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Marching into battle with the support units

Do you fancy yourself as a Mystic Meg? Are you a palaeographer? Can you keep your head while all around you are losing theirs? Well, queue here to join the battered army of the inspection support team.

The registered inspector rings to see whether I can come in to create the timetable for his next inspection. I can and I do, fighting my way with difficulty through the school's computerised system of recording which teacher is in charge of which class and where.

I've also got to try to memorise the quirky system of initials for each teacher, for instance, Kevin James is KJM, Christine Francis is CFR. Each school has its own system, and it is no doubt as clear as daylight to them and very logical. But not to me . . . yet.

It is possible to get the flavour of a school from the paperwork it sends. Some documents only list staff by their surnames and title. Some give the full name but not the title, and some only give female staff a title. Occasionally a school will use only staff initials, except on the list hidden at the back of a document and never to be found when you want it.

I get my head round the paperwork eventually and start to transfer the individual inspectors' timetables onto the staff timetable and the class timetable. It was a mistake to start with this particular inspector first. His writing's never very clear, and there's usually a mistake or two. I turn to one of the more reliable ones and find, to my delight, that I have indeed understood the system.

I plod on. Ah, here comes a clash. Two inspectors want to see the same teacher. Poor thing, she seems to be responsible for so many areas that she'll be besieged by inspectors.

The team tries very hard to make the experience of inspection as stress-free as possible. A pious hope maybe, but a genuine one. It now only remains for me to balance up the spread of technology and science observations and to make a final check that there are no clashes, other than the ones I have noted. Cross-eyed, but victorious, I turn to the next task. This is to compile the list of "first observations", so that each teacher will at least know when to expect that dreaded first encounter.

The list of requested interviews comes next. This is always complicated since teachers rarely have enough non-teaching time available, and to pile all of the interviews into the lunchtimes or after school seems cruel. Another difficulty is that, at this stage, the inspectors do not always know the member of staff in charge of a particular working group or the governor responsible for special needs, for example. So there are inevitably gaps and potential overload for some staff.

The weight of the inspection is beginning to tell on me by now and I feel thankful that I do not have to go out and do the inspection as well. I've fitted the last request onto the multi-coloured timetables and feel as if I've just completed an extremely complicated battle plan. I suspect the recipients might see it like that as well.

Diane Exley works for a northern metropolitan l.e.a.

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