Britain’s school inspectors, known as Ofsted, perpetuate a “hidden cult of failure,” writes Harriet Sergeant in The Times. A policy researcher, Sergeant wrote a book on why working-class white and black Caribbean boys are doing so poorly in school.
One day last summer I found myself sharing a table with three seven-year-olds in an inner-city primary school. It was chaos. The three children were giggling, kicking each other and chatting. . . . Somewhere on the periphery of our vision, the teacher walked about, struggling to keep order. Elsewhere, behind our heads, hung a whiteboard with work on it — gleefully ignored.
. . . When I helped Cedric, the boy next to me, with his comprehension, I got a shock. He could barely read, let alone write an answer to the question. He shrugged, threw a rubber at the girl with the bobbles and was sent out of the class.
It was the last straw. I liked Cedric, who was obviously bright. I forgot I was meant to be an observer and confronted the teacher. Instead of sending children out, I said, why not improve discipline and concentration? We could rearrange the tables to face her and she could stand in front of the board. She looked at me with horror. “The pupils are working together, directing their own learning,” she said, her voice almost drowned by noise. Had I not appreciated what was going on?
Inspected schools fill out a self-evaluation report, a former inspector, “Amy,” tells Sergeant. Of 48,000 words, 12 deal with promoting, but not necessarily achieving, “basic skills” in literacy and numeracy.
Ofsted orders inspectors to concentrate on social welfare, behaviour and attendance. They have to check if children are “independent learners” in charge of their own education and if a child enjoys “ownership” of its work. Work should not be corrected in red ink by the teacher.
. . . “I spend more time looking in children’s lunch boxes then testing their literacy,” (Amy says). In the topsy-turvy world of state education a fizzy drink causes more horror than poor spelling.
Schools must show they’re promoting “community cohesion,” defined by religion, ethnicity, culture and economic class.
If most students are low-income or non-white — or if the school has too many boys — expectations are lowered by the “deprivation factor,” so the school can get a satisfactory rating despite low achievement.
In theory, school inspectors should be able to get beyond test scores to evaluate a school’s effectiveness and suggest ways to improve. But there’s not much point if the inspectors aren’t going to focus on how well children are learning reading, writing, math, history, geography, civics and science.