Inspection: After the call has come...

Written by: Anthony David | Published:
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With both of his schools having faced inspection recently, headteacher Anthony David offers his advice on preparing for inspection, handling the inspection itself, and the aftermath. In the second article in this series, he focuses on the inspection itself and what to expect after receiving the call…

My first article in this series looked at how to prepare for your inspection (see further information). This second article now looks at the inspection process.

Your initial call with the inspector is fact-finding – you will be asked practical questions about the school (which are set out in the inspection framework) and you should ask questions about the team (for one-day inspections it is increasingly common for there to be just one person).

Your initial call will last anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes. Ideally, take the call with your deputy head and use the speakerphone. The inspector will have your data available, as well as a review of your website and a version of the inspection dashboard.

A whole range of companies offer free inspection dashboards. I would strongly suggest that you consult as many versions as possible. They will give you a clear indication of what the lines of enquiry might be before you speak to any inspector/HMI.

Once you have spoken to your lead inspector, search online and read a couple of inspection reports that they have written. This will give you an insight into their style and what they might be looking for. I actually went one stage further and rang a couple of schools that they had recently inspected.

You will have a lot to do before they arrive but don’t forget to upload any agreed documentation. On this point, there is no requirement for self-evaluation forms, but by not providing one you are limiting what your inspector can understand about the school, which will cause them to dig deeper. Your job is to close lines of enquiry swiftly and in a satisfactory manner. Your Ofsted inspector will request to see the School Improvement Plan at the beginning of the inspection.
Importantly, if you have something that you want to sing about (your school is perhaps a UNICEF partner, sports leader, training school, etc.) then make sure they see it.

Safeguarding

A common thread throughout inspection is safeguarding – your online safety and safer recruitment policies should be accessible online.

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to close down any line of enquiry about safeguarding. If you have not had a review of safeguarding then aim to do so as soon as possible; it may expose some areas that you are uncomfortable about, but it is better to have them exposed and dealt with privately than revealed during an Ofsted visit.

Key documentation includes the statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education. Key areas that Ofsted will assess include:

  • Single Central Records.
  • Training record (including governors).
  • Governors’ understanding of safeguarding.
  • Staff understanding of safeguarding.
  • Registers that staff have read and understood the contents of the latest safeguarding policies.
  • Whistleblowing (and what to do if it is about the headteacher).
  • Safer recruitment and online safety.

Accurate chronologies of safeguarding records are critical. Any sense of poor record-keeping can drive an inspection deeper into other areas of safeguarding.

What an inspector will also want to see evidence of is where you have pushed or prompted social services to act faster (or act at all). In this case, it is best to have a case study ready of an incident when you have pushed the services to act and what the outcomes were as a result.

And don’t forget that when the inspector arrives, take them through your standard visitor safeguarding routines. You should not necessarily need to see their DBS, as their inspector’s badge is the equivalent, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Information systems

As I have already mentioned, closing down lines of enquiry quickly is key. How quickly you can close those lines down will depend on your internal systems. At the heart of all of this is your management information system. There are a growing number of sharp systems on the market and in the last two years I have converted both of my schools to a new system. The bottom line is that I need to have clear data that is easy to access.

During my inspections last year, there were two cases when we were able to shut down lines of enquiry within minutes when reviewing behaviour and attendance at my schools. Another enquiry involved equal opportunities legislation and whether all members of staff were aware of the high priority groups.

A focus on learning

Once an inspector is satisfied with your data, safeguarding and website (see previous article), the main thrust of their inspection is, of course, learning.

You will be invited to join inspectors on either a learning walk or specific observations. The reason is to discuss learning.

Be accurate. The temptation if you see poor teaching is to begin with excuses. Don’t. Talk about what you have seen, and then following that you can share your moderation history. Inspectors understand that nerves can get the better of us and in this situation they are also assessing your capacity to accurately judge learning rather than the specific lesson they saw.

Remember, it is not about the individual teacher but about learning, which includes the environment, behaviour, progress and marking.

Even if a teacher has a completely awful lesson (and it happens), that won’t be the single thing that tips a judgement, particularly with one-day inspections. However, if there is a thread of poor behaviour for learning, for example, then that can become a line of enquiry.

