The recent progress of my school keeps pushing the analogy of the “Titanic” to the front of my mind, it’s headlong dash into hazardous waters brought to a panic strewn stand following the iceberg of OFSTED. It’s ultimate fate sealed but not immediately visible, the pretence that the ship can be saved as it settles deeper into the icy waters and the ultimate destruction of an institution in a terrible climax of chaos. This is why….
They came, they saw, they condemned.
It wasn’t a surprise to those who were looking ahead with un-fogged vision but it was overly harsh and riven with prejudice and selective evidence. OFSTED offer anecdotes to illustrate a view of a couple of individuals which form their devastating judgements. One petty example that chimes with the preconception of an inspector will be cited as proof of practice, the odd observation reinforcing the polemic. The kiss of the iceberg is too brief to examine the ship in full detail, a few key numbers have determined the damage before contact is even made. My school was pierced below the waterline in every compartment whilst most ‘on board’ barely noticed.
At first the ‘Ship’ glided on under its own momentum, the crew looked to the officers for emergency action but they seemed stunned into paralysis. Denial and despair seemed to be the policy. Then some signs of comprehension and damage control began; new behaviour monitoring (and classroom monitoring too), the officers left their offices and patrolled the corridors calling on lessons every day. Perhaps this event will lead to a better run ship. The crew saw hope.
It didn’t last long. There had been advisors “consultants” before the collision. They had told the officers that the ship was basically sound, that some minor alterations of course would ensure safe passage. When they first came they were researched by the crew who were shocked to find that they were “Captains” of ‘ships’ that had already sunk and that had abandoned ship just as it went down, then they had started their consultancy. [Always Google consultants.] They were not thrown overboard! They continued to dispense expensive ineffective advice, telling the Captain what he wanted to hear and confusing the path to possible salvage. Suddenly, they were joined by more, many more. They didn’t do any actual interacting with the customers, they just observed the crew and gave reports to the Captain.
The panic-driven nonsense began. All lessons would have lesson plans on a standard form to show observers that “more engaging lessons” were planned to improve behaviour (yes that was OFSTEDs demand), rapidly repeated work scrutiny would insist that books were more often inscribed with “advice to improve”, not sometimes but every time and that peer marking was always moderated by staff comment. The crew would show how they were ‘challenging’ Priority Passengers or PPs as they were known. The work of the crew would be observed several times a day to varying degree, any slip-ups would result in the dreaded “Support”. There would be more meetings to give orders and orders is what instructions now were. Any variance, laggardlyness or even disagreement would result in a charge for disciplinary action. This to show that the officers were now “effective in holding teachers to account”. This wasn’t simply tightening procedures and ensuring effective practice, it added several hours to each day’s work without any real improvement in performance. It came with changes generated by verbal comments by OFSTED inspectors which were not included in the report such as “I don’t see how you can meet the needs of each child in a mixed ability class”. The officers re-arranged all classes in line with the new orders.
We were ‘fiddling whilst Rome burned’. Deep below the structure was failing, the ship was settling deeper. Whilst salvage experts circled like grim vultures to see if they would buy the remains to re-float the ship, it was being deserted by crew and becoming ever more impotent at doing it’s designed job.
After the impact many took to the lifeboats. The old, the easily mobile and those who could afford to swim away. OFSTED cripple a school by announcing that the special measures madness will apply, discouraging all but the most desperate or dedicated from joining the crew and they forbid NQT. It makes replacing staff almost impossible. The crew consisted more and more of temporary transfers and stop-gap draftees. Those with a long term stake shrank to an ever more pressured, harried, exhausted and eventually sick core. There was talk of mutiny. Ringleaders from Unions were smuggled in and talk of strike began. The crew needed hope, inspiration and help: they got despair, oppression and demand. They became less effective by the hour.
Drowning on deck:
I may seem as an opponent of hope and harbinger of doom but I know what will happen in the summer. The only chance of salvation is a miraculous jump in results. That vision is a mirage. Deep below, the water is flooding compartment after compartment and, although the ‘ship’ looks as if it will still float, it is sinking fast. Meanwhile I am ‘drowning’ under the pressure; becoming almost incompetent myself as I try to meet every demand. I am slipping under and I haven’t even got wet yet.
I will let you know how it feels to ride the ship down (or drown).