How to survive the inspectors

Governors have a key role to play in the OFSTED process. Bob Doe offers some guidance on what can be a stressful experience.

The main focus of an inspection by the Office for Standards in Education is the management and teaching in the school. But inspectors are required to consult and report back to the governors and the work of the governors will be looked at. In particular inspectors will want to know how the governors ensure high standards and value for money.

An inspection team usually works under contract for OFSTED and must be led by a registered inspector. He or she must provide the governing body and the headteacher with a list of the information and documents required. Most of the preparation work and form filling will be done by the headteacher.

The inspection is preceded by a meeting with the inspector for parents. The governing body is required by law to arrange this meeting. Governors and teachers are not entitled to attend unless they have children in the school. The inspector is supposed to report the findings of this meeting to the chairman of the governing body as soon as possible.

Inspectors must observe lessons, scrutinise pupils' work, talk to pupils, teachers and governors and consider the school's aims, policies and educational programmes in reaching their conclusions on the school. The procedures to be followed and the evidence that must be considered are set out in OFSTED's Framework for the Inspection of Schools.

The inspector may ask to interview governors to see if there are any aspects of the school causing the governors' concern and to find out how the governors carry out their duties. The governing body should consider which governors it wishes to speak for it. It may, for instance, want the chairs of main committees to describe how the school ensures value for money or promotes higher standards.

Many teachers have found the first round of OFSTED inspections and their public reports an uncomfortable - sometimes stressful - experience. During the inspection governors can probably help best by reassuring staff (especially the head) that the governors fully appreciate the school's best qualities and any difficulties it faces; that staff are recognised as professionals who will welcome helpful comments on how to improve the school; and that whatever the outcome the job of the governors is to support the school and ensure fair play to everyone in it.

After the inspection, the inspector must report to the governing body. The governors are responsible for ensuring a copy of at least the inspector's summary of the report is sent to all parents and for an action plan to tackle the key issues for action identified by the report.

Schools judged to be failing their pupils or likely to fail them are said to "require special measures". This applies to about 2 per cent of the schools inspected to date.

According to OFSTED, "the most consistent features of failing schools are: the underachievement and low levels of attainment of the pupils; a high proportion of unsatisfactory teaching; and ineffective leadership. In almost all cases the pupils achieve below their capabilities although in a very few of the schools the external examination and test results show that the school is performing close to the national average for all schools or schools of a similar type.

"The quality of teaching may be unsatisfactory across the school, a key stage or in particular classes."

In these schools an approved action plan must be drawn up and inspectors will carry out repeat visits until the school has sufficiently improved to be removed from "special measures".

If the school fails to improve quickly enough, the Secretary of State can send a team or "education association" to take over the running of the school from the governors and the local authority.


Failing Schools

In most schools requiring special measures : * The attainment of pupils is low; standards are not commensurate with abilities; * The quality of teaching and learning is unsatisfactory; * Governing bodies are not well organised and some do not perform their statutory duties; * Leadership and management are weak and ineffective; * Value for money is poor, but funding is often above average.

In most failing primary schools: * The ability range is close to, but usually below, that found nationally; * Standards of literacy and numeracy are too low; * The impact of poor teaching is acute on one or more classes; * Teaching and results in KS2 are significantly poorer than in KS1.

In most failing special schools: * Too little attention is given to the national curriculum; * Behaviour seriously affects learning.

In most failing secondary schools: * GCSE results are low; * Attendance and punctuality is poor; * Behaviour of a significant number of pupils is unsatisfactory; * Exclusion rates are high; * The number of pupils is small with falling rolls ; * There are more boys than girls.

Adapted from OFSTED's From Failure to Success: How special measures are helping schools improve free from 0171 510 0180.

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