Letters: Ofsted makes our teaching problems worse

The following letters appear in the 22 July edition of The Independent

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The fact that schools employ consultants to improve performance is a so-whatter (“The great school inspections farce”, 20 July). Many organisations employ consultants in order to maximise results. I have been in a school where we came out of special measures in four terms, and where consultants were used to undertake quality assurance audits, including lesson observations. Their expertise was crucial in raising standards.

What is far more worrying is that Ofsted continues to fire its artillery at schools, given that only last week the papers were reporting a growing teacher recruitment crisis. In that same week, the chief of Ofsted claimed that one in four headteachers was incompetent and had no authority in their own schools, and this week the bizarre claim is that schools are somehow cheating the inspection process by employing consultants.

You cannot cheat an inspection process which has continually raised the bar, to the level where there is no middle–ground grading, or “satisfactory”. There are four gradings for lessons and schools: outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate. What kind of grading system is that? It is in effect saying that there are two levels of excellence and two levels of inadequacy. The “very good” grading was removed first, and now the middle grading.

I cannot envisage in any other place of work a system of appraisal which does not have a middle-ground ranking; if that’s where you are, then you try to improve it.

It is also impossible to cheat an inspection process which prides itself on being “rigorous and robust”. Add to that the fact that many perfectly good schools are being told now that “good” is not good enough and are being steered in the direction of becoming academies “to speed up the process of improvement”, as I have seen on one such school report, and you will see that the pressures imposed on schools by the inspectorate continue to proliferate.

The discourse employed by Ofsted and its methods are not credible or trustworthy in the eyes of the teaching profession and never have been. One colleague recently described to me the agenda of Ofsted as “political and punitive”. That is a view shared by many. Perhaps Ofsted might care to do some joined-up thinking, and realise that one of the main reasons teaching is not enticing graduates is because of the massively demanding, never-ending, never-satisfied language spoken by the inspectorate.

Mark Behan
Blackburn, Lancashire


When I was first head of English in a comprehensive school in the 1980s, I could contact the local education authority at will to arrange for the English adviser to come in to support the department in developing resources for students.

After a few years, such support had to be bought in by the school. Some years later LEA subject advisers became a virtually extinct breed. Following a cost-cutting exercise, the Derbyshire English adviser became adviser for all subjects. Minimal support was then available for teachers beyond annual meetings provided by examination boards run by moderators such as myself.

Such changes beg the question of whether Ofsted inspections are essentially punitive, designed to test teachers rather than support their development – which cannot be aided significantly by brief reports following “spot” inspections. Moreover, many schools currently have such a high turnover of staff that departments lack a hierarchy of experience supportive to inexperienced teachers. “Testing” does not in itself improve quality.

Andy Mort
Calow, Derbyshire


We are liberal with our violence

To be consistent with his view that the trashing of the Sunni population in Iraq by Bush and Blair has in no way affected Muslim opinion internationally, I can only conclude that Mr Cameron must think that we Brits should treat with equanimity the killing of our compatriots on 7/7 or  in Tunisia.

Mr Cameron trumpets himself as a purveyor of liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality. I suppose that explains why he is acquiescent in Israel’s oppressive colonisation and its eight-year siege of Gaza. As for sexual equality, by removing Saddam, the West actually retarded the slow emancipation of women in Iraq by decades.

Never mind. A little more political violence, this time against Assad – oops, if its a Tuesday, let’s make it Isis instead – should really prove how liberal we are.

If we really wish to reduce Muslim anger, a good deal more self-criticism and humility is long overdue.

David McDowall


The arrogance of David Cameron in wanting to take the UK into further military action in Syria knows no bounds. We now know that UK military personnel have already been involved in air strikes without the approval of Parliament. Yet just two days after this, he is determined to push for further action without first providing answers about our current involvement.

The House of Commons rejected bombing in Syria two years ago. The involvement of British service personnel in bombing without the approval of Parliament flouts the democratic decision by the House.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon led a Commons debate on Syria only this month – before which he briefed the media about the likelihood of the UK bombing in Syria in the future – yet he didn’t say a word about UK military personnel already sent into action. The Government’s policy is unacceptable – effectively overseeing a bombing campaign by stealth.

Alex Orr


Day after day our brave pilots are flying over war zones, and those people who sit in front of their TVs, tut-tutting at things they know nothing about are saying they should not fire weapons.

I’m sure these young men in our armed forces are fired on every time they go on a sortie. This country must be the worst in the world for the way it restricts its armed forces. If these men have been trained and have been found capable of carrying and using these weapons, they should be trusted to know when to use them. Let our forces do their job, without one arm tied behind their back.

Dave Croucher


Welfare officers could help in GP crisis

Jeremy Hunt aims to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020 – a challenge, as they take 10 years minimum to train.

A recent survey by Citizens Advice Bureau showed that one fifth of GP consultations were related to non-health issues – that is, general welfare matters such as debt. This translates to an implied cost of nearly £400m to the health service. Perhaps GP practices should add a trained welfare officer to their team to help these patients.

A welfare practitioner helps individuals to help themselves, signposting them on to appropriate agencies/charities.

Some funding to train welfare officers would be money well spent and would ease the daily challenges to our GPs.

Sally Bundock
Former Chair, Institute of Welfare
Eastcote, Greater London


Discharged patients need to be healthy

It is hardly surprising that the early discharge of patients leads to further ill health and readmission (“Many patients get more sick because hospitals send them home too soon”, 21 July).

The great majority of patients are discharged to “lay” care and there is precious little qualified community support; it is therefore important to ensure people leave hospital in the best shape.

In the 1970s and 1980s vulnerable patients were often offered convalescent homes to bridge the gap between hospital and home. A patient would never be discharged without a knowledge of their home circumstances and never sent home in the middle of the night, as now seems increasingly the case.

Additionally, while day surgery has revolutionised the care of many, I’m far from convinced that many of these patients wouldn’t benefit from at least one night in a hospital bed.

Dr Anthony Ingleton


English attitudes in the 1930s

In 1937, I was eight. One day my best friend at school said: “My mummy said I can invite you to tea next Tuesday.” A whole week away! I counted the days. Until Monday, when my friend said: “My mummy says you can’t come to tea at our house, because you’re a Jew.” This was less than a year before Kristallnacht. We were in London.

Gloria Cigman


Short-changed on expenses?

At an MP’s rate of pay, 9p represents maybe eight seconds of work time, so Rob Wilson must have spent more on his 9p expenses claim than he is recovering. Perhaps he is making the claim in his own time – in which case he could put in a claim for the time taken to make the claim.

David Ridge
London N19