Lesson 92. The Slough of Despond

Lesson 92 on Disillusion


After all the pressure and anxiety, then the overwhelming sense of relief, everything went flat.

Mr TopJunior’s reaction was to clear his room of everything to do with Ofsted.  Now the inspectors had gone, he felt free to say how angry the whole experience had made him.  The schedule for inspection had meant he had never been seen teaching his specialist subjects, and he had only ever been visited for partial lessons.

In vain I argued that he was manifestly competent, so there was no need for them to hang around.  He had experienced it as personally dismissive and disrespectful of his pupils for somebody to just walk in and out of their lesson without a word. And then, on the basis of barely 20 minutes observation, to pass judgement on them.

He couldn’t place any value their comments.  He cared so much about his work and invested such careful planning into it. He wanted his pupils to feel their efforts had been recognised. He felt let down.  He was an honest, positive person.  He’d never been cynical, but the inspection had soured his views.

It had been destructive of his sense of professional worth. He couldn’t feel he or his pupils mattered in the process. 

Harder than that to bear, were the negative comments contained in the detail of the report, to which he felt he had contributed.

The government’s pet priority that year was the importance of Standard English, so the inspectors had homed in on the use of local dialect in the classroom.  It had been critically noted that the staff had been heard to use colloquial words and phrases, which failed to provide a good role model for the children.

I had been furious about this. None of the inspectors had any expertise in the theory or practice of language learning, or of working in a multilingual environment.  They were simply toeing the party line. It was a politically required, shallow judgement.

The head just ignored it, and the rest of the staff weren’t too bothered either.  They hadn’t any intention of changing.  The general feeling was that the inspectors had to find something bad to say, and it could have been worse. 

The school worked in two languages, official standard English and the local vernacular. Different situations and contexts necessitated the use of one or the other. Words of comfort or reprimand were normally in the vernacular, praise in either depending on whether it was public or private, instructions in standard English, with a translation if necessary in the younger groups. Who on earth was going to be bothered about them saying “You’ll get wrong!” instead of “You will find yourself in trouble, if you carry on with that behaviour, young man!”

But Mr TopJuniors felt diminished by this slur on his background and professionalism.  It reinforced his suspicion that, despite his strengths, he wouldn’t ever fit the government’s approved teacher template.