30th March 2007 at 01:00
Selwyn Ward draws on years of inspection experience. The views expressed here are his own. To ask him a question contact him at Selwyn regularly answers your Ofsted questions on our forums at

Q) We were told before our inspection that it would be focused and that the focus would be spelled out in the Pre-Inspection Briefing (PIB). We got the PIB the day before and it did include a lot of issues, which we prepared for, but when inspectors got to the school they switched their focus to things which were not mentioned at all.

A) There are, as former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once famously pointed out: "Known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns". In most schools, the past exam results will be the known knowns.

Inspectors will have these details and, in most instances, their accuracy will have been accepted by the school. It is the job of the PIB to identify the known unknowns: things inspectors know they don't know about the school that arise from the lead inspector's analysis of the school's performance data, previous report and self-evaluation form (SEF).

For example, this analysis might indicate that able children have done relatively less well than others. This might lead to inspectors surmising that pupils are not being set challenging enough work. So challenge for the more able, or differentiation in lessons, might be something inspectors would want to focus on when they are in lessons. Inspectors will be upfront about that and it will be identified in the PIB.

However, there are also those unknown unknowns. These are things about the school that are not at all evident from the documentation inspectors have access to in advance but that might emerge early on in the inspection. For example, parent questionnaires, which inspectors will not have the chance to see before they arrive at the school, may flag up a concern that needs to be followed up.

If several parents have written notes on their questionnaires to complain that PE is on the weekly timetable but it almost never takes place in a particular class because it is regularly cancelled, that is likely to be something the inspectors will want to pursue. Because it is an unknown unknown, it will not be something mentioned in the PIB.

It would be usual, however, for the lead inspector to tell the headteacher where inspectors were following up issues that had not been previously identified

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