Lace up your corsets for the Ofsted marathon
"There must be a better way," mumbled my friend. He was late for the FE old codgers moan-fest, otherwise known as Friday night in the pub, and he looked flustered. "It's too much," he added. "It's such a waste of effort."
We knew, of course, that he was going through a mock inspection. And having all been there ourselves at some time or other, we thought we'd better let him have his say. This took a little while, but the gist of it was that, as it wasn't a real Ofsted inspection, why did they have to go through the pain as if it were?
"Well," I ventured, only a little tongue-in-cheek, "isn't it a bit like a theatre production? If you don't do a full dress rehearsal, how can you be sure it'll be all right on the night?"
"No, no, no," he said. "That's entirely the wrong analogy. What's the best way to prepare for running a marathon?"
"Running a practice marathon?" I suggested. I knew it was the wrong answer, but clearly the one he was looking for.
"Nope - and that's my point. Because if you do the full 26 miles in practice, you'll be knackered for the race and end up coming last. And that's the trouble with mock inspections. They're full-on and they're gruelling, and that's no way to prepare for the real thing."
So what was the best way to prepare for the marathon of inspection?
"For a start you should be smart and not dumb," he said. "And that means targeting your preparation efforts to where they are needed, rather than using the blunderbuss approach.
"Take my department. About a third of them are virtual beginners. Another third have been in the job for five or more years. And the rest of us have been around forever. Now, it doesn't take too much imagination to realise that all our needs are different." He paused for a little lubrication and for us to consider the wisdom of his words.
"Now, the first bunch need to be shown how to do it. The second lot need to be reminded how to do it. And the old-timers like me - who've been through it all a dozen times before - need a bit of updating and galvanising to make sure that we do do it.
"And what none of us needs is the fear of God being put into us, followed by a week of sleepless nights while we prepare all sorts of schemes and plans that will never be looked at or used again."
"Seems to me what you're saying is that you need support rather than punishment," said another member of the group. As we all knew he'd been a purveyor of ladies' underwear before becoming a teacher, we guessed where his analogy would take us. "I always like to think of it as a corset," he said. "Lace it up properly and it helps you make the most of what you've got. But if you squeeze too tightly, you end up in pain."
"Exactly," said my friend. The rest of us were busy pondering how you could run a marathon in a corset. "And now," he said, setting his half- emptied glass on the table, "I'd better be off."
"But you've only just arrived," we protested.
"Yes," he said, "but sadly we live in the real world of kick-ass colleges. So how else am I going to get 10 lesson plans, three schemes of work and a couple of class profiles polished off by Monday?"