Win or lose, be a sport

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Dyce Primary was "done" just after the Easter break. A visit from HM Inspectorate of Education had not been entirely unexpected because the last one was 18 years ago. The timing of the inspection allowed us five weeks' warning and opportunity for an unusual flurry of activity during the holidays.

The report has just been published and sufficient time has elapsed since April for me to have recovered from the experience. I can see that it was, in fact, rather like a snakes and ladders game.

We threw a six straight away by having documentation hand-delivered to the local HMIE office before the required date.

HMIE needed several throws to get going because it lost some of the paperwork and dates agreed for meetings with parent groups had to be rearranged around other commitments of a lay inspector and the associate assessor. But it soon caught up by adding two more inspectors to the team, bringing it up to six.

The first day of the inspection had us scaling ladders in style. Feedback from pupils', parents' and staff questionnaires was very positive, as were comments made during the initial tour of the school and meetings with me.

We slithered down our first snake on admission that religious observance for our senior pupils was held only fortnightly but made a good recovery when two inspectors joined pupils and me at the gold table in the dining room. The P1 lassie was not in the least overawed by being in the presence of greatness, prolonging her pleasure of their company by producing mystery parcels from her lunch box for 50 minutes.

Primary 1 continued to throw enthusiastically for us the next day when, at the end of their maths lesson, a voice piped: "Miss, can I show my work to the important man?"

We were not so confident about our position after the meeting between three inspectors and a senior pupil group. We suspected that they had not done justice to measures taken by the school to counteract vandalism and had forgotten to mention a community poster competition.

We climbed higher and higher after visits to classes as learning and teaching was judged as nothing less than good, with a few examples of best practice.

The length of our school day for the early stages was an unexpected anaconda but our spirits rose on hearing reports of an inspector being discovered lost and feigning interest in the good news board as a cover tactic.

The samba band had us racing up a ladder for expressive arts; then we cascaded down a snake when time for physical education was found wanting.

We fell further back on issues beyond our control but nevertheless included in the school's report.

On the last stretch, the timely publication of the report on religious observance in schools and a decision to refer the issue of school day length to the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland were all we needed to finish with our heads held high.

As with all games, it's the taking part that mattered. Aye, right.

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in Aberdeen

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