Why squander Pounds 70,000 - Inspecting a school that's been condemned?

23rd January 2009 at 00:00

What have an ashtray on a bicycle, a fish with an umbrella and our impending inspection got in common? They are all completely unnecessary.

No one likes an inspection. But the plain fact is that, in our case, the school simply won't exist after July 2009. It is to be bulldozed, razed to the ground. After standing proud for 108 years, our junior school is going to be ravaged by machines, smacked from pillar to post and smashed to pieces.

Yet, in its final spring term, after more than a century of education, we still face the dreaded inspection.

Since finding out that the inspectors would be calling, our whole school has been professional and accepted the fact. We have been preparing diligently for this procedure. But a nagging voice at the back of my mind keeps coming back, like a record that's stuck, saying: "Is this really necessary?"

You see, our junior school is being amalgamated with the local infant school and nursery to become a primary school, which I believe will be fantastic for the area. It will bring exciting new facilities to the community. The future looks bright.

But what no staff member can believe is that this old and crumbling school is being inspected in its final year.

The action plan that follows the inspection will be relevant for only 19 days before we close the school for the last time.

As I prepare, the little voice that won't go away gets louder and louder. Surely, this inspection is a waste of time and - more importantly, in this economic climate - a waste of money?

Our county borough and education authority have just announced that the Flying Start programme won't be able to cater for the demand in our area, and that the foundation phase is going to be severely curtailed because of a lack of funds. But Estyn, in its wisdom, has decided that our inspection will go ahead - a costly invasion of around Pounds 70,000.

I'm no financial expert, but surely whoever is in charge of Wales's education budget could look at a situation such as ours and realise that this doesn't make sense.

There will be another inspection - a year after the new school has been up and running - so let's spend the money we are going to waste where it is most needed.

What annoys my colleagues and me is that we should be enjoying the last year at our school. We should be planning events to celebrate an institution that has been around for 108 years and will be sadly missed.

Yet Christmas has come and gone without the traditional Christmas plays that the children and parents love, simply because the teachers could not afford to spend the time practising.

Any thoughts of celebration have been put on hold so that the school can be inspected to keep someone - somewhere - happy.

The truth is that we've all accepted that the closure is going ahead. In a strange way, we are looking forward to being inspected, and because we are all hard-working professionals, we are going to rise to the challenge and get on with it.

But it's not just us teachers who are bemused by Estyn's intransigence. Nobody can believe the inspection is going ahead - not even the local MP. So surely the boss at Estyn can also take a step back and ask: "Is this really necessary?"

The inspection must apparently go ahead because the rules state every school has to be inspected after six years maximum.

Other junior schools being axed will also be inspected, but at least these schools are staying on the same site so an inspection of their facilities and standards makes sense.

Our ancient building is going to be ripped apart by contractors hoping to make a pretty penny from the original fixtures and fittings, such as the wooden blocks in the main hall.

Do we need to be inspected now?

Is it really necessary?

The letter we had from Estyn stated that it needs to be done. But, in all honesty, we believe it's a waste of time and money.

The school, pupils and its staff should be left to prepare and celebrate to go out with a bang - a last hurrah. But this is not to be. So, in the meantime, we're all going to stop whingeing and get on with it.

But that stubborn voice keeps popping back into my mind, saying: "What a chuffing waste of time and money!"

Rob Jefferies, Teacher at Blaencaerau Junior School in Caerau, near Maesteg, and author of 'Isabella Wella and the Kenfig Pirates', a children's book.

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