When my company was working as fire, safety and emergency planning consultants on a major international transport facility on the other side of the world, part of our remit was to act as observers and to report on the conduct of the required annual safety exercises which were intended to test procedures and performance.
These were carried out in conjunction with the various routine desk-top exercises which involved the diverse (7) emergency services.
On arrival at one of the emergency centres during one exercise at 0100 hrs, we found relevant staff fully relaxed and busy making tea. When asked by us if they didn’t realise there was an exercise on, the response was,
“Oh yea – but we don’t have to appear until 0335!”
The whole exercise accordingly performed like a well-rehearsed play and gave heavily inaccurate impressions of the norm - thus obviously yielding little wrong with the performance and procedures.
To my hard-hearted mind at least then, the whole thing appeared to have been an expensively produced sham which showed only what everybody wanted to see - but it fulfilled the annoying legal requirements.
Thereafter, and as we had with similar exercises on transport facilities elsewhere, our first major recommendation was that as far as possible, at least one such exercise should be carried out periodically on the basis that all except essential personnel should think it was ‘No Duff’ (a real emergency and not a training exercise).
In that way, a genuine testing could produce authentic results, rather than those produced by pre-planned and rehearsed theatre.
It has always been my opinion that unless inspection and testing of systems is periodically carried out - in effect, ‘No Duff’ - participants will always pre-prepare.
Thus, because the result will not indicate the true state of whatever is being tested/inspected, insufficient steps can be taken to improve matters where systems or procedures would otherwise be found wanting or out-dated.
So surely must it be with school inspections?
I can remember as a child, the school inspector’s visits being known about well in advance - with the result that all of us pupils and staff were fully briefed on how to answer questions when asked and things usually went pretty well.
In effect, and rather like a GOC’s inspection of a military installation, everybody knew what was coming and not only the facility itself but its procedures and personnel were always immaculately presented.
Not at all indicative of the ‘normal’ state of affairs!
Thus I fail to see how anybody could justifiably oppose un-announced spot inspections of schools by properly accredited inspectors - unless, of course, there is something to hide.
And from what I have heard and read, there may well have been quite a growing lot to hide in certain schools – a developing situation which could have been easily identified and nipped in the bud, if regular and appropriate inspections had been carried out from the word go.
As it is, I suspect we have the signs of an ominous and fairly well developed situation to be confronted.