Thursday, October 18, 2007

Alan’s Utopia

You can always rely on Ofsted to totally demoralise teachers, this ability is neatly encapsulated in the farce known as ‘the annual report’.

In order to ‘raise the bar’, satisfactory (OED ‘meeting expectation or need, good enough, adequate’) has become the new ‘inadequate’. The headline figures were 51% of secondaries outstanding or good and 49% satisfactory or failing.

I know some ‘satisfactory’ comprehensives where teachers achieve minor miracles every day, battling against the odds; disaffected pupils with low self-esteem and uninterested parents. But no they’re not even ‘satisfactory’ now but ‘inadequate’.

It would be interesting to see a breakdown of where the ‘good or outstanding’ schools are. Research by the London School of Economics showed that 90% of schools in special measures were in poor areas.

Why have Ofsted? You need rigorous inspections to ensure that children have high quality teaching? Part of the aura, myth and downright lies surrounding Ofsted is that before their inglorious reign began schools weren’t inspected.

When I was researching for my MA (a case study on a school in special measures) I came across a little known book by Leonard Clark ‘The Inspector Remembers – Diary of One of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools 1936-1970’. There are some interesting passages –

‘I spent most of my time visiting and reporting on, the schools for which I had responsibility… I was able to meet and enjoy the company of the children and their teachers… Visiting schools was our bread and butter, and we did so regularly, we got to know them very well… a visit consisted of either half a day, a full day, or two or more days, according to the size of the school.’

The argument was that they became too close too schools. However, like other public services they were cut back, run down and then deemed to be failing. Ofsted replaced them with their punitive raids every four or five years.

Sadly there’s little debate about the condition of our schools, when it comes to literature it’s dominated by ‘the comfort read’ – prime example is Gervaise Phinn’s series ‘The Other Side of the Dale’, his whimsical tales about being a school inspector. Just to prove that the homespun, stereotypical Yorkshireman is not confined to education it has also invaded television – prime example Alan Titchmarsh’s ‘The Nature of Britain’. In a perverse way it reminded me of the ‘Teachers’ Awards’, everything is relentlessly, sickeningly, annoyingly upbeat. Now I know that the reintroduction of the red kite and the great bustard is fantastic but on the other hand we have the precipitous fall in the numbers of common birds like the sparrow and thrush, the decline of amphibians and thousands of miles of hedges uprooted and hundreds of ponds filled in by agri-business. Predictably none of this intrudes into Alan’s sunny little utopia.

The paucity of debate in education is stunning, just go to the TES Staffroom if you wanted this confirmed. Endless contributions about trivia – Is Kate McCann guilty, Bad Hair Day!! and Wogan’s Waddle. The Primary Review, testing or Ofsted? They just don’t attract comment. It’s a serious and sad indictment of the teaching profession. I had to smile because the TES web team invited posters to write blogs of 300 – 400 words, it isn’t so much putting forward a coherent argument more the inability to string more than 4 or 5 words together without resorting to the personal abuse that the Internet is infamous for.

So it’s been a fairly depressing two weeks – the Primary Review and stressed out children, the obesity epidemic, under 5s ‘failing’ at writing and half of our secondary schools are rubbish. There’s that old quote from Gramsci, ‘The pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will’, there’s been more of the former than the latter.


You have visited the Opinion Forum. If you prefer a more worthy and educational discussion there are twenty-odd other forums where matters are debated with the gravity you believe them worthy of.

Subjects are repeated quite frequently. If you missed debates on Ofsted and testing it is possibly because they were "done" fairly recently. There is a search function if you're interested but I get the impression you're not all that, now your blog's written for this week.
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