Another view - Day-to-day business of inspection bears the mark of fickle fortune

18th June 2010 at 01:00
What a difference a day can make.

What a difference a day can make. All right, so it's a cliche, but the thing about cliches is that they get to be that way because so many people find them apt.

And how apt it was for me in that latest turn of the screw known as inspection. Last year, we had the full works, thanks to Ofsted. This year, just in case we had any thoughts of relaxing towards the summer, it was the team from the college that was let loose upon us.

The fag end of the year is not the best time for inspection. Ideally, it would come in the first term, when students are still putty in your hands and ready - like Mr M'Choakumchild's human "pitchers" - to be filled to the brim with facts, facts, facts. It is stuff happening that inspectors want to see, not "portfolio building".

And they come expecting to see every single item on their checklist on display: differentiation, use of technology, health and safety, equal opportunities, celebrating diversity.

Activities must be varied, and questions targeted. Every student must matter and each must have a "voice". The bright are to be challenged, and the "challenged" brightened - or at least engaged - while the wodge of in- betweenies must be fed the fare appropriate to their many and various needs. So they don't want much.

Our "internal" was to last for two days. Day one was a Monday. Not a good day - particularly the morning - for getting students out of bed and into the classroom. I had an additional worry. My class of adults were scheduled to give spoken presentations. When things go right, this can be a real winner. The students do the work and you sit back and take the credit. After all, you can't get much more student-centred than having them run the show.

There is - as any teacher will have spotted - one major pitfall with student presentations. You are not in control. In particular, you can never be sure that those scheduled to give presentations will actually do so. However much you cajole, threaten and bribe, one or more of them will breeze in with a cheery, "Sorry, I haven't had time to prepare anything."

So 9.30am comes. Luckily, so too do the students. Most of them I send straight to the learning centre so that I can help the "presenters" to prepare. While this is a perfectly sound educational tactic, I keep one eye on the door anyway. I can just see the look on the inspector's face when I introduce my "class" of two people.

It's 11am: at last we are in full session. The presentations have benefited from the "prep" time and are going well. So let the inspector come now. She doesn't.

The same class is due to reassemble after lunch. I am too proud to beg, so I just say, "Please, please, please be on time." They aren't. And one of the missing students is the one who should be giving his talk. At about 1.15pm, I spot an inspector lurking outside the room. So here I am, with half a class and no lesson, and the forces of darkness on my doorstep.

Here, the wind of good fortune intervenes, blowing her past my room and on down the corridor towards someone else. Then the latecomers troop sheepishly in, closely followed by the errant presenter. He's had a domestic during lunchtime and is too traumatised to perform. He's not the only one.

Day two dawns. It couldn't get any worse - and it doesn't. The students are all there for a 10am start, and this time so is the inspector. The lesson clicks, the class play ball and the inspector is happy. I don't really need the feedback: I know it went well.

And there it is. Inspector calls on Monday: ruin and misery galore. Inspector arrives on Tuesday: hosannas by the score.

So what a difference indeed a day can make.

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