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Life is one long round of performance tests

It is traditional at the beginning of January to look back at the old year and forward to the new one and I spent at least two minutes of my holidays doing just that.

For me, 2004 developed a definite, and not entirely desirable, theme: inspection.

It began in January with a visit to our nursery from the Care Commission.

That proved to be a positive experience and provided me with quite a few tips to pass on to one of my closest friends when her small rural primary and nursery were inspected in March.

It also put us into "let's make sure we do ourselves justice" mode for when HM Inspectorate of Education visited the rest of Dyce Primary in April.

The report was not published until August, so the whole business seemed to hang over me like a pall throughout the summer holidays. Or perhaps my memory of early August is confusing lingering feelings about my inspection with those linked to anticipation of the inspection of my husband's authority in September.

Whatever the reason, I clearly recall that terms such as indicators, evidence and feedback were bandied about at home for far too many months.

The year was rounded off with word that my sister's school was in line for a visit from HMIE and that our nursery was to have an integrated inspection by the Care Commission and HMIE, both this month. Hand-holding and ghastly paperwork vied for time with pantomime rehearsals, parties and arranging visits from Santa at the end of last term.

So, you get the picture of my involvement, to a greater or lesser degree, with six inspections in the space of 12 months.

Of course, if most of my friends and family are in education, then it is inevitable that someone near me is always likely to be preparing for, going through or recovering from an inspection of some kind or another. However, it does seem that whenever I am in the company of headteachers these days the conversation gets around more often than not to the subject of inspection, with some poor sod's school currently in the frame.

I suppose that I should not be surprised because, after all, we were given due warning that the inspection cycle would speed up, with a visit from HMIE planned once every seven years in primary schools and once every five years in secondaries. I could offer congratulations to the inspectorate teams on the apparent success of this initiative, but that might be construed as sooking up to them.

I do wonder, though, if we have not become just a little too obsessed in education with accountability. Is there any other line of work which is expected to subject itself and be subjected to scrutiny on a similar scale with such frequency and to have it publicly reported upon?

Perhaps the parents of my pupils are different from others - but I suspect that they are not - when it comes to their interest in anything that does not seem to them to impinge directly upon their own children's day-to-day happiness in school.

Take, for instance, the school's development plan. Its production increases my workload to a great extent over the months of March, April and May. I could not honestly say that introducting legislation to ensure I consult everybody and his dog on an annual basis has altered in any way what we would have chosen, unaided, as priorities for the continuing improvement of the school.

All of my work linked to openness and accountability would feel more worthwhile if I believed that the parent body and the public at large really wanted to know annually how well Dyce Primary is performing against quality indicators.

Requests for our full standards and quality report, which is a significant feature of my work during September, increased by 100 per cent this session when one parent asked for a copy.

What I am very sure about is that if our parents thought we did not measure up in any way, I would be the first to know.

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in AberdeenIf you have any comments, email

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