LAST week the Oxford Mail gave readers the chance to quiz an Ofsted inspector. Her Majesty's Inspector Sarah Hubbard is here with the answers.

Julie from Marston: Do Ofsted inspectors have to have a background in education or can they come from any profession? What sort of training and qualifications do they have before they inspect schools?

Sarah Hubbard: We have two types of inspectors at Ofsted: Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) who work directly for us, and Ofsted Inspectors (OI), who are contracted to support or lead a number of inspections each year. All of our school inspectors have considerable experience in education. They are required to hold a degree and have qualified teacher status.

School inspectors are also expected to have a minimum of five years’ leadership experience, for example as a headteacher or senior leader. The majority of OIs still currently work as school leaders and teachers, and take a few days out each year to inspect for Ofsted.

All inspectors receive substantial training, which is delivered in a variety of forms, such as face-to-face training, online training and on-the job-training. Training our workforce to deliver high quality inspections is a high priority for Ofsted. We also closely monitor the quality of inspections. The feedback we give to our inspectors as part of this process is an important aspect of their on-going professional development.

Mark from Didcot: How long does an inspection team from Ofsted spend in each school, on average?

Sarah Hubbard: We inspect in a proportionate way, to ensure resources are focused where they are needed most. The time spent in a school varies depending on the type of inspection. Most commonly, during a full inspection (section 5), school inspectors spend two days in the school.

For short inspections of good schools (section 8) inspectors spend one day at the school, working closely with leaders.

Karen from Botley: Does Ofsted get given instructions by the Government on what inspectors have to look out for and how they should grade schools?

Sarah Hubbard: No. Ofsted is independent and impartial and we report directly to Parliament.

However, the statutory basis on which Ofsted routinely inspects schools is determined by government policy.

This stipulates matters on which Ofsted must inspect and report. By law, Ofsted must inspect schools with the aim of providing information to parents, promoting improvement and holding schools to account.

In 2015, we introduced the common inspection framework, which sets out the principles that apply to inspection and the criteria that inspectors consider when making their judgements

For those interested in the statutory guidance, the details can be found in Section 41 of the Education Act 2011.

Peter from Botley: Why is Ofsted necessary? I can remember a time before it existed and schools seemed to get on just fine. Have things improved since Ofsted was created?

Sarah Hubbard: Prior to Ofsted, there was no standardised reporting on the performance of schools.

Ofsted was established in 1992 to provide parents, and the public more generally, with an independent evaluation of how schools are performing. Yes, schools have improved since Ofsted was created.

I firmly believe that Ofsted is a force for improvement. The education landscape has changed dramatically since Ofsted was first introduced.

Gone are the days when children would simply go to their local school.

Parents now have a wider choice of types of school, and through our inspection reports, they can make a more informed decision about the right one for their youngsters. Inspection also plays a crucial role in providing assurance to the public and to government that minimum standards of education, skills and childcare are being met.

And that public money is being spent well; and arrangements for safeguarding are effective.

Since the creation of Ofsted more than 25 years ago, 85 per cent of schools are now good or better. This is a remarkable achievement and while it is not solely down to Ofsted, inspection is an important lever in driving improvements.

Priya from Cowley: What is more important from an inspector’s point of view – academic performance or extra-curricular activities?

Sarah Hubbard: There are a number of factors we consider when judging a school’s overall effectiveness, which include both academic performance and extra-curricular activities.

Neither is weighted more strongly than the other. The key for inspectors is balance.

They will evaluate pupils’ academic and vocational achievement across the curriculum. They will also consider the curriculum’s impact on pupils’ progress and outcomes, and their personal, development, behaviour and welfare.

Inspectors also look at how well the school supports the formal curriculum with extra-curricular opportunities for pupils to extend their knowledge and improve their skills in a range of artistic, creative and sporting activities.

Mumtaz from East Oxford: My child goes to a school rated ‘good’ but I have heard that ‘good’ schools are only subject to short inspections.

How can I be sure it is definitely still meeting a high standard if inspections are not as in-depth?

Sarah Hubbard:Short inspections were introduced precisely so that good schools could have more regular ‘health-checks’.

You can be assured that we are able to make secure judgements through these one day inspections, because the information we gather about a school is based firmly on evidence.

We focus on key aspects, including safeguarding, to confirm the school remains good.

We also work in close collaboration with the school’s leaders throughout the short inspection.

Between inspections, Ofsted uses risk assessment processes to ensure that its approach to inspection is proportionate. If our risk assessment indicates that standards at a school may have deteriorated significantly, then it will automatically receive a full inspection.