Q. We are to be inspected at the beginning of the spring term. Everyone we talk to, including our assigned adviser, emphasises the importance of the inspector's initial visit. Some people suggest that the impression we make can decide how the inspection works out for us. It is as if the visit is as important as the inspection. Can you advise us how to handle it?
A. It is important to get this matter into perspective. All initial contacts help shape the working relationship between team and staff, begin to set the style of the inspection and provide first impressions. Apart from wanting to exchange essential information, inspectors will take the chance to form insights into administration and organisation, the learning environment, classroom atmosphere, pupil response and teaching approaches.
You will want not just to provide whatever information and assistance is required, but to show your best side, and to begin the process of constructing for the inspection team an informed, authoritative biography of the school.
How can you most profitably use the occasion? The following may help: * Resist the "let them take us as they find us" approach. Treat the visit as the start of the inspection, prepare thoroughly for it and do everything to show the school at its best.
* Find out what the inspector will want and do during the day.
* Be prepared to identify specific issues on which the inspection might focus or about which you wish particular account to be taken.
* Expect searching enquiry about all aspects of school planning; how the curriculum is taught and monitored, the levels of attainment, pupil progress, and the quality of teaching and learning; * Resolve any difficulties with the head's form and statement; * Clarify any inconsistencies in the Pre-Inspection Context and School Indicator (PICSI) report; * Finalise arrangements for interviews with subject and phase coordinators; find out what questions will be asked and offer the format in which the co-ordinator's information will be provided.
* Begin to impress upon the inspector the strengths and achievements of the school and the evidence of pupil progress.
* Convey a sense of the school's growth and development.
* Describe main school targets.
* Tell staff that the inspector will visit classrooms, however briefly, and remind them that even the most fleeting of stays will leave impressions of the learning climate and pupils' responses.
* Try to set up a meeting during the initial visit between the inspector and the governors or chair of governors. u Begin to draw the inspector's attention to aspects of school life which can easily be marginalised, such as extra curricular activities which are not specifically for learning purposes. u Arrange daily early morning meetings with the inspector.
Don't forget that the initial visit is only a preliminary. The inspection is when all your work and preparation will come to fruition and reveal the school's achievements and potential.
Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him co The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200