Smile and the inspector smiles too

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Don't overwork. Relax. Then your school inspection won't seem as bad as the horror stories. A survival guide from David Wright

Throughout the nation, teachers are preparing for their school's second inspection by the Office for Standards in Education. The photocopier is running red hot; working parties are doing everything except having a ball; teachers are approaching exhaustion point. And in the process some very simple points are being overlooked.

Here are 10 guidelines to help achieve a more positive report. These pointers are very different from other advice that swamps schools. First, each needs a maximum of three minutes of extra work. Second, each specifically helps you as an individual, as well as benefiting the school.

I'll call the inspector Les - codename for "let's expect sweetness".

* A week before the inspection, replace the worst exercise books with new ones, so that Les can't see the graffiti, or the unfinished work.

* Welcome Les to your classroom with a good, full-size chair and put it near your most cheerful and positive pupils. So simple! Les is likely to talk most to the pupils nearest this seat. Friendly and enthusiastic pupils will give positive feedback.

* See if there is a good case for sensible lesson-swapping as the inspection approaches. It is excruciating to watch a lesson taught by a teacher that hates the subject - and the pupils may feel the same as the inspector. Your colleague who loves the subject should be pleased to swap. This may also reduce your preparation load and even inspire your pupils. But you must make sure that all timetables indicate clearly who is teaching and where.

* Keep the classroom computer switched on and arrange for two pupils to do something with it. Keep the activity straightforward so that they don't need much help. If the computer or printer is out of action, label this clearly.

* Talk to the whole class at the start of the lesson and tell (or ask) them why they are doing what they are doing. (Inspectors, as well as pupils, tend to need the purpose of a lesson spelt out clearly.) But don't talk for too long, otherwise both the class and Les will get bored and restless. All too often, stress leads to too much verbiage.

* Smile. A smile can melt an inspector's heart. And the children respond to your smile, too.

* Know the code of conduct for inspectors - and let them know you know it by having a photocopy in your file (see page 18 of the Ofsted handbook). It is a good code and more likely to be kept if the inspectors know that you are aware of it. If you are given a hard time, quote the code at once. If it is a serious breach, write down exact details of when and how an inspector has not kept to the code, give a copy to the headteacher, to the registered inspector and to your union representative.

It is most unlikely to come to this, but few teachers seem to know that there is this straightforward way of ensuring fair play. And I've been saddened to find that many teachers feel they are enduring an inquisition rather than receiving professional appraisal.

* One key phrase in the code of conduct is: "Inspectors must maintain an open dialogue". Les may claim he hasn't got time for this but that is no reason why you can't keep your side of the dialogue open. So, at the end of each lesson plan, write "PTO for important confidential information" and under that heading, put anything that Les should know - and might melt his heart, such as "The class is upset because X's grandmother has died" or "My son has been rushed into hospital, so I'm not 100 per cent today". Add all those things about which you might say "If only Les had known . . ."

* Tell the inspector a bit more about yourself. Les can find out how many years you have been teaching and how many have been at this school. If he's keen, he can check whether you have a degree and extra pay points. But Les will have no idea that you did, say, seven challenging and relevant years in industry and have taught in three contrasting schools. Les cannot discover your publications or local fame unless you tell him. So put all this on a "confidential" sheet, too, in a non-boasting, matter-of-fact format. Les will be impressed.

* Keep calm. The children will probably behave well enough, with all the extra adults around. Don't overwork just before the inspection week, nor during the inspection: it produces negative results. Let the inspector see you, not your stress. Stressed teachers teach less well.

There are a few unsympathetic inspectors who seem to have unrealistic expectations of pupils and teachers. But most are not as grumpy as they look. And they will have seen worse schools and worse lessons than yours.

Be aware that OFSTED inspectors assess student teachers and newly qualified teachers on the same criteria as experienced ones. This may seem unfair, but you can't change it.

The good news is that student teachers and new teachers find the experience much less stressful than most experienced teachers - they are used to being observed and so take it in their stride. Try to follow suit.

David Wright, a former teacher trainer, is now a school inspector and author

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