Pupils are keenly aware that the impression given of their school during inspection week is unlikely to be typical, new research suggests.
Clare Gillies, a member of a team from the Office for Standards in Education, elicited nearly 300 responses to a questionnaire from pupils in Years 8, 11 and 13 at four secondary schools last term. Her survey, part of an MA at the London Institute of Education, is the first attempt to assess the impact of inspections on pupils, rather than teachers, schools or parents.
Two-thirds of the pupils thought that the inspectors had done their best to remain unobtrusive during lessons, but more than half used the word "false" to describe the atmosphere in their school during inspection week.
More than 60 per cent reported that they were told to be on their best behaviour and to look smart. Most of them claimed to have done their best to co-operate in creating a good impression. But they found the pre-inspection fuss irksome and felt sympathy for teachers who had been put under extra stress.
Pupils also commented on the marked improvements in their teachers' behaviour, noting that they were more punctual, explained things better and treated the pupils more like adults. Lessons were quieter and more work was done. Many were moved to wonder why teachers could not behave in a similar manner all year round.
Many pupils felt that the inspectors should spend more time talking to pupils "to find out what the school was really like". Eighty per cent said inspections were needed, but 63 per cent argued that inspectors should arrive unannounced, rather than allow the school to prepare for months in advance.
Ms Gillies says that both schools and pupils should reflect on the differences in their behaviour during inspection week and consider "whether any aspects of their inspection behaviour should be incorporated into their normal behaviourI there must be many teachers who are grateful that their pupils supported them during the inspection; acknowledging this might help pupils to consider the quality of their classroom behaviour at other times".
She believes that pupils' views of the school should be given more weight by inspectors, but says children could be torn between the urge to be truthful and the desire to support their teachers. She also acknowledges that a pupil with a grudge against a particular teacher could create trouble.