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Inspections over, more assessment ahead

It is time to look back over the joys of the passing session and to prepare for the fast approaching new one.

Our biggest event of the year had to be our full school inspection, that occasion when the brown envelope hits your desk. Well, that is the first myth. In place of a brown envelope came two blue and white boxes delivered by courier from HM Inspectorate of Education.

That was followed by a telephone call from the managing inspector to confirm arrangements.

At that point I heard about one head who got the telephone call from the managing inspector and met it with stunned silence. The janitor had taken delivery of the HMIE boxes, thought they were art equipment and had put them safely into the art cupboard. A few days of preparation were lost there.

We had no such excuse and set about making our preparations.

In fact, it wasn't so much one inspection that we had, more like two. There is much to prepare for a primary school inspection and much for a nursery inspection. Naturally everyone wants the head to be closely involved, but when both inspections come at once, you end up dividing the head and depute as they rush around preparing paperwork. How other heads fare when they have no depute, I don't know.

Why do both inspections have to happen in the same week? What does HMIE gain?

If there could be a few weeks between them, our pupils would gain from having more attention from their head and depute. I felt as if I hardly saw a child, teacher or depute until the paperwork was ready and sent off.

In some ways the senior management team's major input is over when that stage is reached. We promised ourselves that our visitors would see a snapshot of the school at work without burning the midnight oil. Only two members of staff sneaked in on the Friday evening until 10pm, because the Boys Brigade were in and so they could gain access.

I was quite shocked by one of my own reactions. This is our school; it belongs to the children, their parents, the staff, the wider community and, of course, the authority. That week it felt as if we had been taken over by the inspectors and most people behaved very differently. As we came to the end of the week, we just wanted our visitors to go and leave our school to us once again.

It seemed like a very long time later that we received the published report and everyone was delighted, not least that it would be an age before the next inspection, or so we thought. Within a week we had news of a best practice inspection of PE. Life goes on.

Looking forward to next session, I welcome the HMIE state of the nation report, which will point the way ahead for us all. I thought that was what Assessment is for Learning would do.

Assessment is for assessing and our teachers have been pleased to get practical advice, like some in Unlocking Formative Assessment, Shirley Clarke's useful book. Some staff are also very enthusiastic about the professional development which has been available for them to support AifL.

If we want to make a difference for each child, we need to reach out to more chartered teachers with such CPD.

I am still not clear what the Scottish Survey of Achievement assessments, which will replace national tests, will look like.

Personal learning plans are such a sensible idea but, again, I do hope that it will be possible to find practical solutions as to how they can be produced.

What is always true is that primary school staff will try hard to find answers to such problems to support pupils as best they can.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in Edinburghwww.queensferry-pri.edin.sch.ukComment to

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