Is this a school or a detective agency?

20th January 2006 at 00:00
We are suffering from SEF (supporting evidence fever) and are saving appreciative letters from parents, documents drawn up with community partners and photographs from drama workshops. It's getting so bad that we can't get through registration without wanting to video every moment and record the children's contribution on tape. "Will they understand about our special children?" we ask each other.

"They" are the Ofsted inspectors. Will they realise that it is a great achievement for Julian just to sit in the circle with his friends and that last year he used to sit in his buggy with his coat on until snack time? Will they look at our results and wonder why Toby has lost skills? Do they understand about degenerative diseases and that although he's gone down a P level, he's done really well to retain some mobility and enjoyment of music? "Will they understand," we ask, trying not to panic, "if Wayne has a temper tantrum in the middle of assembly and that we may have to escort him out if he starts to hurt other children?"

The answer, of course, is that we hope so. We hope they will accept that Julian has made good progress for him because we have the evidence to back it up.

Evidence. Sometimes I wonder if I've joined a law enforcement agency instead of teaching. I am mentoring candidates for NVQ, NPQH, LFTM, NQT, HLTA, D of E (in order, that's national vocational qualification, national professional qualification for headship, leading from the middle, newly qualified teacher, higher level teaching assistant and Duke of Edinburgh award scheme) and watching these good people lose their sanity as they desperately search for evidence; asking for witness statements, studying data and finding proof of their competencies. I wouldn't be surprised if they brought in DNA testing so the candidates can prove who they are.

I am also preparing files for Investors in People (IIP), Healthy Schools and Inclusion Quality Mark (IQM). I must have copied the equal opportunities policy a million times, and finally realised the world had gone mad when I cited a piece of evidence I had written for IIP in my IQM file, but couldn't find it because it had been borrowed to show to the healthy school assessor. Do you think we should go for the Charter mark? Specialist school status? Artsmark? Sportsmark? We wonder. We know we could, but should we? Is it worth teachers' valuable time compiling beautiful cross-referenced and indexed files to prove what could be determined by a reasonable person spending a day with us? In any case, there won't be much more room on our headed paper if we have many more "marks" to display.

As for the SEF (Ofsted's self-evaluation form), we are determined it won't become an obsession. We'll update it "oh, every six months or so", says the headteacher, "every term maybe..." Not every time we have evidence that children are being healthy, keeping safe, enjoying and achieving.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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