Sunday, July 15, 2007

Humourless Androids

‘A vast bureaucracy whose leaders may not have grasped its complexity’, was the damning conclusion by the House of Commons Education Committee in its report on Ofsted. Its remit has extended from schools to cover childminders, secure training units, fostering agencies and registration of children’s homes.

When teachers complain about inspections you normally get a sympathetic smile, but can anyone understand unless they’ve gone through the mind-boggling, soul-destroying and energy-sapping process?

For seventeen years my wife worked as a childminder. They used to be inspected by the council Social Services Department and the emphasis was on support, encouragement and advice. In 2000 under the Care Standards Act the duty of inspection was handed over to Ofsted. Clipboard in hand, they managed to successfully transfer the humourless android approach they pioneered in schools to childminding.

With Ofsted also came the bureaucracy of filling in forms in triplicate, childminders were expected to have ‘Policies’ on every subject under the sun and training courses, in the evening or at weekends, became a regular fixture.

In came regulation and control, out went things like grants for toys or sustainability – money to tide them over when children moved on to school and they were waiting for new clients.

Inspections used to be arranged for a certain day, that changed with ‘unannounced visits’. There was also the practise of damning with faint praise encapsulated in that Ofsted phrase ‘satisfactory’. Unsurprisingly the numbers of childminders dropped from 98,500 in 1997 to 68,200 in 2003.

My wife recently joined the exodus. She wrote to Ofsted because she needed a letter to confirm that she had been a childminder. I won’t bore you with the complicated, Byzantine process, you would think it was so simple, ‘this is to confirm that X was a childminder from xxx to xxx’. But no this organisation that expects the highest standards of efficiency from schools and childminders couldn’t even achieve this basic little task. Only the threat of legal action moved them.

A survey of Ofsted staff last year revealed that almost a quarter said they had been bullied at work. Ofsted’s response? ‘Some people did not like being managed and saw that as bullying’.

I rest my case.


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