You can shape the inspection’s focus if you have an accurate understanding of learning across your school. The most basic model is if you have a planned cycle of moderation that includes lesson observations, pupil conferences and work scrutiny. Importantly you should be able to demonstrate the impact of these activities – for example, did it lead to a review of marking of maths in key stage 2? Were you able to identify a staff member as somebody who is particularly strong in an aspect of practice? Can you provide evidence that you have up-skilled staff members as a result and how was this done?

If you are approaching an inspection, you may want to consider a case study of how the school’s systems have led to CPD or training for particular members of the team. Equally, you should keep a case study of where you have challenged practice and it has led to some form of support or capability.

Members of staff

Don’t be surprised if members of staff are not inspected. If it is just a one-day inspection, the inspector is simply testing the waters to check that what is going on in the classroom reflects the working hypothesis and that the school continues to drive forward. Of course, this alters if your inspection converts to two days.

During the one-day visit, the afternoon will be spent reviewing books, any data that you have or that the inspector has requested, and meeting key people, who may include:

  • Governors (notably the chair).
  • NQTs.
  • Middle leadership.
  • SENCO.
  • Attendance lead.
  • Designated safeguarding officer.
  • Teaching assistants.
  • Early years leader.
  • Local authority reps, academy trust reps and/or diocesan reps.

All of these meetings are designed to triangulate common threads throughout the school. Make sure that your colleagues all know what the areas for school development are that year (have them available throughout the school, highlight them in meetings, publish them on the website and review them in governing body meetings).

Equally, ensure that they all know what the processes are if there is a child protection concern or whistleblowing incident, particularly against the headteacher.

Once they get down to talking about their subjects or areas of specialism your colleagues should feel more confident.

A sign that a school is good or better is where there is a shared understanding of the ambitions of the school and how to achieve them; any suggestion that this is not the case might cause your inspector to dig deeper. It is therefore critical that you fully brief all key groups (particularly governors) on the following:

  • Pupil Premium (overall and in classes).
  • SEN.
  • School development priorities, School Improvement Plan.
  • Key groups within the school (gender or ethnicity).
  • Child protection procedures (particularly any updates on Prevent or Keeping Children Safe in Education).
  • Whistleblowing.

If one group fails this the inspector may put this down to nerves but if there is a lack of understanding across all groups you could quite quickly find yourself at risk of a requiring improvement judgement because of a lack of shared responsibility or understanding.

Throughout the day, the inspector will meet up with you to discuss their progress. They will ask you continuously if you are happy with the inspection (this is due to Ofsted’s drive to improve its reputation and to be seen as working in partnership). At these points you should also ask them how the inspection is going from their point of view and if there are any things that the inspector requires clarifying.

Notably you will have a midday review. It is critical that you ask if there are any lines of enquiry that could cause the school to go into requiring improvement. At that point the inspector should inform you either way. If the answer is yes, you still have half a day to provide evidence and therefore plug any concern. If the answer is no then you can relax. It is at this point that the inspector will inform you if they are considering whether to convert a one-day inspection.

Post-inspection briefing

For most of the afternoon, I am sorry to say, you will be pacing up and down. I walked more than 15,000 steps on each of my inspection days. If you have done your preparation correctly, then your colleagues will fly on your behalf but at this point there is little more that you can do.

The inspection will formally end at around 4pm when you and key members of your senior leadership team will be invited to the post-inspection briefing. This is a private meeting that you can only observe as it is when the inspection team will discuss their findings and judgements.

If you have just one inspector/HMI they will simply read out their findings. You cannot interrupt or challenge the findings; this will be made clear to you before the meeting starts. Be warned, you will be tired, but making notes is critical and the meeting can go on for a long time.

My shortest was two hours and longest was nearly three. At the end of the meeting there is a shorter meeting with governors. It is made clear that any judgements given are strictly confidential and that if they are shared with the staff they must be made aware of this.

A final note

By this point it will be nearly 7pm. You will have been up for the best part of 30 hours. Even the caffeine may be beginning to wane. How you respond to your inspection outcome will be looked at in the third part of this series. This is important as there are often some quite serious medium term side effects to be mindful of.

  • Anthony David is executive headteacher of St Paul’s CE Primary School and Millbrook Park CE Primary School in north London. His third and final article in this series will publish in the January 2018 edition of Headteacher Update.

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