2nd May 2008 at 01:00
Q: I have been reading the reports of several schools in my area that have failed their Ofsteds
Q: I have been reading the reports of several schools in my area that have failed their Ofsteds. One common theme is meeting the various needs of the individuals in the class with the work provided. But what does this actually look like in the lesson? What do inspectors expect to see in terms of differentiation?

A: Inspectors expect to see pupils making reasonable progress. If they are all doing the same work, then ask yourself whether it may be too easy for the brighter pupils and too difficult for those who are less able.

Inspectors may look at how well work is matched to ability where previous results have suggested specific groups may be doing less well than they should.

Inspectors are unlikely to be impressed with planning that refers to "differentiation by outcome", which often means no differentiation at all. Similarly, providing extension work for early finishers may be catering for the swift, but may not necessarily be challenging the more able.

The latter may be content to allow their work to expand to fill the time available for it.

The other point worth making is that differentiation is not something that should just be turned on for the edification of inspectors.

If you only match work to capability on the day or two that the inspector is in, then the lack of differentiation will be evident from pupils' work.

Q: I understand that it is probably unacceptable for pupils to copy from the board or from handouts. Would it be acceptable for pupils to copy information into books based on an activity? For example, sorting the cards into the right sequence and then copying into their books? I've been warned that inspectors might criticise this. What do you think?

A: I'm sure there is a place for copying as one form of note taking of important points. Inspectors are likely to raise concerns, however, if all or much of the pupils' work is merely copied. If literacy standards are low, then inspectors may cite excessive copying as an example of missed opportunities for pupils to develop and apply their literacy skills in subjects other than English

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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