into the national curriculum scheme of things."

The second letter is from an OFSTED inspector, saying that it is time to "grasp the nettle" of residential special school inspections for which there is "insufficient time or guidance". He hopes something will be done "before damage is done by heavy-footed inspectors throwing around their sacred framework. "

The third is from the head of a special school, soon to be inspected. He is worried that the inspectors will not comprehend "the realities of attempting to educate and intervene therapeutically with children who have already failed" and that they will misunderstand "what our school community is all about".

Ludwig Lowenstein is principal of Allington Manor, Eastleigh, Hampshire.

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