All talk, little do

14th February 1997 at 00:00
Q. On his first visit - which took place recently - our Registered Inspector said the team would not be able to inspect fully certain subjects (three in all) since it was proving impossible to have certain "specialist" inspectors available on the day when these subjects were time-tabled by us. The inspector suggested that, as an alternative, we should nominate groups of "competent" children to discuss as wide a sample as possible of their work in these subjects with members of the team. There would be no observation of teaching.

Our immediate reaction was a sense of relief at a lightened burden, not to mention the fact that two of the subjects are our less favoured ones. But, on reflection, we feel we won't be doing ourselves justice and that any credit arising from the inspection will be suspect. We have worked hard to prepare for this; we feel we are a good school in many respects, and would prefer to have a full and proper inspection, however nerve-wracking. What do you think, and is our case unusual?

A. I would hope that your case is unique since I cannot believe that an inspection conducted in the way you suggest could possibly be valid.

One has to be cautious about venturing definitive statements on issues where all the facts are not at hand, and equally reluctant to make judgments of inspectors when evidence in general suggests that inspections are conducted with probity.

Nor is it exceptional for schools, in consultation with inspection teams, to adapt timetables to facilitate an enhanced view of a particular subject or aspect.

What you describe, however, is a very different matter. It would contravene in a number of critical respects, however unwittingly, the code that governs the conduct of Inspections.The section of OFSTED's Framework for Inspections on "the standard and quality of inspections" says, for example, that inspectors are required to ensure that their judgments are: * first hand, in that they are based largely on direct observation of pupils' and teachers' work; * valid, in that they accurately reflect what is actually achieved and provided by the school; * comprehensive, in that they cover all aspects of the school set out in the inspection schedule and the inspection contract specification.

Any inspection that substituted discussion of samples of pupils' work with what appears to be a very selective group, for scrupulous observation of teaching and pupil response, could not possibly satisfy the requirements for the inspection of subjects and their management and delivery. (What I cannot understand is how your inspectors intend to complete the essential documentation in relation to observation of lessons in the particular subjects. )

Your concern about these proposals is well founded. (I assume your governors are informed and clear about what is being suggested.) One can understand the temptation for teachers, on the eve of an inspection, to go along with them. But apart from the fact that you would make the school party to something quite improper, you would also, as you suggest, do less than justice to all your hard work, your conscientious preparation and your consistent professionalism.

I suggest that you and your chairman of governors immediately contact the Registered Inspector and insist upon arrangements that will ensure a proper inspection of the school, and the undeniable benefits that will bring.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him co the TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax 0171 782 3200.

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