All and more revealed

11th October 1996 at 01:00
Something was shockingly different that Monday morning. It was six minutes to nine and the head was at the school gate, anxiously hurrying up parents and children. In the playground, normally empty of staff at that time, all the class teachers were present. Children were being lined up, a whistle blew and at 8.55 a.m. precisely the classes were marched off into the buildings.

Of course! It was the first day of the Office for Standards in Education inspection. Easy for parents to forget, impossible for the teaching staff.

Let's call the school Charles Dickens primary, in honour of its architecture and one or two of the teachers. It's in outer London, with a very mixed multi-lingual, multi-ethnic intake.

For parents, the impact of OFSTED's arrival at Charles Dickens was noticeable weeks in advance. Noticeboards which for years had exhibited nothing but torn road safety posters and yellowed ads for piano lessons were stripped and replaced by gleaming posters of mosques and exotic landscapes. The bleak walls of the school hall suddenly blossomed with vast displays of the children's work.

Next came the parents' meeting with the senior inspector and a colleague. The head made a great show of introducing her visitors and of having to leave. At last, an opportunity for parents to speak candidly and openly about the school! Well, no. Two of the staff have children at the school and turned up, grim and silent spectators, effectively inhibiting the discussion.

For parents, the week of the inspection passed uneventfully. The highlight for our son Tom was when the class spotted one of the inspectors picking her nose. For our other son Harry it was his teacher's mounting hysteria at the class's inability to name any of the wives of Henry VIII when asked.

At the end of it - the report. The school's reponse was reminiscent of the Government's release of the Scott Report. Charles Dickens primary has passed the inspection, a jubilant letter from the headteacher told parents. Well, no-one thought the school was so bad that it would fail. But what of the detail?

We learned that nearly a quarter of English teaching was good or better, that standards in three-fifths of science lessons were sound and that a third of maths lessons were "satisfactory". Not exactly a glowing endorsement. And who, precisely, are the poor and unsatisfactory teachers? An OFSTED report, of course, never names names.

The full report certainly told us things we never knew before. It came as a surprise to learn that the school has a designated teacher with responsibility for parental involvement. We just wonder who it can be.

You'd certainly never guess from the report that the last Parent Teachers' Association annual meeting had to be abandoned when only four parents turned up, or that the Governors' annual report had an embarrassing attendance of two teachers and 10 parents.

We also can't understand how our sons know nothing about the cricket coaching, the chess club and the sewing club which the school, apparently, encourages.

OFSTED's inspectors had certainly registered the school's calm, easygoing ambiance and its genuinely plualistic atmosphere, which ironically owes nothing to the school's much-neglected religious education. ("We fooled them on religion!" as the head delightedly confided.) Final verdict? Six out of ten. A good effort but plenty of room for improvement - both for OFSTED and the school.

The writer lives in east London.

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