Thrown in at the deep end

19th September 2003 at 01:00
The last thing most recruits feel up for on their first day in teaching is an Ofsted inspection. But it can happen. Helen Ward reports.

On his first lesson of his first day as a teacher Bob Macdonald faced 26 eight-year-olds - and an Office for Standards in Education inspector.

"It was a little nerve-racking," said Mr Macdonald, who worked for the HSBC bank for 20 years before becoming a teacher at Calton junior in Gloucester.

"The inspector just came in when I was ready to start the numeracy lesson.

"It was my first day so I was nervous anyway, but having been observed on teaching practice it didn't feel quite as bad as some might imagine. I didn't find it a terrible experience.

"That was the only observation I had that day. At the end, I was glad I got through it and still keen to go in the following day."

But while Mr Macdonald was not put off teaching by the experience, Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster university, questioned the value of the inspection.

"It is not sensible to evaluate a newly-qualified teacher on their first day, even their first week or first term. Why not just avoid them?" he said.

Despite his stressful start, Mr Macdonald does not regret his decision to change career.

He said: "I had a previous role in training in the bank which I thoroughly enjoyed.

"But as my daughters grew older I became more involved in their school. My wife is a teacher, so a number of things converged at the same time.

"Then when I had the opportunity to go into the classroom, I knew it was what I wanted to do."

Mr Macdonald took the three-year BEd course at Gloucestershire university in Cheltenham.

He said: "A lot of people on my course gave me their sympathy when they heard I had an Ofsted inspection in my first week."

Ofsted contractors who carry out inspections are given a five-week "window" in which to visit a school. Schools have the chance to raise inconvenient dates with the inspection contractors.

But the watchdog admits that, due to the pressure of other inspections, there may be limited scope for schools to get their week changed.

It says the first week of term is not used for inspection, but when a term begins midweek, inspections can start the following Monday. This was the case at Calton junior, where the previous Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were teacher-training days and pupils started school on Monday September 8 (see story below).

As well as having his first numeracy lesson observed, Mr Macdonald's literacy and science lessons also came under scrutiny.

He said: "The children knew who the inspectors were but I'm pleased to say they were focused enough on their work not to worry too much about the inspector sitting in the class.

"The inspectors we had certainly made it as painless as possible.

"And I have to give a big shout to the school and the whole staff who are incredibly supportive."

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