21st March 2008 at 00:00
Selwyn Ward draws on years of inspection experience. The views expressed here are his own. To ask him a question, contact him at

Q: I am a newly qualified teacher and I feel stuck. I teach Year 2 and have been told to keep lying about my children's grades. We assess pupils every half term with a Sats paper and I've been told not to allow level 2a grades, and knock them back on paper if they've been achieving it because it will make the school look bad if it doesn't move up two sub levels in Year 3. I care about the children in my class and feel that I'm doing wrong by them and I don't think it's right. Do all schools do this?

A: This is a worrying tale. Hopefully the perceived pressure for such practices will diminish now that Ofsted has made crystal clear that inspection judgements should not be driven by contextualised value added data, as some have argued to be the case in the past. A school that seeks to massage its key stage 1 figures down may well find inspectors raising concerns about KS1 underachievement. If there is apparent underachievement in KS1, inspectors may conclude that the seemingly good value added figures in KS2 flatter the school.

Q: What if Ofsted gets it all wrong? Can we appeal? What are the chances of winning?

A: Ofsted does not claim its inspectors are infallible, which is why it has in place extensive quality assurance systems to check on reports, inspectors' evidence and, periodically, to visit and observe inspectors. If you believe inspectors have acted improperly or have reached conclusions unsubstantiated by evidence, there are complaints procedures available. Details of these are available from the Ofsted website. The number of complaints is quite low, but there are examples of complaints being upheld. In the most extreme cases, it is possible for a report to be declared "seriously misleading" and, in effect, withdrawn, but such extreme occurrences are rare

Q: I teach reception and Year 1 and feel I am constantly neglecting one or the other. I have support three mornings a week. Without support, I find it impossible to let pupils have access to the outdoor area as there is no one to supervise. How does anyone else manage?

Catherine, Cumbria

A: I feel much like you do - I've spent a term feeling guilty for not giving enough time to one year group and worrying about their progress, not to mention assessment and observation. I only have a teaching assistant in the morning so try to do all the literacy, numeracy and phonics then. The afternoons are devoted to foundation stage activities such as knowledge and understanding of the world and creative development. We can only do our best. I'm sure you're doing a fantastic job.

Marie, Wigan

A: The main difficulty with mixed reception and Year 1 is fitting the two curricula together. The approach is different and you feel pulled two ways. It helps to see pupils in terms of where they are in their learning rather than their age. This doesn't alter the fact that we want to provide a play-based experience for reception, but have KS1 objectives to cover.

Laura, Leeds

A: I use the primary framework to give me ideas for maths and literacy, but don't stick rigidly to it, as long as one hour of each is taught in some form throughout the day. I start with a brief whole-class input for both these subjects, then run workshops for smaller groups, divided by ability. I do two workshops per session. Meanwhile, other pupils will be doing learning activities and games, supervised by my teaching assistant. We swap these roles halfway through the week

Sarah, Coventry

Coming up

Q: How many teachers stay in touch with pupils once they leave their school? When I left, a few of us frequently met up with some of our A-level teachers when we came home from university or college to catch up. Can you be friends with former pupils?

Q: I have a particularly immature boy in my Year 6 class who sucks his thumb almost constantly. I've started to discourage it but can't help feeling like a dragon when I do. Should I do this?

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