As you were ..

19th September 2008 at 01:00
Be upfront, natural and show off what you do best when the inspectors call

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.

Inspectors are only going to want to look at the sort of things that 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. The starting point is always the school's own evaluation of how it is doing. If you are part of the leadership team, you'll be closely involved in generating the school's self evaluation form (SEF)

Don't think of this as a one-off deal. There is nothing more stressful than getting "the call" and only then realising that your SEF is a year out of date. Being prepared means keeping the school self evaluation up- to-date, so you don't get thrown into sudden panic.

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 typically like in your school.

Often it will confirm what the school is itself saying teaching is like. 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 a brilliant or a dreadful teacher; just that the pupils have made good or poor progress on this occasion and why. It's a lot less stressful if you can remember to bear this in mind.

By the same token, don't work yourself into a lather to put on a "show lesson" for the benefit of the inspector. Inspectors will be looking at books and seeing the sort of work pupils normally do and the sort of progress they are generally making. If you try to turn on 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. In any event, you cannot be sure which lessons the inspectors will dip into. In most secondary schools and large primaries, you may not get visited 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. I'm referring to the need to be honest.

If there are difficulties that you have to wrestle with in your school, don't try to hide them. Be upfront and use the inspection as an opportunity 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. He answers teachers' questions in the TES Magazine

IN SHORT

- Be prepared.

- Park the paranoia.

- Do what you'd normally do.

- Don't try to paper (or put displays) over the cracks.

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