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Dalton's Diary

A few years ago there was a wonderful record (remember those?) called "You Don't Have to be Jewish". On my favourite track, a daughter pours out her troubles to her mother. Her problems are so typical; sick children, broken-down car, 12 ladies coming for lunch, no food in the house.

Her mother's reactions are so predictable - "Sweetheart, I'll walk the 10 blocks to your house with the shopping". Only when the husband is mentioned - "Who's Paul?" - does the awful truth dawn. Sweetheart has got a wrong number, and has been talking to someone else's Yiddisher Mamma. There is a long pause before she utters the saddest words in the English language. "Does that mean you're not coming?"

I feel much the same about our OFSTED inspectors. After all our hard work in preparation for their visit, the news that the whole operation is to be scaled down is a bitter blow. We were going to be so good, and now they are not coming.

Of course the plan is still to complete the first round of inspections, but the primary phase is running well behind schedule already. It seems unlikely they will reach a small unprofitable primary like mine before the Millennium. And after the first phase is completed, it is envisaged that only problem schools will be revisited on the original four-yearly cycle for full inspections. A quick look round will do for the rest of us.

This compounds the nonsense of the system as it already exists - where the onus for seeing that the post-inspection action plan is properly implemented rests, so the Reggie at my son's school informed us, on the parents. Progress on the plan must be detailed in the governors' report and discussed at the annual meeting. And we all know how challenging, dynamic and developmental they can be, don't we?

The only real impetus to make changes was the prospect of a return visit four years later and, even then, a new team of inspectors might have different priorities and axes of their own to grind. Without the threat of a second inspection, the action plan is only likely to be rigorously implemented if it was what the school intended to do anyway.

But let's try to look on the bright side. As everyone knows, OFSTED inspections in themselves are of very little value - it is preparing for their visit that is the really useful exercise. And we can all go on doing that, whether they are coming or not. All the benefits without the stress.

I apply this principle to my domestic life. Every four years I pretend I am moving house. I turn out every drawer and cupboard and ask myself sternly "If you were moving, would you really take that?" Piles of old Christmas cards, skirts from the days when I had a waist, mountains of DFEE circulars are all ruthlessly binned.

In the same way, having spring-cleaned and polished our policies, overhauled our financial procedures, planned our curriculum in meticulous details and learned to recite the criteria for successful teaching and learning, we can keep ourselves on our toes by imagining we are about to be inspected every four years. "Primary Reggie" will became a mythical bogie man, never actually seen but used to frighten newly-appointed governors and teachers, and occasionally small children.

In fact, if the nice people at OFSTED could just arrange to send us the money they will save by not inspecting us, they can cross us off their worry list. Honestly, we'll be just fine. We might even be able to afford an extra teacher.

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