Don't be afraid to ask for feedback
A At least 60 per cent of an inspection is devoted to classroom observation, so teachers must expect quite intensive visiting, as individual inspectors seek information. This means that in an average primary school a teacher might expect to be "observed" at different times by four or five inspectors, for anything from 12 to 15 or 16 single-period sessions. Many teachers understandably find this very demanding, particularly because they can never be quite sure when inspectors will visit. In the light of that, any assurance that inspectors try to allow teachers at least some time free of their attentions, and avoid having more than one of their number in a room at a time, is likely to be cold comfort. But at least teachers can be sure that an accumulation of evidence from so many lessons will provide a balanced view, and that the subjects observed are the ones they themselves have timetabled and prepared for.
Section 3 of the Handbook states that "feedback" meetings should be seen as part of the inspection. This provision applies to the head, to co-ordinators in relation to work and achievement in their particular subject, and to individual teachers about their classroom practice. However, while consistency of approach is seen as the very essence of OFSTED inspections, there appears to be some evidence of variation in practice emerging in this matter of feedback. Some teams seem to avoid debriefing class teachers about lessons because to do so for some, when timetables make it impossible for all, might create misunderstandings.
Some schools are prepared to supply cover to release teachers for such discussions. If class teachers request feedback about lessons in general, as distinct from immediate information about each one, then inspectors will arrange for this at mutually convenient times during the inspection. Most inspection teams, by the end of the week, will attempt to provide, for subject co-ordinators, a broad overview of achievement and standards in their curriculum area.
Almost certainly the head or a senior staff member will be the first recipient of this information. The value of its being shared by staff will be obvious.
The registered inspector is required to provide an opportunity, soon after the inspection, for the head and any staff invited by her, to discuss the main findings and issues for action.
Most inspection teams are happy to offer broad, general feedback to the whole staff on such an occasion.
Such feedback and discussion, together with the pre-inspection meetings, and opportunities for staff to provide details of their lesson planning, should ensure that teachers' work is properly represented and that it is understood and fairly evaluated according to substantial evidence.
Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Questions should be addressed to him co The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY with the name and address of the sender (these will not be published).