No one expects the Inquisition

7th 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 new weekly column is prompted by the popularity of his online clinic I've heard that in terms of time since last inspection, the slate has been wiped clean. Does this mean a school that was Ofsteded two years ago could still get "the call"?

Like the Spanish Inquisition, no one should expect their Ofsted. Part of the rationale for reducing the notice to a maximum of a week and a minimum of "good morning, I've come to inspect your school" is that this is supposed to reduce pre-inspection stress. Part of the rationale, though, is also to respond to critics who said schools have previously been overprepared. If the only schools being inspected were those that were "due", then where would be the element of surprise?

Having said that, no one should think they are not going to get the call.

Being prepared is pretty much just the headteacher and senior management team (SMT) ensuring that they have a clear handle on the school's strengths and weaknesses, with monitored strategies for tackling the latter. It would be nice to think that this was something they'd be doing anyway.

During my last inspection I was asked about my qualifications and feedback that I had been given by my SMT. This happened while I was teaching and, apart from being distracting, I did not want my students to hear. Can I refuse to answer such questions?

Inspectors shouldn't be interrupting your teaching to quiz you about anything. Even after the lesson, the inspector shouldn't ask you questions like that (or give you feedback on the lesson) with students underfoot. But if you find yourself in that position, politely tell the inspector that you will talk to him or her after the lesson.

What does Ofsted think of splitting classes between different teachers, especially at key stage 3?

Ofsted should not have a view; it has never been the task of inspectors to lay down the law on how you do things. Under previous inspection regimes, inspectors should simply have judged whether or not the arrangement is effective and whether pupils' needs are being properly met. Under the new system, they will expect the school to have evaluated that and they may want to look at the evidence for its conclusions.

Some colleagues are daunted at the prospect of having an inspector in the room. I always say that they should teach as they would normally and imagine the inspector standing naked at the back of the room.

I am sure that that is good advice. Although usually I endeavour to wear a tie!

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 His column will appear through Easter and then in Friday magazine for the summer term

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