14th September 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 What happens to staff if a school in special measures closes? Also, how long can it go on for and what are the factors involved in getting out of it? The inspector seems to pick up on new things each time. Could better Sats results appease?

A Schools that are put into special measures will normally agree an action plan with the support of their local authority aimed at taking the school out of the category within two years. It is the progress towards that improvement that will be the focus of the inspection monitoring visits. New things can be picked up though: it's no good if the improvement in one aspect of the school is only achieved at the expense of other things. It is possible that a school could be failing despite strong test and exam scores, but, in most cases, low scores are one of the outward signs that the school is not providing an effective education. Improved Sats results are likely to be a key litmus test of improvement for most schools in special measures, although progress will take a little while to be reflected in better test results. As to your headline question about what happens to staff if a school closes, it is my understanding that normal employment regulations would apply. Any decision on school closures are initiated at local authority level and are subject to approval from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Ofsted is not involved.

Q We were recently put in special measures and it was specifically said that no NQTs were to be hired. We already have an NQT who is working here on long term supply. Do we have to stop employing her now?

A If a school is in special measures, it will not be permitted to appoint any NQTs until it is taken out or given the sanction to appoint (usually because the leadership and management of the school, or, in the case of a secondary, the department permitted to appoint, had demonstrated its effectiveness and so showed that NQTs were likely to be given reasonable support). It would obviously be unfair if this were to be applied retrospectively, so the bar does not mean that NQTs already in post are sacked

I have been granted a three-month sabbatical from October. My GTP trainee from last year will cover me while I'm away. Should I leave work and lesson plans or nothing at all?

Julie, Isle of Wight

A Your school should have a policy on this issue. When you return at the end of your sabbatical, you will expect your classes to have reached a certain point. I assume your department has a scheme of work of which your GTP colleague has a copy so that heshe is aware of work to cover in your absence. Regarding lesson plans, if they are already done, make them available for reference. As your colleague was your trainee last year and presumably knows your methods, heshe ought to be given the responsibility of deciding how to deliver the topics heshe is a human being, after all, and not an automaton. Ralph, Manchester

A Lucky you what an opportunity. And not one to be wasted in lesson planning. A sabbatical gives you the chance to stop your usual work, not do it in addition to whatever else you are undertaking. Your GTP trainee should now be qualified, and relish the chance to plan the lessons though some guidance from you in terms of which schemes of work or modules to teach would probably be appreciated. Theresa, Surrey

A I would discuss this issue with the GTP trainee. There might be groups (years) heshe feels comfortable with and does not need any further guidance. A discussion about the various schemes of work, and a reminder of where heshe can find resources, would be helpful. Also, leave your folders full of resources for them to use. Enjoy your three months' sabbatical. Rene, Oxford

A There must be some sort of handover arrangements between you and your colleague. The question is, where do you draw the line? If you are too laissez-faire, then you could be accused of being unsupportive. If, on the other hand, you plan everything in minute detail, you might stand accused of being a micro-managing control-freak. Perhaps the first thing to do would be to ask your colleague just how much support is required? Rod, Middlesex

Coming up

Q: I am leader of the school council and recently discovered that a teacher in Year 3 routinely kept children in for 30 minutes of their lunch time for failing to achieve 10 out of 10 in a weekly maths test. The children are in a 3rd (out of 4) set. Is this right? Q: I was on a course of IVF and recently booked a day for my (successful) egg implant. All other visits coincided with holidays, but this one was unavoidable. I wasn't paid for the day despite being granted leave of absence. I was not informed this was without pay at the time. Is this allowed? Send your answer or any question you would like answered by your fellow teachers to We pay pound;30 for any question or answer published.

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