Latecomers let me down

14th April 2006 at 01:00
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 new weekly column is prompted by the popularity of his online clinic My school is due for an Ofsted inspection, so all staff are being observed on the new criteria. I failed mine today. I said in my lesson plan that all bags and coats would be placed in a designated area. However, most of my students came in and put them on the backs of their chairs or under tables.

I also had a lot of absenteestruants, and two of the class were nearly 20 minutes late. In my observation panic, I didn't remember to sanction the two latecomers.

My delivery, teaching, movement and interaction with pupils was graded as good. It seems rather unfair that you can fail for a bag being out of place or someone being late, despite your teaching being good.

Health and safety concerns can, of course, lead to a lesson being "failed".

It is rare for an inspector to intervene in a lesson, but one of the few circumstances in which this might happen is when a lesson is physically unsafe for the children. I once had to intervene during a science lesson when the students started setting fire to each other with Bunsen burners. I can imagine times when baggage might make a practical lesson unsafe, but in most instances I doubt that inspectors would "fail" a lesson in the circumstances you describe.

High absence rates and pupils drifting in late and going unchallenged sound like concerns that I'd expect inspectors to follow up, although they are likely to be whole-school issues.

I am not saying your management team is wrong. They are trying to get things sorted in advance of the inspection and it's good to be well prepared. Nevertheless, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that the actual inspectors may not be quite so harsh.

Our school is probably due an inspection, because the last one was in 1999.

Our new head only started last term. Will this be taken into consideration?

Ofsted will not take this into account when setting inspection dates; I've inspected several schools with new and even interim heads. However, they won't expect the head to have attempted to do everything the day he or she started. They will expect him or her to have embarked on a programme of evaluation - so that they are developing a clear appreciation of what the school is doing well and what needs to be improved - with some early strategies at least scheduled, if not yet in place, for tackling any areas of weakness.

A new head will obviously be less able to demonstrate the practical outcomes of their leadership, but they should still be able to show that they can prioritise appropriately and have the capacity to be successful.

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

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