Inspection: Preparing for Ofsted

Written by: Anthony David | Published:
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Hi - Please see quote from this article below: If your school is requires improvement or good, ...

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With both of his schools having faced inspection last year, headteacher Anthony David will, in this three part series, offer his advice on effectively handling the preparations, the inspection itself, and the aftermath. He begins with how to prepare for Ofsted...

There are few things that focus the mind faster than having had “the call”. Even as an experienced headteacher, it injects a shot of adrenalin that few extreme sports can rival; as a new head, there is a short period of “out of control” before the drilled habits kick in. As with anything, preparation is key and this series of articles will explore before, during and the after effects of the inspection process.

Knowing and understanding your school is critical. Before you do anything, the question you should always ask yourself is: “Will this help me to understand the needs of my learning community better and help drive forward our vision for learners?”

That question applies to everything: safeguarding, behaviour, curriculum, assessment, groups of learners, leadership – all aspects of school life. It is this question that has empowered heads to adopt or review strategies across the school, whether they are imposed or home-grown. It is also, essentially, the question that Ofsted is asking of you: do you know your school and do you know what it needs to improve?

With that question in mind, within this article I will review what is required to be in place before the inspectors arrive. This will include:

  • The school website.
  • Your leadership strategy.
  • Planned monitoring.
  • The SEF.

The window on the world

Websites have changed from “good practice” to statutory requirement (since 2014). If you do not have the core 16 items identified by the Department for Education (DfE) as being statutory requirements then you are already unlikely to be judged good or better. The lead inspector’s starting point will be your website and a sniff of safeguarding could send them in a direction that influences the whole inspection when, truthfully, you will want them reviewing how your pupils learn.

A simple trick is to have a safeguarding element to the weekly newsletter – this could be online safety-based or a line about personal safety that reflects your safeguarding policy. For example, eCadets is an online resource that has helped my schools’ shape their approach to online safety with pupils and home.

This will build up a register of weekly updates that you can use to evidence your safeguarding credentials.

While this is the bare minimum for a traditional state school, faith schools must also publish their admissions criteria along with academy and free schools. Equally, all academy schools must publish their terms of delegation from their trust along with a link to the trust. It is then the duty of the trust to publish all policies and financial arrangements with the Education Funding Agency on their respective websites.

The website is also your place to direct the inspection. If you have something to sing about then use the website to advertise it. One of my schools has become a leader in the UNICEF’s Right Respecting

Schools programme, the other school is a Read Write Inc champion. Both of these helped direct elements of the inspection on the day. These programmes were strategically planned by the school, but the website was used to give a taste or a headline of what the school had achieved. Essentially, if you have done well in something then use the website to sell it.

There are plenty of free audit tools available (for example, the LDBS Trust provides a good RAG tool. Visit http://ldbsact.org/policies/ and scroll down to “website audit”) and it is best practice to audit your website with a governor who can report back to the governing body the resulting actions. This then ensures that your website is understood by the governors and provides opportunities for question and challenge. The worst scenario is to have either out-of-date information or empty pages.

While keeping top of the website may feel like painting the Forth Bridge, it is critical and if you do not you will find yourself with a lot of work to do before the inspection. As such, you should ensure that your site is easy to update and that there are clear, delegated responsibilities for updating the site – it should not be just you editing your site.

Your leadership strategy

Your starting point is the day after the last inspection. If your school is requires improvement or good, you are locked into the three-year review cycle (this only changes if a new headteacher starts at which point they are entitled to a two-year grace – note that this does not apply to heads of school).

Three years is a good length of time to strategically plan improvement, make any staffing changes and address the action points identified within your last report. You should aim to use this full period to its maximum; it is only 114 weeks and will incorporate three cycles of end of year assessments.

The inspection will have raised informal as well as formal questions and would have identified key groups to monitor. Any good school uses its school’s ambitions as the main drive for planned improvement; any wise school includes the Ofsted recommendations as central to that improvement.

Unfortunately we have an education system that is linked to politics. As a result, it will always be used as a political football. This leads to a dual leadership system – school ambition/vision versus political change/challenge. Planning over a three-year period therefore must be flexible and you must understand that it is vulnerable to change.

School leadership must keep up-to-date with safeguarding changes, Ofsted changes and DfE adjustments. Over the last six months, publications have dramatically reduced and with a slimmed down Queen’s Speech there is the suggestion that the medium term could be a quieter period for schools.

