Hang ups

6th June 1997 at 01:00
If the current system of inspections has a shortcoming, it is that schools have too long to prepare. It would prove far more effective if inspections were shorter, sharper - and unannounced. Like those raids that are always happening on television cop shows.

It's dawn. The DI and a few of his heavies in mufti bail out of the unmarked motors. Fingers to lips, they sidle up to Chummy's front door. A nod from the DI. Battering ram. Crash! In the bedroom, a naked extra holds the duvet tightly to her trembling body.

Chummy now reacts in one of two ways. Either he legs it through a convenient back window. Or he affects one of those smug smiles that Year 9 boys are always trying to perfect: dumb insolence combined with enough cherubic innocence to suggest that butter would freeze in their mouths. The officers search every square centimetre of the room. They are dumbfounded.

"The gaff's as clean as a whistle, Guv. We can't pin a dickie-bird on him." "You must have had the nod we were coming!" says the DI through gritted teeth. "But don't think you're going to get away with this." "I think I already have, Inspector."

We can all learn from Chummy. Even if the only scouting badges that he ever picked up were nicked off the other members of his troop, his days of dib-dib-dibbing taught him the vital importance of always being prepared. Similarly, as Chief Constable Blunkett embarks on his crusade to collar bad teachers, the wilier members of the profession will waste no time in preparing for the day when an inspector calls.

IT co-ordinators should - in theory, at least - find it easier than most. The National Council for Educational Technology (NCET), with the National Association of Advisors for Computers in Education (NAACE), has just published an updated edition of the definitive guide to an OFSTED visit. Inspecting IT and a companion volume, Reviewing IT, offer everything that anybody could possibly want to know about an inspection.

What makes the publications particularly useful is that NAACE trains OFSTED inspectors and includes many of them among its ranks. So this is genuine from-the-horse's-mouth stuff. For example, the section on "quality indicators" lists the tell-tale signs that, apparently, reveal whether IT is alive and well in a school. More than 100 statements include everything from assessment procedures to the quality of resources. Even a cursory glance at the list confirms that however much IT co-ordinators are paid, it's not enough. As well as their obvious duties, they are expected to shoulder responsibility for such things as ensuring that children understand the copyright laws as they apply to software and for increasing "parents' awareness of the ways in which IT can support children's learning".

The clever approach is for teachers to carry out their own thorough inspection of the school's IT provision long before OFSTED arrives. It's then a matter of spotting the obvious shortcomings and of devising strategies to put them right.

Although the authors confirm that subjective evidence and "gut feelings" about such things can often be accurate, they also insist on the value of a detailed and systematic review. Their advice includes studying those flow charts that management types seem to enjoy so much, carrying out inventories, ticking boxes, answering questionnaires and suchlike. Some IT co-ordinators will choose to undertake this truly monumental task. The others, when they hear the knock on the door, can always leg it through the back window.

Inspecting IT, Pounds 15. Reviewing IT, Pounds 17.50. Together Pounds 27.50. NCET, Milburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry CV 7JJ. Tel: 01203 416994


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