According to the current OFSTED Handbook for School Inspections, classes taught by student teachers will be judged by the same criteria as any others. A group in Leicestershire has tried to find out what the effect of this has been on the students and on the schools.
The county Initial Teacher Training Consortium, comprising representatives of schools, the teacher associations, the local education authority and eight higher education institutions, surveyed schools inspected from September 1994 to April 1995.
The key focus was the involvement of student teachers in the inspection, having their lessons observed and getting feedback formal and informal. We were also anxious to find out how well prepared they felt for inspection, how they perceived the process and how their involvement influenced the commitment by schools to ITT partnerships.
Inspector observation varied significantly. Many were not seen at all; others three or four times, particularly those teaching minority subjects in secondary schools. There were significant variations within individual schools. In one school with six students two were observed four times each, two once and two were not seen at all. In another school, one student teacher reported that the "inspectors said they were only interested in full-time teachers and did not want to disturb my lessons".
Feedback from inspectors also varied. In some schools students were not given any reports, but others were spoken to informally - "similar to the feedback to other teachers". Little reference was made to the students, either in feedback to the senior management team and governors, or in inspection reports.
Sadly, the extent to which schools involved students also varied. There were some examples of good practice - for example, when students were given the draft report to read and were involved in discussing the outcomes of the inspection, or when they were given the opportunity to research the school's response to the inspection as part of their professional studies work. However, some students said they were "prevented from seeing the OFSTED report".
All students had received some briefing about the process but this tended to be information rather than an explanation of the process, its purpose and significance.
Their comments on the impact of inspection on themselves, the school and its staff included: "Life was very stressful due to an over-stressed head of department"; "We were not directly affected apart from the fact that everyone in the department was highly stressed and unwilling to help us to any extent".
Students also identified benefits for themselves - "I did find it useful to be in a school during an inspection because many of the issues raised will affect me during my career."
So what are the issues arising from our small-scale survey?
First, the inconsistencies - in the student teacher's experience and in the approach by inspectors to the involvement of students in the inspection process.
Second, the need for schools and higher education institutions to work together to prepare students for inspection, to support them through it and to maximise the learning opportunities presented.
Third, the need for information about inspection and its outcomes to be shared with student teachers.
Fourth, the need during the inspection process to recognise the value of a school's involvement in initial teacher training.
Thankfully there is no evidence of impending inspection deterring schools from involvement in ITT partnerships, although there is evidence of schools giving serious consideration to the overall pressures on them before making a commitment to partnership.
Liz Paxton is a development officer at Leicestershire LEA