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An Inspector Writes

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. e-mail:

What can we do to prevent our head from panicking to such an extent before and during inspection that all our work and achievements are undermined?

To answer this question without either over-dramatising the situation or treating it too lightly, I would need to know something of the school and, not least, the personalities involved. My advice is offered with that reservation.

It would be unusual for even the most competent or sanguine of heads not to manifest in the course of an inspection at least some anxiety. But a head's readiness to assume responsibility and provide encouragement for colleagues to ensure they and the school are presented in the best light would more than atone for any uncertainty she or he had unwittingly generated.

But when a head's anxiety reaches a level where the staff's morale is harmed then we are considering a failure of leadership. I suggest you consider the following strategies, bearing in mind, of course, that they will need to be modified according to the school's circumstances.

* Acting as a senior management team, or indeed as a whole staff in the case of a small institution, persuade the head of the value of drawing up together a list of your positive achievements as a school, identifying the contribution of individual teachers, including the head's.

* Decide how you will communicate such information in interviews with inspectors, and how you ensure that individual contributions, taken together, represent a coherent picture of the school.

* In the same way, identify what you regard as short-comings. Decide what can be done in the time available, and find sensible justification for what you are obliged to leave undone. In discussion with the head stress constantly the need for staff to speak with a unified voice, to emphasise the positive and to resist the temptation to blame individuals.

* As a senior management team, together with the head, establish precisely your roles and achievements, your responsibility for colleagues and how these are discharged. In this context pay particular attention to the head's role and emphasise, diplomatically but firmly, the importance to you all of herhis leadership and support.

* Determine as a staff the support you need and discuss with the head how this can be provided.

* Involve the governing body in this process.

* Seek the involvement of the school's adviser or relevant member of the LEA.

Some people will take the view that circumstances such as these, where uncertain leadership is jeopardising the interests of staff and pupils, are not most effectively dealt with by protracted action or overly diplomatic behaviour. Consider, before you take radical action such as involving governors or LEA in complaints procedures that your current view of the leadership you receive may be less jaundiced once the inspection is over.

If you do decide to take direct action, first try telling the head openly of your concerns. It may be sufficient to encourage a re-appraisal of his or her style of leadership. Remember that recourse to an official body has to be preceded by advice of your intentions to the head. Once action is taken it may be too late to go back.

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