16th May 2008 at 01:00
Q: My school is in special measures

Q: My school is in special measures. Our headteacher went on long- term sick leave and we therefore made little progress during the first year. We now have an acting head who says that we will be closed down because of the length of time we have been subject to special measures. Is this always the case? Surely the local authority has a responsibility to ensure that improvements are made from the start?

A: Decisions on school closures are taken by the local authority and are subject to approval by the Department for Children, Schools and Families; they are not taken by Ofsted. When inspectors monitor the progress of schools in special measures, they are required specifically to look at and comment on the support provided by the local authority - so yes, the local authority does indeed have responsibilities to help ensure improvement.

Q: All the courses that I teach are vocational. I am at the point when all the theory has been taught. I taught "all singing and dancing" lessons and took the pupils on trips so they understood the purpose of the assignment. If Ofsted came in now, however, they would see me spend the first 15 minutes recapping how to tackle the task, then pupils would spend the rest of the time working on their coursework. What would Ofsted say to that?

A: I cannot possibly grade your lesson by remote control from a description of some parts of it. If your inspection was to fall at a time when you are undertaking activities that do not represent the pupils' normal diet, then it may be helpful to leave planning information out when inspectors visit, so that they can put what they see into the context of what has come before and what the pupils are being prepared for. This is just as applicable for all subjects - not just vocational. Quite often, inspection in the summer term coincides with pupils doing pre-exam revision work for academic subjects.

Q: We are due to be inspected and I was wondering whether Higher Level Teaching Assistants are observed teaching?

A: Teaching assistants who teach or take groups regularly may be observed because they provide part of the pupils' everyday educational diet. The same goes for teachers on long-term supply. Inspectors are less likely to want to observe temporary staff (teachers or teaching assistants) who are just in for the day or who are taking one-off lessons, as they are not part of pupils' normal experience.

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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