Education: Get ready for that visit: Don't panic, prepare. Julia Hagedorn sits in on a special training day for primary schools

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The Independent Online
As the brown envelopes from the Office for Standards in Education start dropping through their letterboxes, primary school heads are beginning to prepare themselves for the ordeal of an autumn inspection.

In many ways they are luckier than their secondary colleagues, who were often ignorant of the criteria and procedures to be used in the inspection, and frequently not furnished with Ofsted's Handbook for the Inspection of Schools.

But this does not stop heads worrying - as was clear at the first one-day Pre- Ofsted Training for Primary Schools run by the Industrial Society in London, which attracted 45 heads and chairs of governors to hear about the framework of inspection, how best to prepare, how to survive, and how to follow through.

The ideas from members of the new inspection teams came thick and fast. Get hold of the inspectors' bulletin, Update, said Derek Lewis, a former head, and see what Ofsted is telling its own team. Use the pre-inspection visit to set your own agenda, suggested Sally Featherstone. Get the chair of governors, if need be, to take the reporting inspector to lunch and explain the context within which the school is set. Do not expect any concessions, however, because the head has been on sick leave for a year or three members of staff have just left.

Teachers were reminded that there is now a code of conduct for inspectors. Their judgements must be reliable and, above all, first-hand. Everyone knew that an inspection could be no more than a snapshot of the school, Sally Featherstone said, but it was up to heads to make sure it was not out of focus.

Ron Mycock, an HMI for 19 years, pointed out that the preparation of children's work and school policies for an inspection could be good for a school. 'It also gives teachers confidence and reduces their apprehension,' he said. 'It's like an examination. If you prepare your pupils, they will do better.'

Ms Featherstone called it assertiveness training. 'If it is not going to help in your development as a school, it is a waste of time and the Government is wasting a lot of money.'

Bev Ledra, head of Frizinghall First School in Bradford, which has had an Ofsted inspection, agreed. Despite being intimidated by the inspector, depressed about the amount of paperwork, and suicidal when told that the report would be sent to the press, she said she agreed with accountability.

'If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. It is nerve-racking, however well prepared you are. But the perfect school does not exist and all we can do is our best and use the inspection to help us improve.'

Lynn Dawling, an inspector, said the oral feedback and final report given to schools provided an action plan that would have cost pounds 6,000 from a consultancy. It was also an extremely effective management tool that enabled heads to plan their schools' future development.

This was not quite how Sue Brown, head of Sparrow Farm Junior School in Feltham, Middlesex, saw it. She had already received her brown envelope - but knew her weaknesses, and the report would hold no surprises.

Perhaps she had not tackled some things as quickly as she should have in her three years as head, 'but having someone from outside coming in and telling me coldly is not the best way of doing it. I get the impression that it is more stick than carrot.'

The Industrial Society is holding further training days for primary school heads and chairs of governors, at pounds 90 per person, on 28 March and 24 June in London, 22 April and 23 May in Birmingham and 11 July in Harrogate. Phone 021-454 6769 for details.