Throwing Santas through the window

10 June, 2013 (12:27) | All articles | By: Stuart Fraser

I suppose Big Brother is watching me. If so, he will have seen, these past days, a happyish man, pottering about in the glorious life-affirming sunshine. God, how good it has been to be in the sun. What joy to feel warmth. How long it has been.

My eldest and I cycled a fair old round trip for legs alternately ancient and modern on Saturday, and what a privilege to ride through such beauty – and sink a pint in reward in about three seconds flat.

We all played in the river yesterday, skimming and splashing, and we’ve been sat in the sun eating and drinking. Do you know, Big Brother might even have been jealous.

More probably, Big Brother would have been bored. He could liven things up and perhaps charge me with treason, because I’m a republican. Definitely, I hope, sedition, because I’m constantly using “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch”.

Here’s some more.

Our local primary school, which my sons attend, was the subject of an inspection by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) last week.


I have no idea how the school got on, what ranking it will receive or what the report will say, and I care less. I hold Ofsted in utter contempt and have no regard whatsoever for its wholly useless, data-driven, superficial, adversarial, inaccurate snapshot of a school. I would not permit its pointless, expensive inspectors to set foot on the school premises. I write about it because it exists, and should not.


Generations of us have grown up, been educated and prospered without the assistance of joyless Ofsted suits on £582 a day of our money, and I believe we should extend this happy possibility to our children.


No Ofsted suit ever stopped my primary school teacher from ensuring my attention with a well-aimed chalk rubber, or treating us all to chocolate when we’d done well. No suit saw me and my sixth form teacher sharing a fag and a chat about Thomas Hardy, or suggested my history teacher abandon his practice of throwing cheap Santa dolls out of the open window to demonstrate how research could overturn myth (“There goes another Father Christmas!”). No Ofsted inspector watched my friends and I apply our physics and science learning to the art of blowing up first-years’ bags in the playground. I’ve managed a career without Ofsted.


Every single thing I learned, every treasured memory of school days I possess, every learning passion I pursue to this day thanks to the inspiration of those long-ago teachers, has nothing whatsoever to do with any Ofsted inspector. Every success, every failure, every achievement, every catastrophe, my home, my life, my children – all achieved without the aid of an Ofsted inspector.


The wretched organisation should be put out of everybody’s misery and contribute to the savings we are told we must make – especially now, as its major purpose seems to be to help Michael Gove bully schools into becoming academies. As the National Governors Association reports “there is concern that (Ofsted is) a means to ensure that more schools are eligible for intervention.”


I cannot imagine a better demonstration of the utter loathsomeness of Ofsted and all it stands for than our school last week. While a suit sat inside, the pupils held a charity plant sale to raise money for their partner school in Uganda. The children were enthused, engaged, informed and showed a wide variety of visitors around with pride. They gave lots of information and were a pleasure to talk to, as ever. Their behaviour, enthusiasm and intelligence were a credit to the excellence of their school. I was specially pleased to see my older son had written a piece about mulching, and he was proud to see it on display –handwriting has been an area of difficulty for him, as it is for many boys, and this was a great example of the many ways in which the school is trying to encourage him.

The whole event was so typical of the great strengths of our school – community involvement, the way the children interact with each other and with adults, and the quality of the work they produce. The commitment of staff and children to constantly do far, far more than the minimum to ensure their standards are achievements are high.


But how much better to judge the school on its data! The way its children follow their pre-ordained nationally-agreed progress route like obedient little machines! The way the children are ranked and tested like so many factory products! The assessment of a sample of 0.04% of the lessons taught annually! The judgment of professionals in a frenzy of stress! “The fatuous notion of demonstrating progress every twenty minutes”! The elevation of targets above any other means of dealing with children!


As the partner of a teacher, I’ve lived through several Ofsted inspections, and as a former school governor I got involved in the wake of one. I can say with hand on heart that not one single second of those experiences contributed anything positive to schools or children. In some cases, the destruction of careers was begun in an afternoon’s work, and that is no lie.

In all cases various levels of what a former governor colleague called “the Ofsted gravy train” were set in motion – overpaid consultants, expensive courses, expensive visits – that cost the taxpayer a fortune.

A teacher quoted in the TES has taught the same lesson in front of four Ofsted inspectors, more or less word for word. She has had four different outcomes, the lesson being judged from poor to outstanding.

Another teacher was told her poetry lesson would be greatly improved if she had gone to the bother of getting an audio recording of the poet reading the work. The poet, of course, died decades before the invention of sound recordings.

The teacher surmised:

“Some numbskull somewhere once observed a lesson on poetry where the teacher used an audio of the poet reading his/her own poem. This numbskull lacks the wit, intelligence and understanding to realise that this is not always possible nor indeed, always appropriate, but instead thinks that, since it impressed him in this one class, it must immediately be recommended and taken up by all those teaching poetry as standard practice.

