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Laying down the law

As a lay inspector I have travelled 40 miles or more to attend schools, worked 12-hour days and had tight deadlines to meet.

I have observed lessons and assemblies, checked accident books and chatted to dinner ladies.

I have analysed hundreds of parents' questionnaires and read forestloads of policies, and development plans.

I have spoken to teachers after observing lessons and shared in the enthusiasms of the children. And I have checked the children's toilets and the contents of first aid kits.

I have participated in lively team meetings and learned to write in OFSTEDese.

My main findings are as follows:

* All the inspectors I have worked with are professional and caring people who are scrupulous about reaching fair judgments.

* They share their pleasure in observing outstanding lessons and have (and need) a fund of humorous incidents to relieve the stress of not being the teachers' favourite people.

* Children are wonderfully open and friendly, but younger ones can get confused about our role. Following the publicity about the measles vaccinations, one colleague was asked if he was the "injector".

* Teachers are dedicated and work extremely hard. It is not an easy job and I believe that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle - that the presence of an observer affects the observations - should be taken into account.

* It is not possible to be a lay inspector without a fax machine; deadlines are just too tight.

I have identified several key issues. These are as follows:

* I need to find a suitable non-commital but positive phrase that I can use with a teacher after observing his or her lesson, regardless of whether it was excellent or poor.

* I need to maintain my lay view - it would be easy to become an OFSTED automaton by being a slave to the framework and missing the awe and wonder.

* I must not be ashamed to admit that I believe in the idea of inspection and that I actually love doing the work.

* I must remind Ted Wragg that not all lay inspectors have Zimmer frames.

Elizabeth Forster, an OFSTED lay inspector, lives in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.

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