Letters: The future of a school should not turn on a one-word Ofsted judgment

A bad Ofsted report can be devastating for a school, its staff and pupils - Ben Birchall/PA
A bad Ofsted report can be devastating for a school, its staff and pupils - Ben Birchall/PA

SIR – When I was an Ofsted inspector in the 1990s (Letters, March 25), a team of six or seven would go into a school for five days. Every teacher had lesson reviews, usually by more than one inspector. The quality of outcomes in children’s work were carefully perused, as were the policies and practices for the curriculum, and school management and leadership. Equally, the culture of the school, social well being of pupils and parent perceptions were appraised. An outline report was usually presented to the headteacher and governors on a Friday.

It was not a perfect system and was potentially stressful for the school. But my colleagues and I were able to celebrate excellent teaching and good practice through feedback, which many teachers had never received in their working lives.

However, government cutbacks and pressure to save money have reduced this systematic process to one in which one or two inspectors visit a school for one or two days. Statistics are all and tick boxes affirm what’s happening with little or no overview of teaching practice. The flavour of the day, such as inclusion and diversity, can determine that final one-word judgment.

Clearly inspection is necessary to hold schools and their governors to account on behalf of parents and the taxpayer. But these judgments must be based on substantial evidence. This cannot be communicated in one word.

Peter Williman
Chatteris, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Ofsted inspections were originally developed to go hand in hand with the national curriculum, in order to ensure that all schools were providing the same standard and quality of education, and that all pupils had the same opportunities for learning. They were not designed to provide league tables.

When I was a headmistress, I found that inspectors were thorough, keen to acknowledge what a school was doing well, and, where necessary, able to provide advice for improvements and sometimes even offer hands-on help. Today, inspectors apparently look at data, declare a one-word grade and walk away. This does nothing to ensure a good education for pupils.

Elizabeth Griffin

SIR – There has been much criticism of Ofsted’s choice of one word – from “outstanding” to “inadequate” – in reporting on a school’s performance. However, this headline summation is always accompanied by a clear and detailed explanation of the process used to reach that conclusion, including consultations with pupils, staff, parents and governors. The reports are then published online and are freely available for anyone to read.

Nobody particularly enjoys being subjected to scrutiny, and the process can be stressful, but inspectors are invariably respectful, considerate and above all fair. I know, because I have experienced several of them during my teaching career.

David Harrison
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

Probate lunchbreak

SIR – Fed up with waiting for more than a year to receive documents from the probate registry in Newcastle (Letters, March 25), I drove to the office – a journey of more than 200 miles. Once there, I was informed that the person dealing with my case was at lunch, so I said that I would come back.

After lunch, I was handed a brown envelope containing all the documentation I needed. No explanation was given for the delay.

Joan Tildesley
Solihull, Warwickshire

Dickensian details

SIR – While I share Louise Drummond’s concerns over the latest version of Great Expectations (Letters, March 25), she is wrong to see the BBC as following a trend – it set the trend for rewriting classics. I never understand why programme-makers go to so much trouble and expense to hide aerials, road markings and watches in period dramas, yet seem happy to include people and dialogue not of the age.

Hugh Rivington
Brettenham, Suffolk

SIR – One of the most delightful aspects of The Muppet Christmas Carol is its faithful adherence to Dickens’s original text. It still manages to be one of the most original retellings of the story.

Gareth Burnell
Hindringham, Norfolk

SIR – As an aspiring crime writer, I welcome the latest decision to rework Agatha Christie’s novels to suit modern sensitivities (report, March 26).

Presumably all reference to violence and cruelty will now have to be expunged from the genre. This makes characterisation and plot so very much simpler for a new writer. My own novel will read: “It was a sunny day, nobody said or did anything beastly.”

Robert Claxton
Colchester, Essex

Office tipples

SIR – Gail Young (Letters, March 24) was missing out if alcohol was never allowed in her office

Over a working life of 46 years and across several careers, I have always found a bottle of whisky or brandy and a couple of tumblers nestling in a filing cabinet somewhere. It allows an opportunity to relax at the end of a testing day, offers support in times of crisis and a way to celebrate with colleagues and customers alike.

Shirley Batten-Smith
Watford, Hertfordshire

John Lewis's leadership

SIR – Mary Portas hits the nail on the head in her critique of the approach taken by Dame Sharon White in running the John Lewis Partnership (report, March 25).

I joined John Lewis as a trainee in 1980 and was deeply impressed with the ethical structure and the dazzling success of the brand through the 1980s and 1990s. Its customers loved both the department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, which had a cachet that its competitors could only dream about. Partners (employees) were paid handsome salaries and bonuses, customers delighted in the service and the concept seemed impregnable. Vash (value, assortment, service and honesty) was the management mantra and “never knowingly undersold” sent a clear message of confidence to competitors.

