Under the spotlight
In 1990 I became head of maths at a large 11-18 comprehensive school and was involved in implementing the second version of the national curriculum as well as initiating developments and continuing to encourage good practice. In November 1993 we were the first school in our authority to be inspected under the new Office for Standards in Education criteria. The school had been formed by a merger of two schools five years earlier and had never been inspected in its new form.
We already had schemes of work, cross-referenced to the national curriculum. A published scheme was not used and we were in the process of investing in new textbooks. This meant the schemes referred to a wide range of texts, worksheets and other resources including videos, software and practical equipment but not to the methodology.
The inspection provided the motivation to revise the schemes of work in light both of new purchases and new "finds" in old texts. But we did not make explicit mention of the methodology to be employed in the teaching of any topic.
The departmental handbook was written in line with whole school policies where appropriate, with different authors contributing sections. Our commitment to a variety of teaching and learning styles was made clear and reference was made to the five cross-curricular themes and the six cross-curricular skills given in the national curriculum.
There had been no common method of recording lesson plans or completing lesson registers or mark books. We decided at a departmental meeting to use a standard format for that term for both preparation and recording. In fact most of the department continued with the "inspection model", which proved a workable combination of the best bits from a number of sources.
As head of department, I felt I might have been neglecting the close monitoring of the day-to-day work of the department. I identified two pupils from each class taught by maths staff and took in all the work they completed and the associated lesson plans. So for a teacher taking five different groups I specified 10 pupils from whom I wanted evidence. I then checked the books for such markers as appropriate level of difficulty, variety of work and constructive marking.
During the inspection I wanted to be sure the department was presented in its best light. It was important to reflect the range of teaching and learning styles that were employed, using a variety of resources including software, audio-visual aids and equipment.
All staff were asked to submit the topics for each class that week. This allowed me to confirm that: everyone knew what they were doing; a range of types of lessons would be going on - investigative, coursework, practical, didactic etc; not everyone would be wanting to use the dice, for example, for the same lesson. The list of topics was also circulated within the department to share good ideas.
First impressions can count so, in the few weeks before inspection, the displays in rooms and on the landings were "spruced up" or replaced. Furniture and fabric of the classrooms were checked and any remedial action requested.
The stockroom was checked and staff were all reminded about the inconvenience caused to others both by hoarding resources and by misplacing them. Finally, I had an informal but private chat with everyone in the department.The week passed quite smoothly and was relatively stress free. I believe this was mainly due to the advance preparations.
Was it worth it? Yes, in many ways. It was nice to have someone come in and tell you that you are doing a good job. It also made me realise how much I took the rest of the department for granted and how infrequently I thanked them for their work, help and support.
Sally Taverner is now a lecturer in the School of Education, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.