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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.

Our forthcoming inspection will cost Pounds 14,000. Meanwhile, we cannot afford essential resources. Surely an exchange of valueless, stressful inspection, for vital resources would be a much surer way of improving pupils' education?

This seems to be a no-contest kind of argument, the benevolent and supportive against the restrictive and negative, together with the attractive possibility of providing for one at the expense of the other.

But I don't think the matter is quite as clearcut. It is simply not helpful to perceive processes such as inspection and resourcing as inevitably antipathetic even if it can be argued that the implementation of costly inspection in a context of severely constrained resources will add to shortcomings and failures, circumstances for which teachers will be held accountable but over which they have little control.

By lining up inspection against resourcing we are in danger of obscuring the critical issues. There is no doubt that the cost of inspection would provide resources for schools that would make teaching easier and possibly more effective. But it would do so only temporarily and possibly only in an arbitrary way (is Pounds 14,000, for example, the sum that would deal most precisely with your resource needs?).

The matter of resources raises complex questions that urgently require consideration from a national perspective and will not be solved simply by throwing the inspection money at them: what minimum staffing is required to guarantee effective teaching?; is it the same for all schools?; what is needed to resource the national curriculum?; are our accommodation standards satisfactory?; are schools increasingly dependent upon parental contribution?; why the failure to resource more flexible approaches to the management of key stage 2?; what can be done about the inequity of resources existing across LEAs and between schools?

What of inspection? I suggest that inspection is justified if these claims can be sustained:

* it supports the systematic evaluation essential to school effectiveness by providing an objective, disinterested external critique;

* it offers schools an agenda for development, progress and improvement;

* it endorses the positive work and accredits the success of schools, teachers and pupils;

* it enlarges parents' and the community's understanding of the education system;

* it promotes in schools intensive curriculum and pedagogical debate, unified staff purpose and action, high quality cohesive planning, the placing of pupil's learning at the centre of things;

* it accummulates the kind of evidence that enables issues such as resourcing and funding to be tackled on a national basis;

* perhaps, most importantly, it creates a positive culture of accountability that will lead at the end of the current cycle, to forms of inspection incorporating significant degrees of school based evaluation.

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