An alien life form calls

9th June 2006 at 01:00
What a week. As well as being a part-time lecturer, I am also chair of governors at a primary school, and we knew we were due for a lightning-strike inspection.

We had got the paperwork as up-to-date as possible because schools now get less than a week's notice, and the whole thing lasts two days. This means that the inspectors already know what they are looking for when they arrive, and you have just 36 hours in which to disprove or confirm their hypothesis.

On Thursday I get home to find frantic messages: "Call headteacher, urgent, Ofsted coming next Tuesday." On Friday morning, I sign the warning letter (official notification) to parents for the school to dispatch. With perfect timing, I start to sneeze.

On Monday, I go off to college and do my usual teaching, then rush back to school to go over the pre-inspection report with the head. The inspection team has spotted some black holes in our data. Like all black holes, they are invisible to mere mortals but threaten to swallow us up and extinguish life as we have known it. I wake in the small hours coughing, and try to unpick the statistics and rehearse my lines.

Tuesday: up early to exchange frantic emails with the head, who has probably been in school since dawn broke.

I make a hot Lemsip and present myself at 8.30am for a meeting with the three-pronged fork of an inspection team.

They start prodding. Their data does not match ours and they want to know why. So do we, but I see we are in a Catch 22 situation.

Did we spot the problem and if so, why didn't we act? (complacent?) Or did we fail to spot it? (plain stupid). Or had we actually inflated some of our self assessments? (unforgivable).

To them, it can only look like incompetent management. To us, it looks as though we should have been clairvoyant. Or put a statistician on the governing body, instead of the lollipop lady.

We talk defiantly about our tracking systems, our analyses, strategic planning, monitoring systems, critical feedback loops. We talk fast before our confidence runs out completely. As the inspectors lay aside the cold statistics and fan out to see flesh-and-blood teachers, living children and books, I dive into my car and try to adjust my mindset for an afternoon of college work.

I'm desperate to know how the school is doing, but cannot ring as the head will be with the inspectors or the management team all afternoon. At 9pm I stagger home, clutching a take-away and some paracetamol. My head is starting to hurt from switching hats.

Wednesday: I'm off to college for a stint with the unemployed retraining class, and hope this isn't an omen. Then it is back for the inspectors'

final feedback.

Overnight I've had no updates and I do not know what to expect. As I walk in, I reach in my pocket for a Kalms. The tension is high, but have we pulled them round?

I'm relieved to find the verdict is satisfactory or good in all areas. I think the head is a bit disappointed but I do not have time to talk as I have to rush off for a dental appointment.

What a relief it is to lie back in the dentist's chair and relax while he drills into my teeth. At least it is not an inspector drilling into my brain, and I try not to cough all over him. Back home, I'm asleep in front of the TV by 7pm - a full two hours earlier than usual.

Thursday: all that remains for me to do now is to inform the other governors about the results and teach my own classes. During the morning, one of my students has a seizure. A care worker comes to help, the student is removed to a place of recovery, and the class continues.

In the afternoon, two young ladies have a screaming match in which each questions the other's moral rectitude. The word "slag" is batted back and forth faster than a ping-pong ball in a table-tennis tournament.

The noise is sufficient to draw a crowd of interested spectators and staff from adjoining teaching rooms. No one can quieten them until they have become hoarse, at which point they burst into tears, hug one another, and the lesson carries on. By the end of the day my voice has gone, and my temperature is rising.

Thank God it's Friday. All that is left from the inspection is to send out the report.

The cough has descended down my throat to leave a nasty wheezing sound when I breathe, but the weekend is coming, so I can start writing up next week's lesson plans and checking my own schemes of work for black holes, because guess what? There is an observation week for our department, starting on Monday.

Gill Moore is a basic skills lecturer

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