Under the spotlight

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
Be upfront, natural and show off what you do best when the inspectors call, says Selwyn Ward

Anticipation is far worse than the experience of inspection, as most teachers will confirm. That's one of the key reasons why Ofsted has reduced what was originally two full terms' advance notice of inspection to about two working days.

But if you want to make your experience of Ofsted as stress-free as possible, you'll still need to feel prepared. That means thinking about what inspectors are likely to want to see and having it to hand.

They are only going to look at things you will already have in everyday use. You mark your pupils' work and keep a track of how well they are doing. That's just the sort of information inspectors are likely to ask for.

Park the paranoia. Relax. Inspectors are not out to get you. Believe it or not, they are not even out to make judgments about you. It's a difficult myth to dispel, but inspectors are only going to come in to your lesson to contribute to their picture of what teaching and learning are like in your school.

Often it will confirm what the school is saying. Inspectors can give feedback if you want it, but it will just be about the effectiveness of that snippet of that particular lesson.

Inspectors will not conclude or tell you that you are brilliant or dreadful; just that the pupils have made good or poor progress on this occasion and why.

And don't work yourself into a lather to put on a "show lesson" for the benefit of the inspectors. They will be looking at books and seeing the sort of work pupils do and the progress they are making. If you do something special, you are more likely to come a cropper than if you do what you normally do.

Inspectors are bound to overhear the child who innocently remarks: "We don't usually do this, Miss", and they may ask pupils about routine lessons if they spot inconsistencies. And you cannot be sure which lessons the inspectors will dip into. In most secondary schools and large primaries, you may not get a visit at all.

Of course, you want to present the school in the best light. Remember that inspectors are not delving about for things to criticise; they will be keen to see the good features of your school. But don't stress yourself with papering over the cracks. I don't mean literally - although teachers do sometimes spend all two days' notice putting up fresh displays.

If there are problems you have to wrestle with in your school, don't try to hide them. Be upfront and use the inspection to show off what you are doing to tackle them.

You will be much less stressed giving an open account of what things are really like than by bottling up worries in the hope that inspectors will not notice any of them.

Inspectors too are more likely to be impressed with a school that knows it has further to go, than one where staff delude themselves into thinking everything has been sorted when it hasn't.

Selwyn Ward has been an inspector for 15 years, working in primary and secondary schools.

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