“Same with music, some official incapable of following simple thought processes once saw headphones used effectively in a music class and thinks to himself ‘hey- that’s what’s missing from satisfactory music lessons – headphones!’

“I’m sure the 3 part lesson doctrine came about the same way, the use of starters and plenaries, the writing of targets on the board at the start. Someone is impressed the first time and is unable to see that variety is both desirable and necessary.”

A headteacher on the same forum says: “I have seen too many Stepford schools with outstanding reports and too many excellent schools with ‘satisfactory’ ratings to know they mean very little and reflect the foibles of the inspector, and the current flavour of the month.”

The National Union of Teachers wisely says: “Effective school inspection needs an approach which trusts and supports the profession and doesn’t denigrate it. The NUT believes Ofsted should look to and learn from the ‘light touch’ accountability systems of high performing countries such as Finland and New Zealand which are predicated on trusting schools and teachers to do the best by their students, rather than based on the idea that this can only be achieved through threats or penalties.”

Or the National Governors Association, which neatly sums up the stupidity of so much of Ofsted : “The definition for pupil achievement to be ‘good’ states that pupils must be ‘making better progress than all pupils nationally given their starting point’. This is not an absolute measure, but an average, meanig that only half the schools could ever achieve this measure – i.e. it is not possible for more than 50% of schools to be above average.”


This is the madness going on, in a system that doesn’t even have a ranking for a school that is satisfactory – schools go from “requiring improvement” to “good”. A system in which the goalposts shuffle across what parts of the playing field haven’t been sold off to MacDonald’s with the speed of a politician grabbing a brown envelope.


I recommend to you the excellent educationalist Geoff Barton for the views of a man who has achieved more for children’s education than a hundred million shrivel-souled Ofsted inspectors could ever dream of:  


I don’t agree with everything he says, but his conclusion here is spot-on:  “We need to remind ourselves more regularly and more forcefully who is really in control, who and what really matters in our schools, and what ‘real’ education is all about.”

As Barton says, we all need to resist more forcefully and more consistently the way institutions like Ofsted are permitted to do damage to our lives. In his quote above, substitute the word ‘life’ for ‘schools’ and ‘education’, and we have a motto for much wider use.

We need to emulate my old history teacher and throw Ofsted and a few other Father Christmases out of the window – for example, Santas telling us poor people on benefits are to blame for our economic ills, immigrants are to blame for our hospital queues, teachers are to blame for… well, everything.

(A Tory MP, a banker, a teacher and a Daily Mail reader are at a table containing a plate of 10 chocolate biscuits. The MP hands the banker nine of the biscuits. Then the MP turns to the Daily Mail reader and says “Look out – that teacher’s after your biscuit.”)

One way we can propel Santas window-ward is to be sure to complain about Ofsted when it visits our schools, to the inspectors directly, or on the website. We need to tell our governors, teachers and children that we trust our own collective communities to judge our schools. We need to tell our MPs that Ofsted must be abolished.

But then, I don’t suppose Big Brother will be interested in that little bit of sedition, given all the exciting Facebook pages he must be trawling through at the moment. Pass it round, though, especially among any teachers you know. With any luck I’ll be in Hong Kong next week too.



Comment from hamster
Time June 10, 2013 at 6:09 pm

“No suit saw me and my sixth form teacher sharing a fag and a chat about Thomas Hardy” I didn’t know that went to a expensive posh school for future MP’s! ……..

…….. sorry, so sorry I just couldn’t help myself.

Seriously though its a problem and its not just education that has these hangers on, I am afraid all sectors do and who holds all these ‘Ofies’ (Ofsed, Ofwat, Ofcom et al) to account and make sure that they are hitting their straps? Although having just thought about it, that is probably isn’t a good idea as they would mutate to be more aggressive.
In a country that has an awful lot of people living in it and therefore a lot of people to find work for and this country has little manufacturing therefore produces very few actual physical end products to sell to generate ‘profit’ (key word here people, profit) to pay ‘business’ (another key word, business) tax on and unless the city money guys and gals (which are more jobs with no physical end product) can get a boom going which doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon because they have to wait for manufacturing countries to get back on their feet and generate profit before they can start moving the ‘new’ money around, we are going to be in the doldrums for quite a while yet. Ok nearly over, so to quickly sum up the above – too many ‘none’ jobs generating only income tax + few physical end products being produced generating little business tax =……taadah…….. a country with a slow (near shrinking) economic growth.

Comment from bertie
Time June 10, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Just a little thought…..

How many ofsted inspectors have actually been teachers?

Can one judge another if one has no experience of the job being judged?

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