Ofsted inspectors, go home to your families. There are better solutions – and you are not part of them

We are creatures of Darwin. We adapt to the world we live in, the air we breathe. Circumstances shape us. We are condemned by necessity to pursue our interests and to put our values on the back-burner – or back from the fray of daily struggle to get by. Too often we strive to do what is useful, irrespective of whether it is good. These are not times in which we can claim virtue in all we do. Economics dictates our roles and our actions and so we all follow the pseudo-science of doing things ‘right’ even though there is no moral destination in sight. 

Our slavery to this foul reality induces in me a high level of tolerance for people whose actions might hurt. I know that people at work do stuff that they regret, feel privately shamed by, look forward to a time when their beliefs and actions are in alignment. They may see no alternative, or they make that dread calculation that a casualty here and a casualty there is, in the end, for the greater good. It never is. Ever. 

But where are the limits of this tolerance? What is its contingent reality? Does my tolerance for Darwinian necessity extend to those who work in positions of authority and wield their power in ways that protect the public interest but damage people’s lives – such a common occurrence in today’s organisations? Does my tolerance extend to the soldier who joined up in flight from unemployment and social stress and ends up on the killing fields of third-world poverty? To the politician with a good heart but mistaken beliefs and corrupted advice? Frequently, yes – but it is case-made. I recognise the trap we are in. It all depends on local circumstances. 

But there are rules, moral norms. We do live in a society, and ‘society’ is defined by collective norms and expectations – that’s what holds it together. Do no harm–even if it means walking away – expressed universally in religion, humanism and common spiritual allegiance, the ultimate reduction of the 10 Commandments. This, surely, is the gold standard, and if we have to deviate from it we had better have good reason. We had better have solid evidence of an entrapment that allows us no alternative. 

So – does my tolerance extend to Ofsted inspectors? There is no doubt – none – that Ofsted causes damage. It harms people’s wellbeing, careers, educational aspirations. It is now known publicly and widely that Ofsted is sometimes one of the causes of suicide. But, then, it plays a vital part in informing parents, in helping them make life-changing decisions for their children. Ofsted advances the cause of education and, thereby, the muscular strength of our country in global competition for scarce resources. Is this good reason? Is this Darwinian necessity?

No it is not. There is no entrapment. The model that requires Ofsted inspectors to act in certain ways, to promote certain ideologies, is questionable. In my own view (see SCHOOL: AN EXPOSÉ – Amazon) that model is egregiously unethical and invalid. This is a militaristic approach to forcing compliance and has nothing to do with educational quality or improvement. It takes little open-minded reflection to see this. There is gainful employment elsewhere. There are other models, not least New Zealand’s negotiated/collaborative/facilitative approach to school review, and Scandinavian models of school-to-school pairing in seeking improvement in the practice of education. There are robust models of self-appraisal and development, and of a consortium or conference approach to self-review as in Reggio Emilia schools, Montessori and Steiner education. The original inspectors of schools (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate – HMI) was a more educational and humanistic approach to deliberating over the contemporary quality of education. We could even countenance leaving schools to get on with the job, devising their own means of determining the shifting quality of their education so long as they have an inclusive and verifiable framework for doing so. 

So there is no entrapment by necessity. Ofsted inspectors – you do not qualify for tolerance, for the allowances of circumstance. What you do is a chosen option, and it causes harm – to teachers, children, to the integrity of schooling and, in the end, to our commonwealth. The recent and awful death of Ruth Perry gives you a measure of the balance between the good you might do and the harm you certainly do. Read that measure. Reflect. Research. Resign. You are agents of irreparable damage.

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