24th November 2006 at 00:00
Q If a teacher can have their lesson graded as inadequate because of the poor use of a teaching assistant, would it not be safer to dispense with their presence during an inspection?

A This suggestion does rather raise the question of whether, if your teaching assistants can so readily be dispensed with, they are really being properly used in the first place?

I have been in many schools where teaching assistants work in exceptionally effective partnership with teachers. The teachers plan the teaching assistants' work so they know exactly what they should be doing and what they are seeking to achieve with the children they will be working with.

They are sensibly deployed, so that their time is well used - often carrying out assessment roles (for example, recording pupils' contributions in whole-class discussions where they might otherwise be sitting passively). I would not normally expect to see it in a lesson observation, but I might, as an inspector, expect to see evidence that teaching assistants routinely share their knowledge about pupils' progress with the teacher, so this can contribute to future planning.

By contrast, I have also quite often seen teaching assistants who I would describe as largely "decorative", in that they sit in a corner and make little discernible contribution to the lesson.

Given the focus on self-evaluation and the Government's Every Child Matters policy, I would expect that inspectors will want to know from the school how it evaluates the effectiveness of its teaching assistants, and how it ensures that pupils get the support they need. I can certainly recall reports that criticise schools for not providing enough support to pupils, and for not deploying their teaching assistants where they are most needed, so dispensing with a normally well-used teaching assistant could prove to be very counterproductive.

The other, more general point worth mentioning is that it is usually sensible in an inspection to do what you would normally do. After all, if your pupils normally benefit from teaching assistant support and it is suddenly withdrawn because an inspector is walking down the corridor, are they not more likely to struggle and might this not disrupt the flow of your lesson?

Q Is it likely that a newly formed school will get inspected in its first year?

A If a new school has been open for less than six months and asks for its inspection to be deferred, the request will be granted; if it has been open for more than six months, it may be inspected

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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