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Though we had a good Ofsted inspection, the report left us with 'key issues' that were vague. I thought it was supposed to give practical tips for improvement?

I am pleased your inspection went well, but it is disappointing to hear that inspectors left you with vague issues for improvement. This is something that Ofsted is keen to see improved and it is something that Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, has raised. Ms Gilbert said recently: "We need to be much clearer in our recommendations to schools of what to do in terms of their teaching and learning."

As you say, inspection should be contributing to the continuing process of school improvement. The key issues flagged in the report may reinforce improvement points that the school has already identified. It is highly likely that will be so in a school where the leadership and management are good and clearly on top of things. The issues should nonetheless be specific. You may still occasionally find older reports that simply call for the school to raise standards or improve teaching.

However, these statements of the obvious merely tell the school to improve, they don't offer any clue as to how anyone might go about achieving this.

The key issues in reports should not be looking at what should be improved, but what the school should do to improve. So where, for example, there are elements of teaching that could be better, the report should home in on what specifically would help most in moving teaching from satisfactory to good. This should in turn parallel the ongoing monitoring of teaching and learning that school leaders will be doing. If your headteacher sits in on a lesson and judges it good, it is reasonable to expect some guidance as to what would help move it from good to outstanding.

If yours is a school that has an old report with a vague injunction to improve teaching, the most helpful thing school leaders can do is to break down for themselves which shortcomings have held back learning and put in place measures to address these points.

Selwyn Ward has been an inspector for 15 years, working in primary and secondary schools. The views expressed here are his own. To ask him a question, email him at

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