An inspector calls

5th June 2009 at 01:00

Ofsted says inspectors will be spending more time in lessons next year. Does that mean we are in for longer inspections?

There are no plans to revert to the old-style inspections where, for example, in a primary school every teacher might expect to be seen teaching three or four times and inspectors made judgments on the school's teaching by "number crunching" the grades of the lessons observed. In those days, a set percentage of poor grades automatically triggered a requirement for inspectors to consider special measures.

What has been proposed is a refocus of existing practice to put greater emphasis on collecting first-hand evidence of the quality and impact of teaching and learning. That means less time in discussions with staff and more time not just in lessons but also in checking out the evidence of impact of teaching through looking at pupils' work.

The idea behind this is to ensure that inspectors have a clear handle on what works best in lessons and what precisely needs to be improved to move satisfactory teaching and learning to good, and good to outstanding.

Inspectors won't just be sitting for half an hour in a succession of lessons and looking at books. Many schools will have already experienced an inspector joining the headteacher on a learning walk, briefly visiting a succession of classes to get a picture of what is going on.

Visits to lessons can be expected to have a specific focus. This will sometimes be narrow: inspectors may, for example, be homing in on the progress of a specific small group of pupils who seem to have underperformed.

Where this is the case, it is possible that a lesson may be judged ineffective in respect to those pupils, even though the majority are making good progress. That does not mean that teaching and learning overall will be judged inadequate. It may, however, help the school to pinpoint the precise aspects of teaching that need to be improved to help move the school on.

As always, expect inspectors to focus on learning. They are interested not so much on what the teacher does, as on its impact.

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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