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'Treat school inspectors like your favourite auntie'

School inspections are daunting but there’s no reason to panic about them, says primary teacher Adam Black

Maybe teachers should treat school inspectors like a favourite auntie coming to tea, says Adam Black

School inspections are daunting but there’s no reason to panic about them, says primary teacher Adam Black

School inspectors: are they really the big baddies people make them out to be? Think of that feeling when the “black box” arrives (or the email, as it is now) and the panic that sweeps through the school. The heidie pulls everyone into a “crisis meeting” and breaks the news. Remember all the things you say to each other following the initial outburst of expletives? Things like: “What will they be looking for?” “How many observations will there be?” “What will they think of the behaviour of Child X?” Or even, “I’ve got a wedding to attend this weekend, how will I enjoy it now?!”

It's an understandable viewpoint, as a visit from Education Scotland or Ofsted is like no other observation – it is the highest and most public level of scrutiny. Almost every teacher I meet feels that there are too many lesson observations these days, but they become part of your normal school life. A school inspection, though, is on another level.

A visit from inspectors can make you start to convince yourself that you're a rubbish teacher and must change everything you do, even before they arrive. We all strip the walls to make them fresh and put completely new decorations up. Planning files are freshly printed and highlighter pens are put on overdrive – you must know what I'm talking about. You spend more hours in school for the fortnight before The Visit than you’d like to, and you sometimes think it would be easier to bring a sleeping bag in and camp through the night – at least, that’s how I felt.

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However, in my experience, a visit from inspectors didn't really turn out to be that bad. I was, in some ways, looking forward to it. I wanted to ask them to view a couple of lessons and give me feedback, perhaps even start a professional dialogue on pedagogy. We are all, at the heart of it, still teachers – right?

'The school inspection team were fantastic'

I was curious to see if they'd mention my wall displays or comment on the highlighting in my file. They didn’t, but this doesn’t mean those things weren’t noticed. I think every little bit of our school was noticed and discussed. They were astute and, I'll be honest, this inspection team were fantastic. They were utterly approachable and knowledgeable, but they definitely had a presence. They were good with the children in our school and, in conversations with the staff team, they eventually put us at ease, too. With that ease came the teaching we do every day, and it really was a fair representation of our normal routine.

However, even though it was a positive experience for us, we were still bloody glad when they left! I’ve still yet to find a better-tasting beer than the one on a Friday evening after inspectors have left your school.

I guess my advice would be this: treat school inspectors like your favourite auntie coming to dinner. Don't try to cook anything too fancy in case it goes wrong – but you do want to serve dinner on your nice china set, to impress her just a little.

Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland who, in the New Year's Honours list, received the British Empire Medal for raising awareness of stammering. He tweets@adam_black23

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