Dear Selwyn

7th July 2006 at 01:00
Selwyn Ward is the TES's inspection 'agony uncle', answering your questions on the new Ofsted process

I am an ICT teacher in a very good secondary school; well, it's very good apart from our IT infrastructure. It keeps failing and I am concerned that the network will fail. What will inspectors expect in this situation?

Murphy's Law ("anything that can go wrong, will go wrong") is certainly applicable to lessons when there is an inspector in the room. If your computer network is prone to failure, I'd expect that this vulnerability would be something the school will have identified in its self-evaluation as an area needing improvement. I'd also expect you to be making sure that teachers always have an alternative strategy planned for what their classes will be doing if the network crashes. If you don't do this, teachers will be flustered and inspectors are unlikely to see much learning going on.

Come to think of it, having a contingency plan is probably not a bad idea even for when you haven't got inspectors underfoot.

What's the difference between HMI and Ofsted?

HMI are Her Majesty's Inspectors and they are employed directly by Ofsted.

This is as opposed to AI (additional inspectors) who are not directly employed by Ofsted. AI may be employed full or part-time by the regional inspection service providers (the companies that organise inspections for Ofsted) or they may be freelance. Some will be serving teachers, headteachers or local authority advisors. HMI have always conducted some inspections, though under the previous arrangements the vast majority were carried out by registered inspectors and their teams. From the start of this academic year, a much higher proportion of inspections are being led by HMI. Ofsted indicated an expectation that one in five primary inspections would be led by HMI and four out of five secondary inspections.

Is it really necessary to provide lesson plans (complete with aims, outcomes etc) for the 15-minute lesson observations that inspectors seem to be doing these days?

I was on a follow-up visit to a school in special measures recently. I saw an outstanding lesson where the written plan was skimpy, and a weak lesson with a detailed written lesson plan. If your lesson is well planned, that ought to be evident to the inspector regardless of what pieces of paper you have.

The lead inspector determines the pattern of lesson observation and will keep the school informed about the rationale behind it. Inspectors may observe portions of lessons for a variety of purposes: for example, they may track the progress of an individual. The length of the observation is probably irrelevant here. If anything, arguably it's even more useful to have a written lesson plan that guides the inspector as to what has happened and is intended to happen for the parts of the lesson that they won't be seeing.

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

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