A hassle for the head but more professional dialogue

5th August 2005 at 01:00
In March, Brian Fox underwent his fourth inspection as head of Roding primary, in east London, an experience he describes as "the most professionally challenging I have had".

The inspection team from the Office for Standards in Education observed four lessons, compared with about 20 lessons during the previous inspection.

But Mr Fox and members of his senior management team were under pressure to justify the positive assessment of the school which they presented to inspectors in their self-evaluation form.

"Under the old system you spent six to eight weeks getting the paperwork together before inspectors arrived, but during the inspection you were a bit of a spare part as the head," Mr Fox said.

"This time, inspectors were in our faces from the moment they walked through the door."

Another major difference from previous visits was the extra time inspectors spent talking to the children.

"If you set something up just for Ofsted, you would soon be found out because the kids would drop you straight in it," Mr Fox said.

But he is in no doubt that there are definite benefits.

"Our kids were telling us what the inspectors were asking, which was quite useful," he said.

Despite the added work, Mr Fox is a strong supporter of the new approach.

He believes the new framework enables a more professional dialogue between the inspectors and the inspected, and challenges schools to think about what they are doing.

It is a view shared by his staff.

Tracy Knight, class teacher, said: "Compared with previous inspections it was a lot less stressful and less intrusive into school life."

Of course, it helps that the 417-pupil primary in Barking was judged to be outstanding, despite the fact that a quarter of pupils are eligible for free school meals.

The inspectors raised most of the grades the school awarded itself from twos to ones.

So what can other schools learn from Roding's experience?

"You have to have all your evidence ready to answer questions off-the-cuff," said Mr Fox. "We told the inspectors we were going to use the time to tell them how good we are."

But Mr Fox does have one regret. The only grade inspectors did not raise from a two to a one was teaching and learning.

The reason? "They said they couldn't change it because we had more evidence than them," he said.

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