22nd February 2008 at 00:00
Q: I work in a rural school with less than 50 children, which was recently inspected by two HMIs on the first day and one on the second. One inspector was meant to be shadowing the other, but followed a separate timetable and both observed different teachers throughout. We have three teachers who work in the morning and two in the afternoon, so people were continuously being observed. This put tremendous pressure on the staff who consequently did not perform so well. Is this legal? Should a school this size be inspected in this way?

A: I'm not able to comment on the specific details of your inspection and the answer may depend on what you have interpreted "shadow" to mean.

There may be a shadow inspector on an inspection for one of two main reasons - because they are shadowing as trainees or because they are monitoring the inspection as part of the quality assurance process or the signing-off process for a newly qualified inspector.

What you describe is unusual because it is more common for inspectors who are shadowing to accompany the inspector who is actually inspecting.

Inspectors try to avoid putting undue pressure on staff and overloading them with observations. Obviously, I don't know the circumstances of your particular school, but I would expect that it agreed to a shadow inspector joining the inspection.

Q: We keep being told by our local authority that we will have an inspection this year because we were one of the last to have had an Ofsted under the old rules. I know of schools that have been inspected in the past few weeks that were two years behind us. Will they catch up to get all the schools this year so they will be within their three-year cycle?

A: As Benjamin Franklin famously remarked, nothing is certain except death and taxes, and even the latter has delivered surprises in recent months.

Nonetheless, the longer you have gone since your last inspection, the more likely you are to get the call. Schools that have been inspected more recently might also get the call: there is deliberately an element of randomness in the selection of schools for inspection.

The idea of the three-year cycle is certainly not that you should be able to mark a date in your diary for your next inspection exactly three years after the inspectors drive off. The current cycle of inspections runs from September 2005 to August 2009, during which time every school to which the framework applies must be inspected at least once

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

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