Dear Selwyn

28th April 2006 at 01:00
An inspector writes

Selwyn Ward is the TES's inspection 'agony uncle', answering your questions on the new Ofsted process

In the self-evaluation form (SEF) a section asks: "how well do learners prepare for economic wellbeing?" We are an infant school and are rather stumped by that one. Can you offer any advice?

You may well think that this SEF question is, in an infant or nursery school, a casualty of the use of standardised forms for all inspections.

With much older students, schools would be writing here about preparation for the world of work through work experience, and opportunities to learn practical life skills such as how bank accounts work. With infants, I might expect to see the question interpreted more liberally: they might be learning about money; foundation stage children may be learning through role-play in the "shop"; through PSHE, pupils will be developing self-confidence and the ability to work co-operatively and productively together.

I don't think there is any expectation that you should be instituting a programme of child labour; putting them up chimneys might help them learn about the Victorians, but it would probably fall foul of other Every Child Matters criteria.

I have just taken over as literacy co-ordinator in a large (three-form entry) primary school. There seems to be little consistency in terms of delivery or assessment. I have put a standardised planning format in place and am trying to introduce levelled writing, but things are moving slowly because some colleagues say we shouldn't bombard the staff with too much.

It sounds as though you have begun to get on top of things. The first step is to identify where there are problems. You then need to be able to show that the school is monitoring delivery and pupils' progress (including identifying any marked difference in achievement of boys and girls or pupils from different ethnic backgrounds) and that you have strategies in place for ensuring improvement. Inspectors don't expect to find everything sorted, but they are unlikely to be impressed with mere ma$ana.

In a large primary school like yours, differences of approach between staff are going to be more obvious than in a smaller school. If they are marked, this might be regarded by inspectors as an equal opportunities issue. Do you set for literacy? If you set in mathematics and not English (which is not uncommon), and setting is monitored as being effective in the school in maths, then can you explain why (other than in terms of dogma) setting is eschewed for literacy? Inspectors should not have any axe to grind for or against setting; but I mention it because it is an option that your school has that much smaller schools do not. I'd expect that in a school of your size, the pros and cons would at least have been evaluated.

Selwyn Ward draws on many years of experience in both primary and secondary schools, but the views expressed here are his own. You can raise any queries or worries that you have about inspection by logging on to the TES website at www.tes.co.uksectionstaffroom

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