The week of reckoning
Several teachers are already in the school, which gleams as the cleaners leave.
All teachers and the pupils in the Early Bird Club are now in the inspection zone.
Both "real" inspectors, that is the two members of the team whose only job is to inspect on behalf of Her Majesty, have introduced themselves and reiterated that they are here to find out our strengths. I am reassured that they are human with an entirely professional approach to their job.
However, it is a relief that the inspection time has been reduced from 10 days to a week, because apparently the district inspector and the education authority have agreed that the separate nursery will no longer be included in the inspection.
When the inspectors see the size of the depute head's office, where they and intermittently the associate and lay inspectors are based for the week, they too must be relieved.
All ancillary staff, including the four classroom assistants, complete the team. The pupils arrive and the collegiate swell of rising to the challenge is mutually supportive and almost tangible.
The Celtic benediction, "Deep peace of the running wave to you Deep peace of the flowing air to you Deep peace of the quiet earth to you Deep peace of the shining stars to you Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you", is on the front page of the staff folder which circulates daily.
The first "snapshots" of teaching are being taken. We wonder how many of those that are developed during the week will be in perfect focus! The reporting officer emphasised to the staff that snapshots of teaching are graded, not the teachers.
The chaplain leads the gathering of Primary 4-7 pupils who, after the seven-week summer break in routine, are not yet all back in gear after three weeks of term. However, the sea of blue and gold uniforms and the hearty singing of the school song brings a lump to more than one throat. Success is, of course, celebrated and achievement acknowledged.
The staff are buoyant, sensing that positive evidence has already been gathered for our ethos rating. They arrive at the staffroom in anxious anticipation to share the experiences of the first victims, to rehydrate (good for the brain) and raise glucose levels (good for the body).
The staff's body language - shoulders back and heads high - is good when they return to class, both now and after lunch.
As I make a tour of classes, giving a supportive word or smile as appropriate, admiration for the staff, teaching and non-teaching, strikes me quite forcibly as it has done on many occasions over the years. Teaching is no sinecure anywhere in the year 2000, but at Kilbowie, particularly since the move to a totally open-plan school, the challenges are such that only the most committed remain.
The HMIs recognise this, and the crucial part that the clerical assistants play in child protection and pupil support. Despite these particular challenges, we are reminded that our attainment and practice in all areas of How Good Is Our School? is to be measured against the standards achieved in cellular or semi-open-plan schools in the most privileged leafy suburbs.
Spirits soar and flag. The timetable of visits to sample teaching continues relentlessly. It has to; planning to see 14 teachers teach two or three times in a week, to assess the quality of teaching and learning by questioning and testing children after these visits, as well as gathering evidence to support any statement made, must be a major logistical exercise.
Most staff remain positive as they head for home at the end of this day. I pray I won't let them down, nor the children, who are so proud of their school.
Tuesday, September 12
The crescendo of inspection builds as the associate inspector arrives. She works mainly in Primary 1-3 but presumably this would depend on individual expertise.
Though I receive no direct feedback from her, both HMIs frequently share evidence and information and ask for verification or more detail. At the end of each day there is welcome formal feedback.
Throughout the school there is a buzz of information humming from class bay to class bay with support and the occasional paper hanky provided as stress mounts.
The depute and assistant heads are questioned at length on their remits and areas of responsibility and then it is the turn of the senior teachers. Cross-checking and verification of all information is assiduously carried out.
All the teachers go to the meeting with the reporting officer after school. They are somewhat surprised that there seems to be a pre-determined agenda, including the setting of children, support from the management team and participation in curricular working parties, in particular the nature of recruitment to these groups.
After this part of the meeting the reporting officer gives her time to hear the staff's concerns about how they feel the design of the building affects pupil attainment and, to some extent, behaviour. She makes no value judgments.
Wednesday, September 13
The inspection crescendos and stress peaks as the lay inspector joins the team. Making sure that her timetable runs smoothly and that she is properly introduced to all the groups she is to meet at half-hourly intervals makes for a busy day, during which I am scrutinised about my role and responsibilities.
The day ends with feedback from the lay inspector, particularly on the responses to the parental questionnaire. It is reassuring that it is positive about aspects the school is able to influence.
The HMIs have a lengthy team meeting. I assume the bones of the draft report are being drawn up.
Thursday, September 14
Diminuendo to two inspectors and the nadir of the week as some teachers who have been teaching consistently exemplary lessons for three days are anxiously waiting for an inspector to appear before the children react to the tension.
Many staff mention the sense of relief they feel as the HMI introduces herself to the children and they go on to automatic pilot. In contrast, the children seem to have enjoyed showing their skills and discussing their school and work with the inspectors.
Friday, September 15
One teacher is still waiting for a visit and feeling somewhat disappointed, possibly even neglected.
Others are anxious that in their tiredness they have not done themselves justice; that they are being pressed to push children to sit national tests before they judge them to be ready, and that they are expected to be able to predict what children will achieve by June 2001 when they have been teaching some for only three weeks. No written assessment from previous teachers can match a teacher's thorough working knowledge of individuals in a class but the revision and resultant assessment in all areas of the curriculum is still taking place.
Many staff are encouraging the teacher who knows she will have two visits from the one remaining HMI today.
All are scenting release and are reminded repeatedly that the whole team has given this inspection its best. We can do no more.
By 2pm the staff know the reporting officer is giving me the detailed feedback which will form the basis of the report, so they are home and dry. The reporting officer explains that many revisions take place and Draft 3 will be the first that will be issued, around the second week in October.
On the face of it I am positive. I know, despite troughs of despair at 3am, that we have many strengths. Inside I am weary, and wary, despite both HMIs having quickly established a positive relationship with the school community. The scrutiny, though highly professional, has been searching.
I am told I can make notes during the feedback. I wish I had copied the How Good Is Our School? grid and annotated the bullet points on it, so that I could maintain eye contact with the inspector and better argue our cause, as the evidence gathered on each of the 22 areas is discussed. She is fair and genuine negotiation takes place but I find the three-hour experience gruelling.
By the time I have telephoned the restaurant to make sure they give all the staff a drink on me before my delayed arrival at our cathartic celebration, I have shed more tears than in many years. Some of the staff shared this experience and it is reassuring to remember that a secondary teacher columnist in TES Scotland recently referred to the tears shed during inspections.
This is ludicrous. What is the nature of the process that reduces competent professionals to tears? This cannot be in the interests of improving the quality of education which our pupils experience.
Next week: The arrival of Draft 3 - or is it?
Sheila Campbell is headteacher of Kilbowie Primary, West Dunbartonshire 6 Management TES scotland plusJDecember 1J2000 dettmer otto