We had been expecting the school inspectors for some time but despite this, when my depute put his head around my door to say: "I don't wish to alarm you, Linda ..." (which always has the effect of completely and utterly alarming me) "but there are six large boxes stamped HMI outside the office", my stomach started churning.
Well, they were on their way.
This was to be my 15th involvement in HM inspections over my (somewhat long) career, but this was to follow the new "proportionate approach".
Compared to previous inspections, this was quite different in many ways.
If you think you may be due for a visit, I urge you to look at the hmie.gov.uk website to view the redesigned profiles and analysis of your school statistics.
Firstly, there appears to have been a genuine attempt to reduce the pre-inspection paper trail. This now comprises profiles for the core school, pupil support (more of this later), four departments (English, mathematics and two others - luck of the draw here) and the library resource centre.
Secondly, both the turn-around time and the actual inspection period are much shorter now and consequently very intensive. The shorter inspection places more onus on schools to make sure that all the good practice is brought to the inspectors' attention; how you complete the profiles has a significant role in this.
At Oban High, we put a great deal of detail in the profiles and believe that paid off. Since the pre-inspection period is so short, however, we had to go like the clappers to get everything in on time.
There are some googlies in the profiles. For example, the school profile requests details on pupils at each stage with specific behavioural difficulties, care plans, traveller children and so on. And apart from attainment in maths, reading and writing by the end of S2, HMIE also requests percentages of pupils attaining levels A, B, C, D, E and F at the intake for S1, by the end of June S1 and by the end of June S2 for August 1999 to August 2001 in reading, writing, listening and talking.
We couldn't supply the data on listening and talking (without about 1,000 hours of backtracking) and no comment was made about the omission.
A further surprise was a very specific section on health promotion in the school profile. We were concerned about this, but we were quite amazed when we put together all that we were doing.
The most difficult profile of all concerned the support for pupils, since this required us to combine efforts at all levels: whole school, classroom, guidance and learning and behaviour support.
Schools still have the opportunity to set out their stall in a short presentation during the first phase of the inspection. This is another golden opportunity to highlight good practice. We also put quite an amount of evidence and documentation, as well as visual displays, in the base set aside for the inspection team. To their credit, they looked at it all.
For me, the most welcome changes from the old inspection model are the focus on learning and teaching, on the school's impact rather than process and on the broader view of achievement as well as attainment.
Although the process is stressful for all in a school, parts of it were enjoyable. The professional dialogue during classroom observations and at the end of each day was supportive, informative and extremely helpful. Our staff were tremendously impressed by the quality of the inspection team: their expertise is quite awesome.
The challenge for us now is to keep that professional dialogue going I and catch up on the work that was put on hold for a month.
Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban HighIf you have any comments, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org