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An Inspector writes

We are confused and worried about the final outcome of our inspection. We have just received oral feedback from the RgI. He indicated that the school is not failing, but may be judged as having "serious weakness" arising from the quality of teaching and standards in a number of subjects, including English and maths, at key stage 2. What are the implications of "serious weaknesses"? Why do you think the RgI is still undecided? We are reluctant to push for a decision in case we tip the balance the wrong way.

Ofsted has been identifying and taking action on serious weaknesses for less than a year in primary schools and for longer in secondaries. As distinct from failing schools or schools likely to fail where pupils are judged to be receiving an unacceptable standard of education, and where special measures have to be swiftly implemented, schools with serious weaknesses represent a new category about 8 to 10 per cent that are judged to be acceptable at the time of the inspection, but which need to be watched.

Ofsted regards a school as having serious weaknesses when one or more of the following factors exist:

* unsatisfactory or poor teaching and learning in more than a quarter of lessons; * unsatisfactory standard in four or more subjects, and particularly in the core subjects, across the whole school or in a key stage; * standards of pupil behaviour and conduct that cause concern; * a level of attendance below 90%; * more than 5 exclusions in primary or 25 in secondary; * a school not giving value for money; Schools that fall into the category of serious weaknesses will be formally visited by HMI six months or longer after the inspection, to ascertain whether they are showing clear signs of improvement.

There may be further visits, but at any time, even at the first visit, a school which is judged to have made "too little progress," or to have deteriorated would then be regarded as failing and be subject to special measures. HMI would publish a report to that effect.

Obviously, then, serious weaknesses would not be a welcome judgment, and I can sympathise with your instincts to soft peddle the matter with RgI in the hope it may all blow over, rather like a nervous patient hoping the doctors will forget the most ominous symptoms.

But it would be most unwise to do that. You need to clarify the matter immediately because, should the worst come to the worst, your Action Plan will have to be constructed round the important improvements that have to be made, and you may need to secure support and advice to help with their partial implementation, at least, before the visit of HMI.

I am rather surprised that by the end of the inspection you are still left in doubt about the main outcome. It may be that the RgI is seeking advice from Ofsted. However, in asking to clarify the matter you may well help him to reflect and review the critical issues in a way that is ultimately favourable to you.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax 0171-782 3200.

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