Now, more than ever, the focus is on schools to find when there has been policy change rather than relying on information from the local authority. Given that neither Ofsted nor the DfE push information to schools you should aim to familiarise yourself with any possible updates once a month.

Your long-term strategy will ultimately direct you on the path that you want to take as a unique school. What is it that you want to sing about? If you are chasing that elusive outstanding grade (bearing in mind only three per cent of schools inspected under the new framework attain outstanding), you have to ask yourself what it is about your school that is so good that others should see it. To hone excellence takes time and can’t be fudged so take the long-term view and plan for it. For us, for example, attaining the Level 2 Right Respecting Schools Award took nearly three years and needed to be planned for.

Planned and delegated monitoring

A cycle of planned monitoring is, effectively, your bank of evidence. Certainly the four or five terms you have before any due inspection is critical in setting out your cycle. This should include:

  • Half-termly work scrutiny (at least termly by the senior leadership team and then a mix by whole-school or subject leaders).
  • Observations of lessons that must include key questions to pupils about their learning.
  • Half-termly reviews of assessment with a clear action plan on how to address low/slowing progress or attainment against identified groups.

Organisations such as The Key or The School Bus offer plenty of monitoring models and scaffolds but the key question is what do you do with the information once you have it? In other words, how can you demonstrate impact on a small group or inconsistent teaching through a school’s intervention? You are trying to demonstrate that your school grant is being spent wisely and that you are fulfilling your duty to provide a good education for all children in your school.

The temptation is for monitoring to be led by the head; yes, you will need to have a clear understanding of it but your plan must take into account opportunities for other leaders to observe, mentor or coach colleagues.

Lesson Study (originally a Japanese model) is a good example of a low anxiety model with high outcomes, and where colleagues assess each other’s practice. This provides a structure beyond high-profile leadership observations (which can be intimidating). For more information about lesson study, try the Teacher Development Trust (see http://www.headteacher-update.com/best-practice-article/lesson-study-five-steps-to-success-in-the-primary-setting/160338).

Equally, don’t feel that you can’t simply drop-in to a class; Ofsted gives barely 20 hours’ notice and colleagues need to be used to other people just dropping into a class to observe.

Self-Evaluation Forms (SEFs)

Originally, long and unwieldy, SEFs have developed over the years. They have come in and out of fashion but current thinking is that lithe documents are the best way forward. SEFs should be working documents and intimately linked to school development. As such, the SEFs that I write have three key areas: School Background, School Review, and School Development.

The background provides the details on groups (particularly disadvantaged), attendance, end of key stage results, current Ofsted and – for us at least – SIAM (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools) judgements – and what we’ve done about them – and demographics. It is no more than two pages in length.

The school review considers each of the Ofsted core criteria. In bullet points we identify the strengths (and then signpost where the evidence can be found rather than elaborate in this document). Following that we consider any weaknesses.

These may be identified through the current Inspector’s Dashboard (or its replacement equivalent) or through our own moderation. These weaknesses will go on to form the development plan. It is therefore important that the school is not overwhelmed.

If you are a new school or one that is judged to be less than good then there will be a higher number of weaknesses to address than within an established good school.

On this document, there should be no more than one or two weaknesses; suggesting more is an alert to inspectors that something is out of control. Each core criteria is limited to one page. So far my document is only seven to eight pages long.

The third section of my SEF is the school development plan. Each aspect of school development is lifted from the weaknesses identified within the review. By doing this your SEF addresses all concerns and the whole document is consistent.

It states clearly that you understand your school and that you are addressing all weaknesses (note: a weakness may be an incomplete piece of action that requires more than one school year to complete). At this point the document is approximately 12 to 15 pages in length and tells the complete story of the school and, importantly, what we are doing about any issues.

There is no “one” model and this is simply my approach, but it has been tested by the governing body and then by Ofsted and it has helped to close key lines of enquiry quickly.

A final note

Taking a long view of inspection is important. However, what can’t be controlled is when the inspection takes place. The wait can feel painfully long and until you have had that inspection you must keep on top of your monitoring cycle and keep planning for the future through your SEF. My next article will consider what you do when you get that call.

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

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Hi - Please see quote from this article below:
If your school is requires improvement or good, you are locked into the three-year review cycle (this only changes if a new headteacher starts at which point they are entitled to a two-year grace – note that this does not apply to heads of school).
Is this accurate?

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