Crikey, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) have been busy in recent weeks…

After some cracking research into the various stresses and strains of students, mental health problems among teachers and even the erosion of family identities, their annual conference has thrown up even more in the way of fearless promotion of this moderate union that carries a membership of over 120,000 teachers and staff over the UK.

Firstly, Shadow Education Secretary Tristam Hunt went on record at the conference saying that inset days were ‘baffling’ and parents needed more clarity.  Then, as parents found out if their kids are being given first choices on primary schools, the General Secretary Dr Mary Bousted attacked Michael Gove (current Education Secretary) for not ensuring there are enough places available for primary school kids – something that we are only too familiar with.

This was followed by more, larger, salvoes.  Firstly, there was a jab at the state of the performance-based pay for teachers.  According to the ATL, many young teachers are finding it tough to get a mortgage because of the uncertainty over their pay.  Aligning themselves closer towards some of the other teacher’s unions out there, they have been concerned about the lack of security in wages and are troubled at the real-term loss of 12% in wages, despite government claims that it would allow headteachers to pay out more for the best.

Then, for the first time, they took aim at Ofsted.

This particular battle has been raging for quite a while now as Ofsted continue to come under heavy criticism from teachers, headteachers, parents, think-tanks and unions.  Even the more moderate ATL has decided that enough is enough and something has to change.

Dr Bousted, in her conference speech, argued that schools were so focussed on having an ‘inspection-ready’ school that it “destroyed collaboration.”  There were claims made that schools were so obsessed by the idea of passing these inspections with flying colours that teachers spent so long creating lesson plans and frameworks that the actual idea of teaching was practically out of the window.

She also added that the inspection teams had to be properly trained and assessed to ensure that inspections were of a good quality.  This echoes recommendations made by the think-tank Policy Exchange last month, who said that all inspectors should pass an accreditation exam before they start work.

Woah woah, hang on a second… Now, I apologise for missing this piece of information the first time but am I missing something again here?  Surely the idea that inspectors are actually qualified was a given, right?  I mean, I would have thought someone actually proved that they knew what they were doing before they were allowed to perform their duties.  If this is actually the case and inspectors just fill out their personal details and get let out into schools… well, frankly I find that disgraceful.

Obviously, these inspectors are there to assess the quality of the schools being checked, which is no bad thing.  A better school will give a better education, that is obvious.  But to not even be qualified as such surely defeats the object and turns it into a bit of a lottery.

Dr Bousted argues that it is indeed a lottery – one team of inspectors could be excellent, the other clueless, for instance.  Policy Exchange came to the same conclusion by asking over 300 headteachers for their opinion on the matter, so it’s evidently not just me then.

Considering the Policy Exchange think-tank is normally a right-wing, Conservative-supporting group of individuals, something is clearly going badly wrong at Ofsted’s office.

Ofsted have responded to the comments by saying that they have helped improved the standard of schools over the last 21 years.  They said that “we have toughened our inspection framework over recent years and schools are rising to the challenge.” I’m sorry, but isn’t that doing nothing more than reinforcing the major issue at hand here?  It emphasises the disastrous nature of the inspections – schools are rising to the so-called challenge yes, but isn’t that just making schools even more inspection-oriented and missing the point of actual teaching?

It’s also all very well saying that the framework is tougher, but if the inspectors aren’t actually qualified and trained to do their job then surely this tougher framework they speak of is going to be wasted?  That’s like giving a load of unqualified mechanics a new list of rules for passing or failing a car’s MOT – alright so in theory it’s going to make the cars safer but not if the mechanics aren’t trained enough to notice when there’s a dangerous fault.

In January, Ofsted came out with all guns blazing as their Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw blasted the Department for Education over claims that Education Secretary Michael Gove was turning the department and think-tanks against him.  Even sources close to Mr Gove denied that this was happening – independent think-tank Policy Exchange came out and said opinions were their own.  Civitas, one of the organisations involved in the row, jumped to Mr Gove’s defence and said they had misgivings about Ofsted and it’s management – but the idea that Mr Gove was directing the criticism was ‘some way off the mark.’  Blimey, someone in the education world actually jumping to support Michael Gove?

Clearly, the evidence is piling up against Ofsted and, no matter what it seems to believe is warranting such criticism, it is obvious that it’s not going to stop until there is serious reform.  Ofsted is clearly causing so many problems in schools and the idea that their inspectors aren’t even qualified seems utterly insane.  Teachers are losing sight of why they are really working (no criticism of teachers themselves of course, they’re merely being forced into a system) and all of a sudden the entire education system is beginning to look like a disaster.

Why not cut down on the number of inspectors – make sure they’re actually qualified and have a set standard they are expected to follow? And, most of all, change the mentality of schools to one that actually promotes learning and not aimless targets.






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