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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 12:37 GMT
The inspector's viewpoint
By Gary Eason
BBC News Online education editor

lesson being monitored
Inspectors' main concern is what is best for the children
Gloria Hitchcock has long experience as a "regi" - one of the registered inspectors who lead inspection teams for the English education watchdog, Ofsted.

After a varied career as teacher, university lecturer, head teacher trainer and county inspector, she completed the "rigorous" Ofsted training to become a registered inspector in 1993.

Since then she estimates she has done some 80 to 90 inspections in her specialist area of primary schools, working for inspection contractors.

The teams of inspectors are put together by the contractor, so as to bring a suitable range of expertise to bear on a school.

She would do "a huge amount of preparation" to find out about the school so as to give it "a fair deal".


This leads to a pre-inspection commentary which goes to the head teacher and flags up any areas that appear to need particular attention, such as standards or attendance.

Head teachers' self-evaluations - the S4 forms they have to complete - have become more important in recent years and will be even more so under Ofsted's latest proposals.

"I have found them to be very realistic. Some are more thorough than others," Mrs Hitchcock said.

When a team goes into a school, it is not there to "catch people out", she said.

The approach was friendly without being cosy - a dialogue of professionals.

"It's not a game. The key thing in my mind when I go into a school is thinking about the children.

"What's happening for them, what are the best things for them? I want to report fairly on what's happening and suggest ways in which things might be able to be improved."

Pupils' and parents' views

Head teachers had told her they were surprised she had got a feel for their school so quickly. Partly that was experience, she said - but the secret was asking the children what things were like.

Indeed, children's views now make up a formal part of inspection reports.

Parents' opinions are also sought, in confidence, before an inspection, and any concerns or areas of praise are likely to be assessed during it.

It is however a truism that some will think there is too much homework - and some will think there is too little.

Not surprisingly, Mrs Hitchcock is a firm believer in the value of Ofsted in setting high expectations and raising standards.

She laughs at the idea that inspectors are aloof figures - apart from anything else she is a parent herself.

"I have seen lots of wonderful things in schools," she said.

"I would say what a privilege I have found it - that sounds very pious but I really mean it - to go into so many schools and see so many things happening, and to be able to make a difference where things can be improved.

"It's a partnership between Ofsted, independent inspectors and schools - working for the good of the children."

Valuable expertise

The union representing many school improvement specialists, including inspectors, is called Naeiac.

Its general secretary, John Chowcat, has already been discussing the new proposals with Ofsted chief David Bell and has no fundamental objections, but does make two points.

"This new model relies heavily on strengthened school self-evaluation," he said.

"In some schools that's already a powerful tradition but it's patchy - so the key to success is not just a matter of a longer 'tick list', to check on its performance, it's also to do with a cultural change in many schools, to identify weaknesses, bring them out and discuss them.

"If you have a very traditional, top-down head teacher that's not easy, they will need advice to do that."

Secondly, Ofsted envisages greater use of its own inspection staff, the HMIs (Her Majesty's Inspectors).

Mr Chowcat said it was important that Ofsted did not waste the long experience and expertise of independent inspectors - they would still have a role to play.

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