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Jumping through hoops, backwards

The inspectors are coming. Although it is a visit of just one day and obviously a fact-finding mission to evaluate the effectiveness of the key stage 3 English strategy in one girls' inner-city school, we get into emergency action mode. Instead of showing them what they might really want to see - namely, the truth about how some parts of the strategy are good and some bad - we plan to become the moral high priests of this initiative.

Everything has to be perfect: starters, plenaries, three-part lessons, value-added data analysis on coloured scattergraphs and flawless schemes of work. The leadership team are galvanised. Plans are made to take naughty girls out of the classes that inspectors will be invited to observe.

It must be impossible for inspectors to do an honest evaluation of any government scheme in this climate. But the way that they have blamed and shamed in the past and allowed themselves to be "political" has left them with less trust from the profession than they sometimes deserve.

Yet our school is no different from thousands of others, fearing repercussions if it evaluates itself honestly. What does it say of our education system if schools are so afraid of telling the truth? Why can't we show them the real problems we are tackling, and all the hard work and innovative solutions we are prepared to try in order to solve them?

It is the evening before the inspectors arrive. The senior management team meet up to practise "singing from the same hymn sheet". We check over our message, which declares that we are doing pretty well, know we could do better, and believe that the good strategies in place are about to bear fruit.

Probably the truth is that we haven't implemented the strategy that effectively because the teachers found it dry and boring and so did the children. But we are going to do our best to conceal this from our visitors.

The inspectors have gone, and - irony of ironies - they have criticised the English lessons for being too didactic and boring. We jumped through hoops and to no avail. The inspectors must have already had reservations about the strategy and hadn't been impressed by our literal and rigid implementation of it. They encouraged the leadership team to think how they could "cherry pick" from the strategy and bring some fun and excitement back into the lessons.

We assumed an agenda, and we guessed wrong!

Susan Potts is a senior manager in a girls' inner-city school.Feeling aggrieved? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble.

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