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Coping with plain beige envelopes

Spare a thought for us next Monday when our long-awaited OFSTED inspection begins. I suppose I should be trembling at the knees - but I'm not. Concerned, yes, but only that all our hard work is reflected fairly and that OFSTED concentrates on developing the school's many positive aspects.

But with all the form filling and documentation required it's easy to lose sight of the purpose of inspections - namely to raise the standard of education by increasing the number of learning opportunities within the systemschool.

As a head with an inspection pending I've tried to recognise and hold on to those positives - here's my list which may be useful to others who are shortly to receive the dreaded "beige" envelope.

* Everyone is having to work towards a whole school approach. Colleagues are far more aware of where their children have come from in terms of learning experiences, where they should be and where they need to get to.

* Our planning and general organisation has become much tighter. The detail has created a much clearer picture of what is likely to be delivered - and how.

* Greater staff involvement in drawing up our school development plan and termly action plans means there is greater consistency, leading to greater ownership and consequently a rise in the general ethos throughout the school.

* Our budgeting has become more efficient. We have been able to turn a large deficit around to a carry forward for the first time since my appointment.

* There has been much in the way of LEA support - pitched at the right level (you need to be prepared to ask when you need help).

* Greater emphasis on a single curriculum subject each year (last year it was geography, this year it's English, previous years have seen a focus on mathematics and science) - has made the national curriculum more manageable.

* Development of parentchild workshops have led to our inclusion in the Staffordshire Home School Partnership programme.

* Working with local businesses, we've set up and run a "healthier eating" tuck shop.

* Working with Keele University to develop their PGCE associate partnership programme gave us two extremely able extra intending teachers (we even received payment for our troubles). It involved a lot of hard work but raised the credibility of two excellent classroom practitioners.

* We've designed and built a pond, nature and weather station area as a natural resource in our school grounds involving the Newcastle Countryside Project and the community. We've also successfully bid for a grant to have an artist-in-residence.

I'd like to think that somewhere there was an exhaustive list of positives in mind when the OFSTED system was set up - but it seems to have got lost along the way. I hope ours is useful to others - but please give us a wide berth next week!

Paul Vale is headteacher of Heathcote CP School, Stoke on Trent, Staffs.

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