Dear Stewart Sutherland: A comprehensive teacher's message to Ofsted's chief inspector of schools: call off the Rottweilers and give us some help instead

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Pretty smart of you to hire Coopers & Lybrand to carry out the assessment of the Ofsted inspectors, which was delivered last week. As a renowned firm of quality assessors, with bags of experience of checking through business accounts, I bet they were extremely impressed with your inspectors' thoroughness. A million boxes meticulously ticked; a hundred schools already neatly categorised.

What a shame that none of this actually benefits anybody. Let's talk basics, Professor Sutherland. Your inspectors put the fear of God into all but the most outrageously arrogant teachers in the land. Their arrival is awaited with heart-pounding trepidation as sample lessons are honed to perfection and records of results kept up to date as never before. On the week of the inspection itself, prayers are delivered to the Almighty that the inspector doesn't walk into 5D after a lunchtime session on the weed or, worse, 2C after sex education. And when the inevitable happens and the silent stranger takes a place among a class, do you know what happens then? Well, the good students are saintlier than ever, while the back-row regulars feign amnesia at every question they are asked. Your inspectors no more see normal school situations than the Queen experiences rush-hour madness when the royal train pulls into a station.

To be fair to them, your inspectors appreciate this point so they compensate by making documentation a prime factor in the assessment of a school's worth. At enormous cost, they tirelessly pore over departmental handbooks, staff development plans, records of attainment and every one of those school documents that are so vital to the school that absolutely nobody but the inspector ever reads them.

Why don't we be honest, Professor Sutherland, the only function of your inspectors is to keep the teachers on their toes. They have nothing to offer in terms of constructive comment whatsoever. Even your own tame watchdog, Coopers & Lybrand, criticised your inspectors for using too much jargon. In other words, after a snapshot of a normal school week they can muster only a few tired education cliches as words of advice.

And the real shame of it is that your inspectorate has largely replaced a system that worked perfectly well. Before the introduction of the Local Management of Schools, the counties would be freely advised by former teachers and experts on ways of improving teaching techniques. Now such advisers are hired by the hour and many hard-pressed schools can't afford them. That's a shame because teaching can be a lonely job and teachers can develop all sorts of insecurities about their craft which they need to share with sympathetic mentors. That Rottweiler sent in on inspection week won't do.

Anyway, Professor Sutherland, I hope you are happy with your own recent inspection. Curious idea, though, sending Rottweilers to the teachers at the chalk face, and poodles to monitor the inspectors.

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