The First Book Scrutiny!

Jasmin Choudhury

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

You are now into October – hopefully those nerves have disappeared and you are in the full thrust of teaching and really getting to know your pupils and their learning styles and attitudes.


Routines are being embedded and you are aiming for excellence at all times. Friday evenings are great as you are looking forward to the weekend, books are marked ready for response, lessons prepared and resourced – but Sunday evenings still fill you with a little uneasiness as to whether you are ready to teach!

However, Monday morning arrives and you are back in the swing and then senior leaders announce that they would like a book scrutiny!

By the second week of the Autumn term, senior leaders will kick-start their monitoring programme. It is part of the school improvement strategy and they will do so with an urgency, particularly if there is an Ofsted approaching.

As I have said before, the books are a crucial part of teaching and learning. They are evidence of your relationship with your pupils, the progress you are making with them, your passion for teaching and learning and your demand for excellence and ensuring every child is maximising their potential.

Check if each book shows progress and if there isn’t – question yourself why not and do something about it.


In primary schools, maths and English books are regularly checked and other subjects are scheduled throughout the year and led by subject leaders. Moderation and scrutinies in secondary schools are scheduled by the different departments as part of their improvement programme.

If you are an NQT or a teacher new to the school or country – don’t panic. You should have been given a copy of the marking and feedback policy and the presentation policy. If you haven’t, get a copy. Most schools have one and they are usually uploaded to the website.

student glasses book

Read and look through them carefully and check your books against the criteria expected. Your children should be on autopilot now on knowing how to set work out neatly. Each book should be consistent in presentation. If they are not following the presentation policy – address it straight away. Bad habits become embedded and hard to erase as time goes on.

You should be ensuring that progress is happening even from the first day. Ensure there is clear differentiation and level of appropriate challenges for all groups of learners.

Pages of exercise books should not be crumpled and work should be neatly stuck in each day. Ensure there is no graffiti in the books or on the cover. If there are – question why- as it shows the student was too busy doing graffiti rather than focusing on learning in your lessons. One stern warning should be enough to remind your pupils that their exercise books should be their pride and joy.

Make sure children understand their importance. If you don’t understand what to do- ask a trusted and supportive colleague to help you go through the expectations and look at the books of other teachers. Your mentor or a senior leader can introduce you to a member of staff or team that have exemplar exercise books. If have had feedback on ways to improve your books, address it immediately.

"Be rigorous and insistent about your exercise books being kept in excellent condition and have high expectations of the work that is written in them."


If an Ofsted inspection or a visit from the school improvement team arises, you will be ready and prepared. Don’t forget, if you have maintained excellent standards of teaching and learning, your books are a chance to show off. Even if you have a difficult lesson observation, books are looked at in order to see the standard of teaching and learning over a series over time.

boy working at desk

If you are a senior leader, book scrutinies are essential as they are a window to the teaching and learning in the school. Do them formally by calling books in according to the monitoring agenda and also carry them out informally while doing learning walks. It is also less threatening to teachers. Try to get each child to see you once they have finished a book as this way you can check their learning journey and will ensure you have seen every child. Do random book checks and look at the books of children who are “stuck”, have attendance issues or are new to the school.

When monitoring the books, look for consistency in teaching and learning and expectations between classes:

  • Are staff following the presentation, marking and feedback policy?
  • Is the experienced teacher scaffolding the new teacher or NQT?
  • Is there an instructional level of challenge and clear differentiation for all groups?
  • How are underperforming groups doing as identified through the school’s data analyses doing?
  • How are teachers catering for Pupil Premium groups and LAC pupils?
  • Do the books show the teacher’s understanding of their subject and variety of teaching methods and styles?
  • Are the standards of teaching and learning consistent across the school?
  • Is there progress and even better, is there significant progress? Is it evident throughout the book?
  • Is the feedback clear, concise and appropriate? More importantly, do the comments move the pupil on and have they been given the chance to respond?
  • If you are in a primary school, has the teacher modelled the handwriting policy? ( This is key in this digital age where children are not as exposed to handwriting as they used to be.

Ensure feedback is given immediately once you have carried out the scrutiny. Don’t be scared of having that difficult conversation. Pair up teams to support each other. Book scrutinies should not be arduous neither should they be so scary that teachers are frightened. Model if necessary but ensure the books showcase what your school does and you develop learners.

Remember, they are also the evidence we show to parents as to what we do with their children and how we develop them on a day to day basis as learners. Hence the need for excellence at all times!

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About our Community Expert

01_JASMIN

Jasmin Choudhury
Community Expert

Jasmin has extensive experience of working in a variety of settings which have included being recruited to work schools in special measures and concern as well as outstanding.

Jasmin has been qualified as a teacher for over 20 years and has been a Deputy Head, working mainly in some of the most deprived and challenging schools in the UK.

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