Thank God It's Friday

26th April 1996 at 01:00
Monday: The meeting with parents is its usual mix of good humour and antagonism. During the first half, while explaining the mysteries of the OFSTED process, I'm interrupted: "It's a waste of time and money inspecting this school. We drive our children across town to get here you should be inspecting those terrible schools we read about".

In the second half, when I ask for comments on the standards in the school, the same parent speaks up again, just as loudly. "How are we to know what the standards are like? That's your job". I smile the sort of inscrutable smile much practised by OFSTED inspectors. The lay inspector with whom I had the bet that this would happen, has a hankie pressed to his face.

Written answers to the questionnaire provide further amusement. A few parents complain about standards of spelling these days and then proceed to make a number of errors. They must be testing me out. Unusually, there's also a complaint that the school doesn't do enough about petty pilfering. This questionnaire has not been returned by hand, but posted, using a smart envelope with a company logo and a company franking machine label on the front.

Tuesday: I'm glad to be inspecting history again it leads to more interesting conversations than maths. Wayne has written that the Victorians kept their food in the car. He tells me he knows this from his visit to a Victorian house where he dressed up and played the part of a servant. It takes me a long time to discover that he's confused Lada with larder.

Wednesday: Next door, they're doing the Vikings making Viking jewellery with lumps of clay and two different sorts of string. Anna says there's something she doesn't understand. She's been learning about the Vikings fighting and pillaging for two weeks. So, she wonders, when did they have the time to make all this jewellery?

Weakly, the teacher says they weren't always fighting. Anna says nothing but with the slightest movement of her eyes, draws my attention to the four walls of the classroom plastered with drawings and paintings of warriors, weapons, shields and helmets.

Thursday: Moving from one classroom to another, I find a desperate-looking child hopping about near the loos. I ask if there's a problem. "I don't know if I'm one leg or two", she cries. Yet another conundrum to be solved by the OFSTED man. I mention to the head the need to replace the 1950s stylised signs on the toilet doors (male: trousered, two legs; female: tightly skirted, one leg).

Friday: It's PE this morning led by a fit-looking teacher who's spent all week in a tracksuit waiting for his moment of glory. He demonstrates gymnastics with panache. "Make sure you start and finish crisply", he instructs, and does a few forward and backward rolls. "Especially when going over the box". He runs up to the box, leaps over and disappears into the crash mat with a noise like a belly-flop in a swimming pool. I'm too busy trying not to laugh to think of going to his aid. The children don't move either. Eventually his head appears from behind the box and he wisely asks the children to demonstrate PE from now on. They are much better at it, but it's less entertaining for the inspector.

Mike Brogden is a primary OFSTED-trained registered inspector and education consultant

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