Dear Ofsted.

There’s a certain, very famous Longfellow poem I expect you’re familiar with (although, hang on, Gove’s not fond of American literature, is he?):

There was a little girl,

Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very good indeed,

But when she was bad she was horrid.

While I can’t lay claim to curly hair (without the assistance of heated appliances, or else a particularly sweaty night) I think there’s some relevance, for me personally, in the last three lines.

I’m a fairly mild sort of person most of the time. I wouldn’t say I was good, exactly; but most of my acquaintances would likely be willing to chuck a ‘nice’ in my direction. Sometimes I can be very nice. When the mood takes me. I’m usually kind. I find kind things to say down the back of the sofa when there isn’t any obvious kindness immediately to hand. I smile at animals in the street. I say cheerful things about the weather to passing neighbours, even if those neighbours have passed my car on more than one occasion with the express aim of checking the date on my tax disc.

But, you know what? Don’t piss me off.

Don’t piss me off because, believe me, I will argue till the cows come home, and that first generation of cows will have withered and died and in fact their grandchildren will also have long been home and quietly resting in fields of chewed grass by the time I finally shut my gob.

Such massive love for Lucy in Peanuts, I even named my daughter after her.

Such massive love for Lucy in Peanuts, I even named my daughter after her.

I just like the last word. Always have; always will.

I think it’s a consequence of growing up with Tory parents. (Although, happy day, Mum has now defected to Labour.)

Before I explain, let me first bring some shame on my head by confessing to something:

Until the age of nine I, too, was a Tory.

Just because, you know, my parents were. And then my middle school held a mini election in class. We listened to the parties’ policies and made our considered nine-year-old decisions and, after hearing the arguments, the party I voted for was… Ecology. (1980s incarnation of the Greens.) This was a surprise to me. My thoughts and feelings weren’t, after all, that similar to my mum’s and dad’s in this respect. I actually had my own opinions. And they were strident. And natural-seeming. They seemed to have formed the way cliffs do, for instance – without even meaning to; in response to the buffeting of the world around them – or much as a freshly rinsed white linen sheet (in my house) will attract, by the laws of inevitability (and Sod), a black cluster of cat hair within twenty-five seconds of leaving the washing machine, even if both cats are currently outside. It’s a conundrum.

What was I talking about?

Ah, yes. Well, I grew up arguing, you see. I was hot-headed and angry, and so was my dad, and we’d clash about twelve times a minute when I lived at home, because I cannot stand (just cannot stand) being told what to do, or to think. And it may be that I do it anyway, what you want me to do, but – trust me – the resentment is building, and one day, whether it’s a giant ding dong (not as pleasant as it sounds) or the metaphorical scissoring of your life from mine (like an angry divorcee with the family photo album), you are going to know about it.

Ofsted, you have been pushing me for a while now. I’ve said nothing. Or next to nothing. In fact, I semi-defended you on the radio a few months ago (‘I’ve got no particular beef with Ofsted’, I think were the words), but you – and the government that has hold of your reins – is really beginning to piss me off now. First you helped capsize my daughter’s school with your doom-mongering of the knee-jerk variety (all your reports are knee-jerk, dear Ofsted, because you simply don’t spend long enough to make reports of a more considered variety), and now you’re coming for adult education.

Let’s stop for a minute and talk briefly about the education of adults.

How do you define an adult?

The dictionary says ‘person who is fully grown or developed’. Immediately, see, we’re in murky waters, because ‘growing’ and ‘developing’ are so open to (mis)interpretation. I’m 41 and still not sure I’m a grown-up. It’s one of those things that’s hard to define.

Something else that’s hard to define? Enjoyment. According to Ofsted, it isn’t enough for my learners to enjoy my classes; there has to be evidence of achievement on a scale from one to five, or one to ten (it keeps changing), and something called a RARPA (I still don’t know what that stands for) that may or may not be the same as the ROA (or possibly the ILP) and learners must self-assess themselves in order to evidence achievement against a range of SMART targets (don’t ask), and if you replace the words ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’ (in the following clip) with ‘evidencing’ and ‘achieving’ you’ll have a good idea of the massive balls that teachers are forced to regurgitate, over and over again, for the benefit of Ofsted, because Ofsted have no real way of assessing the success or failure of actual teaching. The only thing Ofsted know how to assess is paperwork.

In my classes I teach consenting adults. I say consenting because everyone’s here, primarily, to enjoy themselves. Yes, they want to learn something – and they will learn something, I guarantee it; or else! – but that something can’t always be easily proven in any meaningful sense. They have fun. We get on. As a person I suck in a number of ways, but I think, as a teacher, I’m good at making people welcome. How would Ofsted know? They wouldn’t. They’ve never once visited one of my classes. They’ve never seen one of my lesson plans. If they had, they wouldn’t like it…

I’m not meant to use these lesson plans anymore. We got slated by Ofsted a few months ago (more specifically, the management team were slated; hence, by association, the teaching has also been tarred… because them’s the rules). If you’ve worked in teaching in the last ten years you can probably picture the carnage. We can’t move for steering groups and rapid intervention teams and six-page lesson plans with space for each activity to be checked off against Ofsted’s Every Learner Matters criteria:

  • Be healthy – promoting excellent physical, mental, emotional and sexual health
  • Be safe – ensuring all learners stay safe from all forms of harm
  • Enjoy & achieve – making progress in learning and personal development
  • Make a positive contribution – developing self-confidence, social conscience and enterprise
  • Achieve economic wellbeing – preparing for financial independence

In my lesson plans, I’m supposed to achieve ‘number two’ (being safe) by ensuring my learners remove their bags from any gangways.

I’m actually supposed to write this into my lesson plan. Every week.

These are adult learners: professionals, past and present, with far greater economic wellbeing (for the most part) than the poorly-rewarded tutor who’s teaching them. It is really appropriate for me to make space in my lessons to help prepare an eighty year old retired policeman for financial independence?

I have yet to promote the sexual health of any learner, young or old.

As for three and four: come on! This is what you do your teacher training for. Once you’re trained, why can’t someone assess you (once, twice, thrice if you like) on probation – and once it’s been proven that (a) you’re not a massive bitch and (b) you do actually know, mostly, what you’re talking about, then leave you to get on with it. Would that be so crazy? You could have an appraisal once a year – you know, how they do in other jobs. I’ve had lots of other jobs: in shops, in offices, in restaurants… even a summer spent French polishing furniture for a pervert (don’t ask)… I don’t recall inspectors leaping from the woodwork to assess me, unannounced, in any of those jobs. (Although actually, in the latter case, an inspector might’ve helped.)

We have a peculiar new magazine called the Rising Standard (which I’m almost a hundred percent certain is what Nigel Farage calls his wang), and a red alert system to summon the rapid intervention team if a learner goes AWOL. It’s like a police state. I hate it.

I just want to teach. Is that too much to ask, Ofsted?