Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, says he is “spitting blood” over two articles published this week which say OFSTED is not fit for purpose. These articles were produced by what the BBC calls “two right wing think tanks”: Civitas and Policy Exchange. Among the criticisms featured in these pieces was the accusation that OFSTED has retreated to barmy 1960s fashions in educational theory.
This allegation is completely false. In fact, OFSTED has never departed from 1960s “thinking.”
It was Margaret Thatcher, egged on by Sir Keith Joseph, who dreamed up the idea that schools and teachers should be officially inspected. Certainly something had to be done as the schools were being ruined by the socialistic and self-interested policies of the teaching unions, especially that well-paid agitprop brigade the NUT. State schools had been failing for so long that even Jim Callaghan’s government noticed. But of course they were in hock to the unions and so they did little to mitigate a deterioration so severe that it amounted to the wholesale deprivation of our children, and particularly children from less well off families. State education was effectually a form of child abuse, the 20th century equivalent of sending youngsters up chimneys.
The prevailing educational superstition was known as child-centred learning. According to this, all direct attempts by the teacher to inculcate knowledge, to inform – that is actually to do what he was being paid for, to teach – were disdained as authoritarian and right wing. “Fascist” was a buzz word in the NUT – only most of them couldn’t spell it. I was an RE teacher in a secondary school in Bolton in the 1970s and I saw the catastrophic consequences of this policy first hand. It meant that children did as they damn well liked. Many of the heavily-unionised teachers at the time were both ignorant and lazy. My classroom was next to that of the maths master who, hilariously, couldn’t add up his pupils’ dinner money. The system was suffocating and there was no way out, since Crosland, the education minister, had declared his intention to “destroy every f****** grammar school in the country.”
The left wing which claims to be on the side of the working class was thus complicit in the intellectual and social impoverishment of the poor.
What Maggie and Keith had in mind was the introduction of a few basic tests or criteria which would help promote standards and weed out bad practice. The teaching unions and the department of education ran rings around them from the start. And so the proposed inspection system was dead-born, wilfully strangled by ideology and a hegemonic bureaucracy which has grown ever more powerful. State education is as atrocious today as it was thirty or forty years ago. How else to describe it when even the education department admits that more than 40% of our children leave school, after eleven years of full time, free education, unable to read, write or count properly?