7 May 2009

Surviving the Subject Survey Ofsted

Allow me to take you back to last Tuesday.  I'm free first two periods, and as is the trend at our school, the day when you have most of your non-contact time is also duty day.  The Deputy Head comes over to the office to tell me that he's found someone to cover my duty, and can I come over to his office at break along with the Heads of French and German.  I'm worried, as he hasn't elaborated on his request, and my first thought is that a parent had complained (is that always my first thought?)  

Anyway, break time in the Deputy Head's office, and we're told that Ofsted are coming in for two days to evaluate the teaching of the department, and will be looking closely at, as the letter put it, the impact of national initiatives in our school, and how ICT enhances the learning of our students.

Cue much cursing and annoyance.  Not so much with the fact that we're being inspected, but much more to do with the timing of the visit.  Oral exams, and coursework mean that our department is already working at full pelt, and to have this was just the straw that broke le dos du chameau. (Using target language - very important)

Thankfully (!) we were inspected as a whole school only a year ago, so most of our paperwork was in order, but nevertheless, we spent hours going through it all, making sure we had answers for any and all of the inspector's questions.  I even went so far as to 'google' the HMI to see what other inspections had been authored, and to see what sort of things they would possibly be likely to say.  Maybe a touch over the top, but I was curious!  I also checked out the other schools in town to see why none of them had had a similar inspection, only to find that actually most of them had.  Oh.

So Thursday was spent tidying up the languages building, sorting out the displays, making sure they were all up to date.  I couldn't help but think to myself that they wouldn't even look at the displays, as I was pinning up yet more photos of the recently departed Spanish exchange at 8.30pm, whilst the caretaker painted another wall.  Friday was making sure that all teh classrooms were in order, and that all those who were being observed were clued up, knew what they were doing, and that lesson plans and ideas were checked out.  I had planned my lesson for Y13, and put it online, and thanks to a few of my contacts on twitter, tweaked it a touch.  Then tweaked it again.

So after the Bank Holiday, the inspector turns up.  His train didn't get in until 11am, so when the Head brought him into school, it was a fairly brief 15 minute introduction, a few questions about our GCSE results, and our KS3 levels, and then off to his first lesson.  He wanted a range of languages and abilities, so right off the bat it was our Applied Language French group in Y10.  

Lunch, and a meeting (my second with him) along with our county advisor to tell the inspector all about the Language College, then he was off to a Y8 Spanish lesson.  Meeting after school with the Heads of French and German, and then another meeting with myself and the Head (Number 3).  As he left, he asked, "Could I come in before school and have a look at the displays?" Inwardly I smiled at the irony, before he said, "Would 7.45am be too early?"  I nearly choked on my coffee.

Wednesday, and the very punctual inspector was let in to the building to have a nose around the place, as I went to set up my Y13 lesson to be observed.  The students were brilliant, and everybody managed to 'get stuff learnt' so it seemed to go well.  There then followed yet another meeting with the inspector to talk about ICT, and our links with our school's Science College.  I felt I was getting to know the HMI quite well, even if he was not really engaging with my light-hearted banter!

An afternoon of going through our marking, the students' books, 3 pupil panels, made up of KS3, KS4 and KS5 students, all of whom were asked to speak in a different language.

So 3.30pm, and we find out that we're 'good with elements of outstanding', which is pretty much what we would have said ourselves.  Despite being pleased with the outcome, the timing was just so lousy.


Marie-france perkins said...

Congratulations. Timing is always lousy. Ours was second week in term (September!!)

sinikka said...

This was fascinating to read! You see,in Finland school inspections were abolished back in the 80s - part of the decentralisation of school administration. Your inspectors must know a lot of foreign languages to be able to assess students' skills in all of them!

I think our schools and individual teachers are lucky to have a lot autonomy, but there are downsides, too. For example, only very few dedicated teachers do anything about 'displays' at my school, it's appalling! In fact, even the concept of 'displays' doesn't exist in our secondary schools. Are you paid for updating your displays in Britain?

Anonymous said...

Well done Alex - i have to admit i am not very ready to face a subject inspection - we are not a Languages College - the pressure is on for Maths and Science with us, but I know other Lang colleges in Somerset which have really been through the wringer, doing well, but at what a cost to one's sanity! I enjoy your blog and podcasts - every success and keep sane!!

alex said...

Hi & sorry for contacting you this way. Just couldn't find your email.
I've created a software that assists words memorization & provides a way to exchange dictionaries. You might find it useful. Available at http://wordoholic.com

Thanks for your time,