The Head's view - Drilling deep for inspiration

5th September 2008 at 01:00
Check-ups are reassuring - but only after the event. Whether it involves the doctor, dentist or car, it is fine, as long as you don't need an operation, filling or new engine. So my school approaches this month's check-up with the usual trepidation.

It is for the Investor in People award, which we have held for 12 years. It is a national standard, externally verified, and ensures that everyone who works here is being properly trained and supported.

More than 50 members of staff - teaching and support - will be interviewed during a rigorous five-day programme. Then there will be a written report for general circulation. It is a useful process, keeping us on track and giving us the views of staff about life at the school. Do we look after colleagues? Are we a good employer? What do we neglect, and how can we improve?

This time, there are new areas the assessor can look at. We sit in front of the plan in my office and our assessor offers to "drill deep" into the leadership of the school. I'm grateful this is not my dentist speaking.

A glint appears in the chair of governors' eyes. "What does that mean?" he asks with feigned innocence, which reminds me he is an amateur actor. This is serious.

"Well, we can explore the deepest levels of successful leadership, penetrating right down to inspiration," she responds. The glint has become a dazzling light of anticipation, and the chair looks across to me for comment.

Am I feeling inspired? Not at that point. It feels like another bit of accountability to add to the existing burden of Ofsted, performance tables, school improvement partners, governors . The list goes on. But it is the role of schools to be open, scrutinised, analysed and compared. We can help solve the problems of society. Education is the great hope and changer of lives, provided we are given the means to offer the best for all.

In the 1980s, schools were secret places with no requirement to publish results or evaluate themselves. I remember a deputy telling me to ignore a request for information from a local employer because what we did was none of their business. She believed it too.

Parental choice? Hadn't been invented. Some would say it never was.

As for training, that was something you did to domestic pets or babies. Teachers had no entitlement to the levels of professional support that schools now offer. A day on a course was a once-in-a-lifetime event. My first year as a newly qualified teacher was a non-event. No wonder staffrooms were often hotbeds of cynicism, fed by isolation and lack of recognition.

But we have a published set of priorities, a three-year development plan, performance management, learning hubs, learning observations, mentoring, coaching, NQT programmes, induction for new staff, teacher training, and we even find time to teach children in the hours that are left.

So I might as well enjoy it and go for the challenge. "Yes, inspiration would be great," I hear myself saying, as if choosing an expensive meal from a restaurant menu. But I know who will have to foot the bill.

Ray Tarleton, Principal of South Dartmoor Community College, Ashburton, Devon

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