Bill Laar is well known to readers of The TES from his column "An Inspector Writes" where he dispenses judicious advice to teachers and governors troubled by inspection. This book is a first-rate, densely packed, practical handbook, which will be of great assistance to help schools not only survive inspection, but profit and develop from it.
Although there are introductory chapters on mapping, responding to and managing the inspection process, the meat of the book is in the chapters covering all sections of the Office for Standards in Education inspection framework.
Each chapter follows a set format: Bill Laar details the "inspection focus", the specific requirements upon inspectors for evaluating and reporting upon that aspect of the framework and then the criteria which form the basis for arriving at judgments.
He comments generally and then sets out good practice. Each chapter then concludes with a checklist for reflection and action. Unlike many inspection handbooks, his gives advice which is as well rooted in primary practice as it is in secondary.
The acid test for a practical handbook of this type is whether it is helpful and easy to use. This book certainly is. Headteachers will find it of great assistance in preparing themselves, staff, governors and parents for an inspection.
In one sense this book is two years too late. With well over three-quarters of secondary schools inspected and a good number of primary and special schools dispatched, the immediate demand for the book may be diminishing. However, for schools preparing for Ofsted, even for the second time around, it is an excellent purchase. It will also be of particular use to those schools identified as needing special measures. The sound advice in this book may well get them off the hook.
There is, however, a much broader constituency for this book. The OFSTED handbook is the best available guide for headteachers and governors on how to devise effective school management systems. It is however essentially mechanistic. Schools can complement the OFSTED model with Bill Laar's clear guidance, interpretations and checklists to devise in-service training materials, in their quality assurance work and to pursue their own agenda through their own review and development. Whether the future agenda is to be the continuation of external inspection or a new emphasis on school self-evaluation, clear, sound advice like this will always be valuable.
* The writer is headteacher of the Nobel School, Stevenage, Herts.