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Things I wish I'd known

Sue Cowley reveals what she has learned about Ofsted

News of an impending Ofsted inspection makes even the most experienced teacher nervous. As an NQT, it will probably fill you with terror, especially if you're unlucky enough to get "done" in your first term. There is a tendency to build inspections up into a horror of mythical proportions. The key to surviving Ofsted is to view it positively, as a chance to show what you can do.

In the period just before inspection, your school will be in a state of extreme tension. The ones with most to lose are the senior management team, so don't be surprised if they seem stressed and bad tempered. There will be a frenzy of paperwork production, as teachers are galvanised into updating policies and writing lesson plans.

It pays to be properly prepared. Use a standardised lesson planning format if your school provides one, and check over your plans with an experienced teacher. Have your paperwork ready, so that when an inspector does visit you can hand it over and carry on teaching. Get your resources sorted, doing any photocopying well before the event. Don't worry too much about behaviour: it's likely that the children will be better behaved than normal, especially if they understand what's happening.

There are some advantages in being a newly qualified teacher at Ofsted time. For a start, it's unlikely the inspectors will be too hard on you. As a recent graduate, you are used to being observed, so having extra bodies in your room will seem fairly normal. You will also be in the habit of actually writing lesson plans, whereas the more experienced among us prefer to scrawl ours on a scrap of paper, or even (dare I say it) teach without one.

Remember too that an inspection is only a snapshot of a moment in time.

Sadly for the inspectors, they will never be there when the best lessons happen, when you have one of those wonderful moments where everything gels.

I wish Ofsted had been there the day my Year 9 nightmare class spent an hour in pitch darkness, with only torches to light the room, acting out an adventure on an alien spaceship. Or when I overheard my most difficult student afterwards, telling his friends "we just did the most amazing lesson with Miss Cowley".

Keep in mind what's really important: the children. They're the reason we do this job. Even if the worst happens, and you're given a poor assessment, don't see it as a definitive judgment of your teaching. You know whether or not you're a good teacher. What does it matter if Ofsted only rate you as "satisfactory" or worse? It's what the children think that counts.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact: sue@suecowley.co.uk

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