It didn't go well - you're all sacked

21st April 2006 at 01:00
Dear Selwyn

Selwyn Ward is the TES online inspection "agony uncle" who every week answers dozens of questions from school staff on the new Ofsted process.

This column is prompted by the popularity of his online clinic I am part of the senior management team at a primary school. Our head and deputy have been scrambling to complete the Self Evaluation Form (SEF), tucked away in isolation. I'm afraid I won't know the document and will have to "cram" a day before Ofsted appears.

I suspect that yours is not a unique experience. Hopefully, though, your colleagues will give you an opportunity for input, at least at the final draft stage. SEFs are expected (but not required) to be in place and posted online so that they can be accessed by the inspector just before the inspection. Assuming yours is this "normal" situation, the SEF will be in place weeks, months and maybe years before Ofsted arrive; during which time, you and other colleagues will be able to read and, I'd hope, have input to it. The SEF shouldn't be a one-time-deal tablet of stone, but something that's returned to, reviewed and revised so that it becomes a management tool rather than a hurdle.

Inspectors will know if your school's SEF is only started after the inspection, because they won't have had prior access to it. I suspect that rather than cram on the morning of the inspection, it'd be better to be honest over where you have or haven't had input, and to talk instead about the input you've had into other areas of school self-evaluation, such as the school development plan.

Is it normal for teachers to be threatened with the sack if the school fails its inspection?

I think I'm safe in saying that most inspections don't start with staff being threatened with dismissal. Nor should that be the finish, regardless of the inspection findings.

It isn't the function of inspectors to judge the quality of teachers, although they do comment on what is most and least effective about the teaching. This may seem like a subtle distinction but it is an important one. A few years ago, teachers and heads were given printouts after the inspection that showed them all their lesson grades. This was abandoned; not least because some heads tried to abuse the information by seeking to use low Ofsted observation grades as grounds for disciplinary action.

Where schools do "fail" under the new system, it will almost inevitably be because of concerns about the quality of leadership and management. The current system now requires inspectors to ask one final question before deciding whether or not a school requires special measures: are the leaders demonstrating the capacity to make the improvements needed?

Selwyn Ward draws on many years of inspection experience in both primary and secondary schools, but the views expressed are his own. To ask him a question go to www.tes.co.uksectionstaffroom

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