Inspecting the inspectors

30th June 1995 at 01:00
How Was It For You?: English and the Ofsted Experience. By Bob Bibby and Barrie Wade. David Fulton. #163;11.99 - 01 85346 35 7

The six case studies in this short book provide a snapshot of what it was like to be on the receiving end of an Office for Standards in Education inspection in the first year.

The clearest impression from the case studies lies in their human perspectives: the apprehension before the event; during the event, a mixture of sensitivities and misunderstandings, but also agreeable surprise at the competence and approachability of the new English inspectors; and afterwards sheer exhaustion and a flatness that can last a whole term.

Benefits are recorded: drafting the subject handbooks helped to focus thinking and practice; the sorting and tidying undertaken prior to inspection was useful; there was value in having an informed outside view; and, at best, there was the professional reassurance of having good practice confirmed.

But at what cost, human and financial! Roy Adler, one of the inspected heads, goes to the heart of the matter: "Yes, it's been of some value. Not worth the money though . . . no criticism of the Registered Inspector but rather of the process. It's a very heavy instrument."

The model is wrong: it is severely limited in the improvements it can prompt. It can check range and balance and lead to procedural conformity, but cannot directly lead to professional development, where the only real prospect of higher standards resides.

The model is authoritarian and static, exactly the opposite of the self-motivation, flexibility and responsiveness needed to ensure professional growth. It is to the credit of the inspectors in all these studies that, by acting to counter the thrust of the model and to provide a measure of professional dialogue, they did good by stealth.

That these opportunities are so limited and that professional follow-up is not part of the process is, as one teacher put it,"just loopy" However, I take issue with Trevor Dickinson's gloom in his introduction to the book.He is right that inspection has become increasingly bureaucratic. Subjective scores masquerading grandiloquently ("National Expectation" and so on) as objective measures are aggregated, with solemn farce, in Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's annual review. But on a simpler model, one which places both the school's own intentions and professional dialogue at the core, inspection could lead to significant development; it might just begin to be cost effective too.

Graham Frater, a freelance inspector under the new system, was the HMI staff inspector for English before OFSTED was established.

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