Dawn of the Inspection

19 03 2013

This is me on Friday afternoon. It had been a hard day at the end of a hard week. Teachers off sick, fire-fighting, a staff meeting which took an unexpected turn, things which could have been handled better…


Dawn of the (nearly) dead DOS?

Well, OK, I’m exaggerating. I didn’t look exactly like that. But by the end of Friday I did feel a bit brain dead.

As well as being just a bad day at the office, I was also in…The Pre-Inspection Apocalypse Zone.

We’re about to have a school inspection, and an inspection is something that always raises the stress levels.

Funnily enough, the inspector coming to visit us is called Dawn.

Hope she’s OK. I mean, it shouldn’t really matter who the inspector is, should it? Inspectors just follow their checklists of criteria or standards. ‘If we follow The Book (the accreditation handbook, that is),  if we live by it, and love The Book,’ as Mr British Council Inspector said at the English UK Managers Conference a couple of weeks ago, ‘then all will be well.’ He meant us – the school – but he might have meant the inspectors too. Later at the same conference, in fact, in her closing plenary, OFSTED Inspector, Philida Schellekens, wondered aloud if inspectors sometimes had their own, extra set of criteria, their hobby-horses.

Anyway, we’re not having a British Council or OFSTED inspection. We are due to be visited by…YXY, let’s call them, for the time being. If you’re not from the UK, you won’t have heard of them anyway.

[I feel a rant coming on.]

Basically, a year or two ago, the government came up with a new policy (written on the back of an envelope in the back of a cab, no doubt) to DEAL WITH all those dodgy students who come here on visas and pay for English language courses and other things like accommodation and go sight-seeing and boost our economy and terrible things like that. Anyway, because the Government wanted to look tough on immigration, they decided that the British Council (years and years of experience inspecting EFL schools) were no longer up to the job, and gave it to YXY (zero experience of inspecting EFL schools), and let them charge three times as much for the same kind of inspection.

There. Sorry, rant over.

Actually, YXY have certainly given EFL schools in the UK a shake up. It hasn’t been all bad! They’ve made us think in new ways about important stuff, like learning and progress and differentiation. The BC are having to play catch-up.

But our first YXY inspection did not go so well.  Not because we’re no good, you understand! Looking back, I should have been more worried when, on the pre-inspection tour of the school, the inspector made this passing comment: “oh isn’t it nice to see the students aren’t all sitting in rows.” I don’t think any EFL school, at least in The UK, has their students sitting in rows.

Is your EFL classroom like this? Probably not

Probably not an EFL classroom near you

It turned out the inspector knew little about our teaching context. It was a very frustrating experience. The report didn’t capture our strengths, we felt, and its’ recommendations were mostly bland, and hard to fathom how they had been reached.

I'm not bitter

I’m not bitter

Anyway, although we did not like what had been said, I dusted myself down, and got on with responding to the recommendations. And in spite of my bad feeling about that inspection experience, we have gone on to make some great improvements in the school.

So will this inspection be better? Of course, it depends on us. The inspection is a test. A test of our organisation, of our teachers’ teaching, of my management mettle. A lot of energy has gone in to getting everything ready, and I have tried to get the team into an oiled and purring state. The teachers, I know, will be under a lot of pressure, but they’ll be fine – I have every faith in them.

But in the end, does it come down to this: will Dawn of the Inspection see our strengths? Will she be reading from the same script as the last inspector? Will she have her own hobby horses? I want so badly for us to do well, but does it depend on Dawn?




4 responses

19 03 2013
bren brennan (@brenbrennan)

Inspectors will always, always, ALWAYS find something to have a niggle at – it’s their raison d’etre. How would they justify the (as you stated) outrageous fees if there wasn’t something like the wastepaper bin being too near a fire exit to get their teeth into and prooooove that the school needed to come up to standards…. in a big way!
I’m sure that we can all easily imagine the ridiculous nit-picking on their clipboards, but as this is a TEFL blog, I’m sure that your (3 or 4) readers would like to know what the actual teaching recommendations were in the previous dressing down. (Don’t worry other readers, I’m a friend of Josh’s, so that last comment was purely banter!)

Could you enlighten us further as to the educational shortfall aspects (in the inspector’s eyes) of the first inspection?


19 03 2013

Hi Bren, thanks for the banter (is that the best you can do?!)

Yes, it is a given that inspectors will always nit-pick, that’s ok, it’s to be expected.
What was frustrating at the last inspection was the lack of insight and experience of our context that the inspector had.

Broadly, the shortfalls in the inspection report included level of challenge, homework, lesson planning, tutorials, and learner independence. Pretty much everything which we do well, I think.

Anyway, as I said, it has been a spur to go on and do them better, and that is often the positive outcome of any inspection.


19 03 2013
Martin Sketchley (@ELTExperiences)

I am guessing your inspection is with the Independent School Inspection team. Last year, our school in the South East had an inspection by them and the organisation were lovely. Obviously, they were following similar principles to OFSTED and some of the inspectors had an EFL background. At the end of the day, it is a wonderful chance to show off.


19 03 2013

Martin – you cracked my code! Dah!
Glad you had a nice experience last year. But don’t get me wrong, I have always (perversely?) enjoyed inspections, as you say, it’s a chance to show off.
But now I’ve been a bit bruised, I’m just more wary. And also aware that among DOS colleagues I know in London, there have been really mixed experiences with this inspecting body, or at least some wide-ranging inconsistencies, giving the feeling that it almost comes down to who you get, in terms of the inspector and outcome.


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