Education: Your Views

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Yes, I confess: I'm an Ofsted inspector - and I enjoy my job

I do not recognise the procedure described so bitterly by Steve Devrell in his article on Ofsted inspections ("Strokes, mass hysteria - it must be Ofsted day", Education, 6 May). As a team inspector, who has inspected over 30 schools, I have received cards of thanks and letters of appreciation passed on from schools via the contractors for whom I work. I quote from a headteacher: "You have helped to change radically my understanding of Ofsted. Your positive and caring attitude, which encompassed personnel as well as the process, helped the staff to have a feeling of satisfaction by the end of the week." All schools should feel this way.

I do, however, recognise the fear and - sadly - articles like this do no more than increase it. I have arrived on the Monday of inspection week at a number of schools to find the staff nervous, suspicious, and in some cases, obviously terrified. Every single team I have worked with has made it a priority to overcome this, and in virtually every case we have succeeded.

I enjoy my job. I was inspecting a primary school last week which was so good that the process became almost fun - even for the staff! Given the atmosphere in the school on the Monday morning, one would not have believed it possible. I left on the Thursday afternoon richer for the experience (and not financially). To share such high-quality teaching is a privilege. I have similar memories of most of the schools I have inspected.

I do not ride a "convenient gravy rain". For my last inspection I will be paid pounds 960. Subtract the cost of four night's bed, breakfast and evening meals, return travel from home and daily to the school, then divide what's left by the eight days' work required. This includes pre-inspection preparation, long hours during the week itself, and two or three days writing the report, together with completing the evidence required by Ofsted. I do not inspect every week: how can I and still do a professional job?

Why do I do it, given the opprobrium so often heaped upon us? Perhaps for the same reason that Mr Devrell is a teacher. I enjoy it. I get a buzz from observing a good lesson, and the pleasure in feeding back to a teacher that s/he is good, is worth everything. I think of a teacher in tears - "I've been teaching 30 years and you're the first person to tell me I'm doing a good job." Sorry, Mr Devrell, you just don't know!

Name and address supplied

Pick doctors for intelligence, not their social background

Your recent article "Anoraks and public school boys not wanted" (Education, 6 May) was very worrying. Some medical schools seem besotted with political correctness and riddled with guilt, probably because most current admissions staff only needed to get Bs and Cs at A-level in their day, and wouldn't make it now that top grades are needed.

I advise sixth-formers on university entrance at Cranleigh, an independent school with a middle-class clientele . In most years, there is a handful who want to read medicine at university, and the stereotyping of these young people as latter-day Hooray Henries out of a film starring James Robertson-Justice is a travesty.

Half of them are female, all of them arrange their own work experience, usually at the unglamorous end of medical services, and they all work damned hard at their studies, because they know how difficult it is to be accepted by medical schools. We underline the unattractive side of working as a medical practitioner, but their commitment to the profession is usually so strong that we fail to deter them from continuing.

As a patient, I view with alarm the idea that poorly qualified applicants may be allowed to train as doctors. I don't care a jot if my doctor is working class or middle class, but I do care if he or she has a shaky knowledge of medicine.

Doctors will always form a clique, but if they are trained well, they will be able to serve their local community in its entirety. As I understand it, more emphasis is currently being put on developing good communication skills, so that they listen more and are sensitive to cultural and socio- economic differences.

I'm also surprised to read that medical schools want more students from ethnic backgrounds. I attended a recent Open Day at Guy's Hospital, where a large majority of the schoolchildren being shown around were clearly from ethnic minorities. I get the impression that most NHS and private hospitals, are dependent on doctors from outside Britain: Finnish, Chinese, Pakistani and South African doctors come to work in Britain to fill our gaps. This is one reason why it's so hard for British sixth formers from any background to get into medical school. We should be training lots more doctors, but some government accountant has obviously worked out that it's cheaper to import the ready-made product from abroad.


Senior Tutor,

Cranleigh School, Surrey.

Lessons learnt from business

In response to "Wouldn't it be luverly if business learnt from school" (Education, 6 May ), Marianne Talbot is right to say that it is "not all one-way traffic" when it comes to business involvement in education. The Partners in Leadership programme, which pairs senior business managers with headteachers as part of the TTA Leadership Programme for Serving Headteachers, is testimony to this. Business in the Community, which runs the programme, is matching more than 3000 business partners and headteachers to meet over a period of at least 12 months to discuss confidential issues relating to management and leadership.

Over the last three years, more than 100 KPMG staff have been business partners. Michael Fowle, Senior Partner at KPMG, believes that working with headteachers is stimulating. They are clever. They have a viewpoint quite different from the average business person. Yet each is a chief executive, facing each day all the issues faced by other business leaders. They have a commitment to their pupils which is quite astonishing - business people talk about customer focus, but until you work with a headteacher, you do not understand what customer focus really means.

The corporate sector can see the benefits. Richard Greenhalgh, Chairman, Unilever UK said that "as a business partner I am exposed to a different set of challenges to those I normally experience in the business environment". Rob Irwin, Personnel Manager, Halifax plc, agrees: "taking our people out of their `boxes' is a real and valuable learning opportunity. These headteachers are all experienced managers in their own right and we can learn from them as well."

So our advice to both business and education is: come and have a proper dialogue, and make a partnership through becoming a "Partner in Leadership".


Director of Operations - Education

Business in the Community.

Mad rush to be a Master

With reference to your article, "So is the cheque in the postgrad" (Education, 13 May), it has been a tragedy, in my opinion, that most people have aimed at postgraduate qualifications simply because they think that a Masters degree can help them get a better job or a higher position.

As more people possess Masters, employers will certainly try to choose those from better universities which may give them more confidence.

Employers will look for better Masters as well. While they are all called Masters, some are of higher levels, such as MPhil. or MLitt. Those with an MA or MEd are less competitive.

In the future, perhaps, more and more people may want to pursue even higher qualifications such as doctorates or postdoctorates, if any, etc. This will, in the long run, become a vicious circle, in which people simply want to get a higher and higher degree without bothering to assess whether it is actually useful or desirable.

I think, after all, we do need serious postgraduate studies, in terms of contribution to our society, as well as to our work. Postgraduate quality, therefore, should be more important than postgraduate quantity.



Save our small schools

I read with interest "Once again, small schools hold secrets of success" (Education, May 6). I am the parent of two children who attend Winfrith Newburgh First School in the heart of rural Dorset. The school has 40 pupils. The local education authority has picked out our school for closure.

Eighteen months ago, we lost our headteacher due to ill health, and the local education authority advised our governors to wait before appointing another head. Since losing our headteacher, we have lost pupils - a school without a headteacher is not as attractive to prospective parents .

Thank you, local education authority; and thank you, Labour Government, for showing us just how much you care about small schools and rural communities.


Newburgh, Dorset

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, Education, The Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Please include a day time telephone number. Fax letters to Education on 0171-293 2451


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