EXCLUSIVE: How Michael Gove broke his word on Ofsted.

The Coalition must get rid of Ofsted’s mad schools inspectors.






Although the Coalition chopped Ofsted’s Chief Inspector of Schools Christine Gilbert last June, the many-headed Hydra she used to run is as pointlessly expensive as ever, the Slog can reveal.

When it comes to the battle between OfSted and the teachers, the poor old Guardian doesn’t know what to do with itself: for athough an unswerving supporter of all things pc, H&SE and otherwise unhinged, the paper is at the same time inclined to insist that teaching standards are just fine, and Michael Gove’s reforms are all a wicked plot to hasten the return of workhouses.

The Guardia Independente wing of the Progressive Movement rarely if ever considers the best option: to fire weak teachers and scrap Ofsted – on the grounds that they are both sources of leftist bollocks. But forced to make a choice last November, the Guardian in particular called for Ofsted’s abolition….on entirely predictable grounds:

‘Ofsted metes out harsh judgments to teachers….The disdain Ofsted has for teachers is palpable, to the extent that it’s quite refreshing to hear its chief, Christine Gilbert, state it plainly: “The weakest area, and the area that I am most concerned about, is teaching. In many of our good schools we see pockets of weaker teaching.”

In fact, this is a smart  move by Ofsted – one of the most cunning of the quangos, and adept in the tic’s art of drilling into the governmental epidermis. Having judged the wind direction following Christine Gilbert’s abrupt removal last June, the quango is now firmly on message.

Look at Ofsted’s website and recent reports, and you will spot the startling – some might say deafening – increase in the volume of determined calls to purge the poorest teachers. But the tic waving this flag of convenience is just as correctly daft as it was before – if not more so.

The truth is that Ofsted has just the one priority in real life: finding problems so it seems to have plenty to do….and  thus remains safe from abolition.

The vast majority of the time, these ‘problems’ have absolutely nothing to do with teaching standards. Look for instance at this quote from teachers’ website TES:

‘Schools have reported being downgraded because their fence was too low or because they failed to check the inspectors’ name badges….”

Michael Gove has recognised this in the past: on March 2nd 2010 he told the Guardian

“…on Ofsted, we’ll get rid of the the hugely complicated self-evaluation forms and the principle whereby a clerical error can end up damning a school’s entire achievement…”

The NUT’s biggest criticism of Ofsted remains what it always was: the huge number of Ofsted forms teachers keen to teach have to plough through each and every day.

From special needs schools through to media education consultancy, if I had a Pound for every professional who has repeated this charge to me over the last five years, I’d be a very rich Slog indeed. Indeed, Dave himself promised teachers that he would reduce testing demands made by Ofsted…and then promptly introduced another one. But that’s Coalition politics – you have to break your word every day make compromises here and there.

Meanwhile, Ofsted continues to curry Conservative favour. As the telegraph today shows, teacher-bashing is reaching new heights:

‘Ofsted inspected education standards at almost 200 nurseries, schools and training providers. The report said inspectors “did not find any examples of either primary or secondary schools focusing specifically on engaging the families of white working class pupils, despite the fact that this group of pupils is consistently among the worst-performing”.

The hysterical thing about this observation is that failure to target downmarket pupil underachievement was directed by Gove and his allies at Ofsted not the NUT. In this manner do the pen-pushers survive.

This tactic is enabling the survival of one of the most pointless and expensive organisations in the Realm: Ofsted had a budget of £230 million last year, and employed just under 2,200 people.

Perhaps a major reason none of these shock-troops found examples  of teacher engagement with White Underclass is that they were far too busy inspecting fences. Trite and cheap? Not a bit of it. Take, for instance, Ofsted’s latest blitz on preschool nurseries.

The main preschool centre in Chard, Somerset was threatened with closure late last year after a visit from inspectors. The criticisms were described by a local mother as “really very minor”, so I checked them out.

The first was that an inspector saw a kid open another’s sandwich as he asked her what was in it. This was reported as a serious cross-contamination health issue. The other was the school’s grass, which had been cut by teacher volunteers a few millimetres higher than Ofsted liked. The resultant lawn was recorded as ‘a major health and safety lapse’.

Before the usual ‘tiny minority’ gonks write in, let me point out something that is now national preschool policy thanks to such insanely anal observations: preschool staff are not allowed under any circumstances to tie kids’ legs together for three-legged races any more. I mean good grief, they might fall over.

The Dorset seaside resort of Lyme Regis now has no State preschool at all thanks to Ofsted. The only one that there was also hasn’t had a manager for four months: she’s been off work thanks to the stress of dealing with Ofsted. Anyway, it’s closed because a member of staff advising a mother on how to alter her behaviour towards a child ‘inadequately explained the socio-familial thinking behind the advice’.

It’s on a par with closing wards to meet Trust budget targets, this one.

But here’s a final, interesting fact: despite the continuing, regular scandals being unearthed in relation to preschool paedophilia, there is no recorded example of an Ofsted inspector ever detecting one. Lots of fences discovered to be five centimetres too short, but no perverts ever caught: not one.

Fundamental reform makes odd bedfellows of us all, but Michael Gove needs to revisit whether Ofsted’s survival can be justified. On May 28th last year, the brand new Education Minister thumped his tub bigtime, telling eager Coalitionistas that he would “free thousands of schools from the grip of Ofsted”.

A year ago, Gove told the electorate he would stop the Ofsted petty-detail nonsense. The nonsense is just as bad as ever. As he is an honest man, I’m sure we can expect him to tackle this oversight forthwith.