As a disillusioned former English teacher, I miss talking to teenagers about books. But I also rejoice in my freedom from the dreaded Ofsted. At first glance, Ofsted’s new inspection framework might promise a breath of fresh air to teachers suffocating under a pile of data. Assessment will in future be judged as part of the more open ‘quality of education’ area, rather than being a focus in its own right.
But a closer read reveals that Ofsted is fundamentally out of touch. ‘Behaviour and attitudes’ will also become one of the four areas judged. Schools will be encouraged to get ‘tough’ on disruptive students. In June last year, the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, outlined her approach: ‘I think it’s entirely appropriate to use sanctions, such as writing lines, community service in the school grounds like picking up litter, and school detentions.’ Spielman advocates rules and punishments set down by senior managers and even the state. But she has never been a teacher and so has never personally had to sanction a student. She comes from the hierarchical world of business. What do you do when pupils swear in your face instead of writing their lines, or when they don’t show up for detention? Should we exclude all those inconvenient souls?
Research by Barnardo’s has shown that excluded children are at serious risk of becoming involved in violence. And children are dying on the streets. In January, 14-year-old Jaden Moodie was brutally stabbed to death less than a mile away from a sixth-form college at which I once worked. Pupil Referral Units are overstretched and far from ideal in any case. Sarah Jones, chair of the All–Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime, has said: ‘Professionals talk about the “PRU to prison pipeline”.’
The NHS recorded a 14 per cent increase between 2017 and 2018 in ‘consultant episodes due to assault by a sharp object’.