Alas, egotistical senior management wrecked the business with reckless expansion and costly gimmicks. Key lower management levels were done away with and staff uniforms abandoned in a hopeless quest to be more like other businesses. The online offer was too late in the day and both sides spiralled downwards as new competitors seized the John Lewis market, and sales, service and partner motivation ebbed away.

Unless it makes drastic changes, I see little future for Britain’s once favourite retailer.

Arthur V Marment
Witney, Oxfordshire

SIR – I agree wholeheartedly with Mary Portas; John Lewis is a shop with soul. We have made most of our large household purchases there in our 52 years of marriage and have received amazing service over the years.

I particularly remember the time when our wallpaper order was delayed and would be too late for our decorators. John Lewis staff phoned round all their branches, sourced enough rolls and had them sent by taxi to our home the next day.

Service like that is priceless.

Elaine Gilmore
Yeovil, Somerset

SIR – I love Peter Jones so much that I have told my daughters I wish to have my ashes scattered there. However, I now worry that, when my time comes, it will no longer exist.

I have been a PJ customer nearly all my life. When I was first pregnant, a patient member of staff gave me invaluable advice on which pram to buy, and how many vests, blankets and terry nappies I would need.

On another occasion, when I asked which toaster I should choose from the vast array, I was recommended a model that served me well for years.

However, when my husband recently asked a staff member for advice about a new smart television, the young man said he was not familiar with the model and would have to ask his manager. He called across the shop to his colleague, who shouted back: “Tell him to look online.”

Sadly, that says it all.

Louise Steidl
London SW18

Carnivorous squirrels

SIR – Grey squirrels (Letters, March 25) have always been omnivores. Small birds and eggs are part of their very eclectic diet. It is one reason why they have been such successful colonisers.

Adrian Waller
Woodsetts, South Yorkshire

SIR – Shortly after the war my mother went to a dinner party. Meat was still in short supply, but the generous stew was pronounced excellent. Only at the end were the guests told they had eaten grey squirrel. So this non-native species can be put to good use.

Crispin Caldicott
Warkworth, Auckland, New Zealand

Dambuster squadron's base should be preserved

Daredevils: wing walkers demonstrate their skills at the 2017 Scampton Air Show - alamy
Daredevils: wing walkers demonstrate their skills at the 2017 Scampton Air Show - alamy

SIR – I was horrified to read (report, March 21) of the plan to turn RAF Scampton, formerly the base of 617 Squadron, into a camp for refugees. I realise that such camps are needed, but to trample on our country’s history in this way is unforgivable.

I was 10 years old when a telegram arrived saying that my uncle Jack (Flight Sergeant John Marriott DFM) was missing in action. The family had not known that he was on operations at the time, but he was actually in what later became known as the Dambusters’ squadron.

Four years ago I attended the dedication of a memorial on the crash site of his plane, in a field on the outskirts of Emmerich in Germany. I believe it was the last Dambuster crash site to be found.

It is ironic that the country that suffered from the raid has more sense of history than the country that instigated it. Let’s hope RAF Scampton is preserved.

Norma Bagshaw
Marple Bridge, Cheshire   

Junior doctors' pay demands are unrealistic

SIR – Junior doctors want a 35 per cent increase in their pay (report, March 24), the amount needed to restore their pay to the equivalent of what it was some 15 years ago. But this argument is the same for many sections of workers in this country, and is simply not sustainable at the present time.

I qualified in the mid-1960s, just when taking the Hippocratic Oath on qualifying was being relaxed, and thus never got to swear those sensitive and sensible words. Nonetheless, I always had an underlying belief that the oath should stop me from going on strike, as there would inevitably be a degree of harm sustained by my patients, and the first line of the oath states that one should do no harm. I remain pleased that I have long since retired.

Dr Malcolm Freeth
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – As a recently retired hospital consultant, I think the potential new pension tax benefits would not draw me back in (Comment, March 19). Towards the end of my career, I felt that the NHS had become an unpleasant place to work. After 32 years’ service I received no official thank you from my employers, but a great send off from colleagues.

The next proposed junior doctors’ strike is clearly intended to cause maximum harm to the already struggling NHS. A four-day walkout, after a long Bank Holiday weekend, is frankly an outrage. Hospitals have always struggled after long weekends. I have much sympathy for junior doctors’ cause, but not their actions.

Just prior to retirement I was unfortunate enough to find myself in a local A&E department in the middle of the night. It was a horrific experience, and made me ashamed to work for the NHS. Now I feel more ashamed by the actions of NHS staff.

Dr Rosalind Mills
Leeds, West Yorkshire   

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