Under inspection

3rd July 2015 at 01:00
showing their true colours

"Miss! He's coming!" My students had been briefed well. The school was used to special measures, so close monitoring and scrutiny was the norm.

"Fine," I said, "just be yourselves. Carry on as usual."

The classroom was a hive of activity. My 13- and 14-yearold students were working in groups, determining the significance of various events during the Second World War. They were trying to justify their position on when the tide had turned against Hitler.

Students were engaged and collaborating, and much high-level discussion was taking place. Socrates would have been proud.

I stood back and welcomed the visitors - Her Majesty's Inspector plus the headteacher - encouraging them to get in among the action to see and hear what was going on.

They headed towards Tyler. He was pretty animated, doing his best to keep up with the discussion and feeling confident because he was familiar with the events under consideration from previous lessons.

After such a buoyant start, my heart sank as the inspector started to go through Tyler's book. It was January, and he had already explored the Industrial Revolution, enjoyed a visit to New Lanark and made a judgement about Robert Owen's motives and legacy. He also had a working knowledge of the suffragettes and the causes of the First World War. But I knew his book was patchy and his "learning journey" had been circuitous.

"Now then," the inspector said. "I notice Miss uses various coloured pens to mark your book. What is the meaning of the different colours?"

Tyler knew full well that the marking in his book looked like a rainbow because I used whatever pen was to hand. It might be blue, black, red, green or purple. Or even a pink, sparkly gel pen belonging to one of my daughters.

Quick as a flash, Tyler said: "Sir, I don't think it matters what colour pen Miss uses, as long as her feedback is kind, specific, helpful and we act on it to close the gaps in our knowledge."

The exact words I had used were ringing in my ears. The visitors left; Tyler winked.

The class had its own paragraph in the inspection report. For me, it was a lesson in trusting your pupils and your own judgement.

Carmel Anne Bones is a former advanced skills teacher and head of department in the North West of England

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