16th November 2007 at 00:00
Q: When we were inspected in 2002, the lead inspector met staff beforehand and said we could request a visit if there was a lesson we particularly wanted inspectors to see. When we were inspected recently, we only saw the inspector for the first time on the morning of the inspection and no similar offer was made. Which approach was right?

A: They both were, because the two inspections were conducted on different bases and under different frameworks. When you were inspected in 2002, the school would have had much longer notice of inspection and the lead inspector would be expected to visit and spend a day in school collecting pre-inspection evidence, talking with the headteacher, holding a meeting with parents and often holding meetings with governors and with staff. The inspection itself would be longer and involve a larger team. Under the present system, inspections are expected to be shorter and sharper. The lead inspector's starting point is the school's own evaluation of how well it is doing. Drawing on this, inspectors will sample aspects of what the school does and test to affirm or refute the initial hypotheses set out by the lead inspector in the pre-inspection briefing. This is shared with the headteacher in advance of the inspection. Where an aspect of teaching is a specific inspection focus, inspectors will see some lessons or parts of lessons and may sample examples of pupils' work.

Q: Am I right in thinking that Ofsted takes into account if a school has a new headteacher or not? Our new head started this term and we're wondering if Ofsted will leave us until next term. Incidentally, the local authority advisor tells us that there are only five other schools ahead of us in line for inspection and to be prepared.

A: The people scheduling inspections would probably not know of changes of headteacher, nor would such changes be considered a valid reason to defer an inspection. Your local authority advisor is mistaken if they think there is some sort of queue of schools awaiting inspection. Of course there will be schools that are "overdue" in the sense that they have gone six years since their last inspection, but, because there is no line, it is perfectly possible that a school that had its last inspection four years ago may be inspected sooner than one with a longer gap. The whole idea of the present system is to introduce an element of surprise into the timing of inspection: the date should not be predictable.

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

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