A question of timing;Talkback

24th April 1998 at 01:00
Stewart Conway on the OFSTED test for primary inspectors

I took the OFSTED exam for primary inspectors last year, after five days of tuition and 120 hours of distance learning. Five logically arranged tasks took a whole day - with just one-and-a-half hours in breaks.

The first paper was a half-hour of questions testing our knowledge of the Inspection Framework and the primary curriculum - essentially a memory test.

In the second task we were told we were responsible for inspecting English, art and assessment, and given a copy of the OFSTED Handbook. In two hours we had to produce a pre-inspection statement on assessment, questions which must be answered in the inspection, and a "who, what, when, how and why" exercise. We then had to produce our inspection timetable.

Afterwards everyone felt miserable: we had been given only two timetable blanks and had done so much crossing out that nobody could say whether their final timetable accurately reflected what had to be inspected. There just wasn't enough time to do the task. We had to persuade one candidate not to give up and go home.

After lunch we had to watch a half-hour video of a mathematics lesson, and were then given another half-hour to complete a lesson observation form.

The fourth task was to synthesise 10 A4 observation forms of science lessons into a subject paragraph in 45 minutes. This should be straightforward, but nobody was happy with their efforts, because of lack of time.

Finally we had to write on school management. Nobody needed longer than 45 minutes of the hour given.

We all expected more from OFSTED. The major tasks were relevant. We had been tested in our knowledge of the inspection of English, maths and science, of assessment and management, on things we have to do before, during, and after an inspection.

But the times given for most of the tasks were unrealistic. We rationalised that OFSTED was testing our ability to make correct decisions under pressure. But this is a crude test.

The primary inspectors exam needs revision. Task 1 should be scrapped, or revised to test underlying knowledge rather than the exact wording of lists. Tasks 2 to 5 are fine in content, but the time allowed should be matched more realistically to the time available in an inspection.

Stewart Conway has been a teacher and lecturer for 25 years

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