15th February 2008 at 00:00
Q: How interested do you think Ofsted will be if a reception classroom looks slightly less bright and inviting than a nursery in the same school?

A: Schools sometimes worry unduly about displays; certainly inspectors don't expect walls to be adorned and decorated for their benefit. Having said that, creating a stimulating environment for the children is usually considered to be an important feature of foundation stage provision. If you are contrasting the reception classroom unfavourably with your nursery, then I dare say parents and children are doing the same, and inspectors may raise concerns.

Q: We have just had our inspection and a member of staff who was observed was told that the lesson had been good with outstanding elements.

However, when the teacher asked for developmental areas in order to improve, the inspector said there were none. The inspector said that as a non specialist in the subject he was observing, he was unable to give an outstanding grade, hence the judgement.

I know that this is not the case, not least because elsewhere, a non-subject-specialist did award outstanding to a lesson. So is this informal advice, old advice or simply incorrect? We are not going to challenge, query or appeal against verbal feedback in this one aspect, as it had no impact upon overall judgements, but I am curious about the principle involved.

A: Oh dear. I think from this account that the inspector is lucky that you are not seeking to complain. Where inspectors give feedback on a lesson and it is graded other than outstanding, they should always identify how it could be better. Indeed, even outstanding lessons might have a point for improvement because outstanding does not mean perfect.

It is not acceptable for inspectors to downgrade judgements simply because they are observing lessons outside their comfort zone. On ordinary inspections, they are not in school as subject specialists and are expected to be able to collect evidence across all subjects.

I suppose in this case that no harm was done, as it didn't affect overall judgements, but teachers should certainly be prepared to challenge inspectors who grade a lesson as good or satisfactory, but are unable to explain why.

Selwyn Ward draws on years of inspection experience. The views expressed here are his own. To ask him a question, contact him at

Selwyn regularly answers your Ofsted questions on our forums at

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today