Work scrutinies as a part of school improvement

Written by: Kaley Foran | Published:
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Joint work scrutinies are a potential feature of Ofsted inspection. To help prepare, Kaley Foran looks at making joint work scrutinies a regular and constructive part of your school improvement processes

Decide on a clear focus and agree your criteria

Work scrutinies can cover a variety of things. For example, your focus might be an area of concern you have identified, a priority in your school improvement plan or to check that pupils’ work over time reflects your curriculum intent.

Ask yourself, why am I proposing this work scrutiny? What am I trying to find out? Make sure your focus is consistent and specific across the school so you have a “golden thread” of comparison and can make whole-school judgements (if appropriate). This will help make sure your work scrutinies have more impact through sharing best practice between different classes. Given your focus, think about what you hope to see as best practice and note down these criteria.

Decide on a work sample and agree the scope

The work you sample will depend on your focus. Unless you are looking at specific pupil groups, you will likely want a mix of gender, age group, disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged, ethnic groups, prior and current attainment.

Your sample size, and how far you will look back, will depend on your overall approach. For example, a “little and often” approach would mean more frequent scrutinies using a smaller work sample. Find a way that works for your school and the focus of your scrutiny.

When asking teachers to provide books, set out which books and whose books you want (i.e. you decide). Say when you want them and where (do not lose time physically collecting books) and be clear about how and when you will return the books.

Timetable dates for feedback and following up

In advance of the work scrutiny, schedule time for feeding back to staff on the issues raised and examples of good practice, as well as any necessary CPD and following up on whether actions put in place after the work scrutiny have been implemented in classrooms. Make sure you let your staff know all the relevant dates.

Follow these tips when conducting your scrutiny

  • Take brief notes as you go and use a template to record your scrutiny. The template should include: areas to look at, criteria for determining whether the work meets expectations for each area or needs development, evidence and notes.
  • Include examples of good practice and areas for improvement. This will help you explain your evaluation.
  • Use sticky notes in books to signpost to these examples so it is easy to refer to them when feeding back to the teacher.
  • Consider working with someone else. Two heads are better than one, but avoid stopping during the scrutiny to discuss, as you may get sidetracked. Instead, when you have completed your scrutiny, talk about your findings with your partner and then draw common conclusions.

Give feedback and set out actions

Provide feedback to individual staff and share this with your senior leadership team, along with clear action points that you have identified. Work with your senior leaders to include key areas identified for improvement in school or subject action plans – make sure these have measurable milestones.

You should plan support or coaching for individuals or groups of teachers, as appropriate. Make sure that when you have written up your actions to secure improvement you then plan and timetable your next scrutiny.

Evaluate the impact

Use your next work scrutiny to evaluate the impact of the actions you have agreed. Triangulate your findings with pupils’ progress data and pupil feedback. After this next work scrutiny, use the follow-up session with staff to celebrate success if there is evidence they have implemented the actions. Also agree some more bespoke CPD if more support is needed to embed changes.

Be prepared to take part in work scrutinies with Ofsted inspectors

The lead inspector will invite curriculum leaders and teachers to take part in a joint scrutiny of pupils’ work (see paragraph 102 of the School Inspection Handbook). By already using work scrutiny as a tool for school improvement you will be prepared for this.

If you carry out a joint activity with inspectors, do not adopt an overly positive or negative approach – be critically evaluative. You need to demonstrate the ability to evaluate strengths and weaknesses (and to take appropriate steps towards school improvement).

  • Kaley Foran is a lead content editor at The Key, a provider of support and information for school leaders. Visit

Further information & resources

  • This article is an extract from The Key’s resource Work scrutiny: How-to and template, which The Key worked on with its associate education experts David New, Jeremy Bird, John Dunne, Jonathan Gower, Nina Siddall-Ward and Sarah Gallagher.
  • Ofsted: Education Inspection Framework, May 2019:

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