11th April 2008 at 01:00
Q: We have just had feedback from our local authority inspection. Only 20 per cent of lessons were graded good in Ofsted terms, thus meaning that if we had been observed by Ofsted we would have failed. Are inspectors more likely to pay us a visit because of this?

A: I am not aware of any mechanism by which the monitoring of teaching carried out by local authorities affects the timing of Ofsted inspections.

In any event, I need to dispel the myth that inspectors number crunch lesson grades in order to judge teaching. They visit lessons to sample teaching but, in most inspections, the sample they have is too small to make a crude percentage breakdown statistically valid.

The judgement they make on the quality of teaching and learning therefore draws more broadly on the school's own monitoring of the impact of teaching, and, yes, inspectors will also look at external monitoring that has been done, such as the local authority monitoring that you have had. They will not, however, have access to this in advance of the inspection.

By the way, even in the days when Ofsted inspections were longer and drew on much larger samples of teaching, and where percentages were more readily cited, I would not expect a school with a fifth of lessons good or better to be "failed", unless there was a significant element in the remaining 80 per cent of inadequate rather than satisfactory teaching.

Q: We are expecting the call from inspectors and I want to make sure I am marking books correctly. Is there a good method?

A: When inspectors look at marking, they are usually looking to see how it helps pupils to move their work on. Marking that merely ticks to acknowledge that work has been done is unlikely to impress. Similarly, though it is good to see comments that encourage pupils, watch out for indiscriminate praise.

In schools where, for example, literacy standards are low, inspectors may look at marking to see the extent to which it reinforces literacy. If a lax attitude is taken to correcting lapses in spelling and punctuation, then marking may be sending the pupils mixed messages: as one lad once explained to me: "literacy is only something we need to bother about in English."

Inspectors will expect to see good marking and assessment reflected in learners' improved performance.

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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