During tea-time my 11 year old provided me with the highlights of her day. Usually this takes an hour or so, whereas with my lad – even if ISIS had turned up in the middle of Indoor PE and created a hostage situation in the hall – I’d be lucky to hear about it. But anyway, the girl started telling me all about the fact that her after-school childminder was reet chipper because she “got a great result in her OXFAM inspection!”
I corrected her use of the word ‘OXFAM’, reminding her of the term ‘Ofsted’, it’s aims and objectives, mission statement and long-term strategic plan. (Okay – I exaggerate.) After that, the conversation went something like this:
HER: So Cameron and his lot pay people to come to schools and snoop on us all? That’s well out of order! I didn’t know that that happened!
ME: You do. We’ve had this conversation before. You’ve been at school through at least three different Ofsted inspections. Don’t you remember telling me about the teacher’s ‘different smile’ for the inspector?
HER: Oh yeah! Ha! Mrs [Nameless] had such a different face and smile and voice for visitors from outside to our school, than the ones she used for us.
ME: Well, to be honest, most grown-ups do that from time to time when faced with the fear of public humiliation, loss of career and the cost of paying for the anti-depressants.
HER: The inspectors – are they horrible then?
ME: No. Most of them are very nice. They were when I’ve dealt with them, anyway.
HER: Oh! So how did that happen? You don’t normally like to come anywhere near school! You tell Dad that it makes you feel ill and that you’d rather stab a knitting needle in your eye!
ME: I never do!
HER: You did! You said it the other week and I remember because you had a fork in your hand and you were doing this (mimics me pretending to stab myself in the eye with a piece of cutlery.)
ME: Well, alright. But that’s not because of your school. I love your school. And that’s why I like to speak to the inspectors. To tell them the specific bits that I really rate.
HER: So … even though everyone else is scared of them – were they nice to you?
ME: Well, they always seem a bit guarded at first. Because if a parent contacts them of their own accord, they assume that they are going to get a nasty old moan and horrible things said about the school.
HER: So they’re shocked that you say lovely things about a school?
HER: Bet they think just that you’re being a right old crawly-crawly bum-lick for the school.
ME: Don’t be rude. And I feel sorry for them too. The inspectors. They’ve got a ridiculous system of regulation that they have to wield and the criteria for assessment is constantly changing.
HER: Speak normal.
ME: Well… there’s a huge long list of things that a school or a childminder has to do in order to get top marks. And if they miss out on only one or two of them, they won’t get 100%.
ME: Right. Let’s google the ones that the teachers have to demonstrate. (I google.) Ruddy Nora! There’s millions of them! No wonder the poor buggers always look so knackered!
HER: Stop swearing. Grandma doesn’t like it
ME: Well… here’s one of the more ‘hard to prove’ ones. It says here that a teacher has to prove that their kids in the classroom feel ‘safe and valued’ by them.
HER: That makes sense. But they have about 30 kids. And what if one of them hated their teacher? Or just felt not-valued. They can’t prove that sort of thing! Like, for example – YOU say that you value me and love me and all that but you’re always….
ME: (interrupts) And look – here’s the list for childminders. In their home-setting, a childminder has to provide an area for ‘outside mark-making.’ That’s just insane. That’s just encouraging the little sods to grow up to become graffiti hoodlums!
HER: So my childminder wouldn’t get top marks if she didn’t let my brother scribble all over the garage door with a biro?
ME: Something like that.
We ended our very adult-conversation by concluding that some form of regulation for those who we palm our kids off to is a necessary evil. But that it’s all gotten very much out of hand these days.
And we decided that the world would be much better place to live in if the folk from OXFAM *did* regulate childcare and educational provision instead of Ofsted, after all. i.e.
“Greenway Junior School failed to meet ‘OXFAM Outstanding status’ because several children were found to be wearing new school uniforms and NOT hand-me downs! This meant that the resulting money saved and sent to Namibia for the children’s school uniform and clothes in that country was reduced considerably. Shame on you.”
“This childminder is rated as ‘OXFAM Improving’ because she drives a Hummer, which directly goes against our carbon-neutral policy and indirectly harms the indigenous people living in the Amazon basin. ‘Good’ status will be re-instated if she takes the children to school on horseback or via unicycle.”