While teachers cannot predict when inspectors will visit their classrooms, the lessons that are observed will be timetabled (teachers will be delivering lessons they themselves have prepared, not ones that inspectors request). This is helpful, since, in theory at least, teachers could plan minutely everything they are going to teach, increasing the chance of being seen at their best.
There is always the possibility, of course, that things will go wrong in lessons and the best of intentions and the brightest of ideas fail to achieve what was intended. But even in the midst of apparent catastrophe, inspectors will find in careful planning evidence of the vital components of good teaching.
These will include: clear objectives, often related to programmes of study, possibly with links to what pupils have previously experienced and what they will encounter in the near future
provision for differentiation and formative assessment
indications of teaching and management styles
the activities groups engage in
the resources available
the way in which any classroom support will be used to advantage
the activities available to children who finish set work However far the lesson falls short of the teacher's expectations, such planning will go a long way to securing the sympathy and positive judgement of an inspector.
Many teachers will be aghast at the practical difficulties of conveying such a substantial body of information for one lesson, let alone having to do so for as many as 20 lessons, any of which might be inspected in a week (I have heard of a primary teacher who had nine visits in the course of an inspection!).
The fact is that good planning can be succinctly and effectively set out on less than a sheet of A4. And while I accept that the accumulation of such notes for a whole week imposes a heavy burden on hard-pressed teachers, I believe they may well find it worthwhile in many respects.
Which brings me to your qualms about artificiality. Of course it is artificial - though I don't think so far removed from the reality of many teachers' planning, which won't be so detailed but is as thorough in working out the practicalities of a good lesson - but then, inspection itself is artificial.
I appreciate your anxiety about pretence and show, but don't fully share it. Inspection puts schools and teachers under a microscope, in the glare of a relentless light. I believe it is not merely their right but their obligation to show themselves at their best, as do most schools and teachers year in, year out, when there is nobody there to see it, except the children who are enriched by it. So much that teachers achieve with pupils by day is created through solitary planning by night. Inspectors and others will understand the full importance and value of that if they are given a chance to share it.
Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200