My 51-hour Ofsted inspection diary

Written by: HTU | Published:

It lasted for just 51 hours – from initial phone call to final farewells. Headteacher of St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School, Helen Frostick, chronicles their last Ofsted inspection, which saw the school judged to be outstanding in all areas

A year of waiting, to the day, and the call came!

This article chronicles, through my hurried notes, the events between the Ofsted phone call and the final goodbye at St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in Mortlake. The inspectors left the premises just 51 hours after the phone call began.

Our registered inspector called me at 12pm precisely on the April 17, 2013 – thankfully three days after we had returned, refreshed, from the Easter holiday. The phone call lasted an hour and set the scene for the ensuing challenges ahead.

Act 1: The Phone Call

The hour-long phone call set out explicitly what would happen over the two days of the inspection.

We were to have two inspectors who would arrive at 8am on the next morning – Thursday, April 18, 2013. A room needed to be made available to them. At 8:10am, they would like a school tour with me, as headteacher.

The inspectors requested that they meet all of the staff in the staffroom to introduce themselves and try to allay any fears (small chance!). This would take place at 8:30am. Lesson observations would last for 25 minutes with staff welcome to have feedback and dialogue about the lesson afterwards. The self-evaluation form (SEF) was required immediately. A password is set up via Tribal, or the inspecting body, and from that point communication is via the school’s unique page. This is how you send the SEF to them.

At 10:30am, the registered inspector would like to meet with me. The chair of governors was also requested to meet with the registered inspector, as was the local authority inspector who knew the school best, in our case our link inspector. This conversation actually took place via telephone. The inspectors understood that due to the short notice, face-to-face meetings may not be possible.

The inspectors would like to read with the pupils and were particularly interested in year 2 – the lowest and highest ability groups – and years 5 and 6, also at each end of the ability spectrum. 

The pupils would also meet with the inspectors to be asked about targets and whether there was bullying in our school. The discussions, in reality, were more far-reaching than that. For example, at our school, the inspectors had a concern from discussions with the pupils that they had little awareness of village localities compared to life in a city! They were thorough!

After school there would be opportunities for feedback and meetings with the SENCO, middle leaders and early years co-ordinator. 

The main areas of focus for our inspection were achievement, teaching and behaviour. On the Friday, the day was to start at 8:10am with a scrutiny of books. Each teacher was to have two lesson observations in total, so extra observations would be taking place in the morning. Phonics and reading were to be a big part of the inspection. Preferably a guided reading session would be observed. 

By lunchtime all observations would be complete and then 1:30pm to 3pm would be the final school team meeting, comprising of inspectors and senior leadership team.

At 4pm there would be the final meeting for the chair of governors, the local authority and the school team. All the above was established in the phone call.

Act 2: My response

First, I telephoned a teaching assistant, who wasn’t working that day, to ask her to kindly go and buy plants and flowers for the entrance (first impressions and all that).

Second, I telephoned our link inspector, third our chair of governors and finally our SENCO to share the big news.

I arranged parking, lunch, refreshments and a room for the inspectors. Being a daughter of an Ofsted inspector, I knew that it was best to be welcoming rather than hostile! My mum has told me horror stories of where she has been based: in a church with only pews to work on, across two fields in terrible weather, and in a freezing cold annexe. I was determined that we were going to get “outstanding” for hospitality at the very least.

I printed off the most recent Ofsted handbook and made a list of contact numbers, including for the inspectors and the password and email address to access our Ofsted page.

I then prepared the staff meeting for all staff after school. It was essential that I handled this well and gave the staff confidence but at the same time reminding them to rise to the challenge and shine.

I started with the mantra I hoped was inspiring: “The name is Mag’s, Mary Mag’s!” (think Bond, James Bond), and described how, after pushing through two challenging days, I was confident that we’d have much to celebrate. I cleared up all the misconceptions and gave the staff the facts – who, what, where and why – finishing with: “Be the best you can be and let the children be the best they can be.”

I then began to prepare myself, personally and professionally.

Act 3: Things I needed/organised

  • Safeguarding policies.
  • Ofsted handbook.
  • Performance management policy.
  • Monitoring and governors’ file.
  • Moderation evidence.
  • Heads’ reports.
  • Evidence of impact of narrowing the gap projects.
  • Early years baseline data.
  • Attendance data.
  • Free school meals analysis and progress information.
  • Teaching documents and subject portfolios. 
  • Lunch for the staff for the two days.
  • Celebration drinks for Friday (a triumph of hope over optimism!).
  • Fresh flowers for entrance.
  • Fresh plants for the plant pots outside.

Act 4: The admin team

The administrative side of our response had four main immediate action points.

First, ParentView letters were sent out on the day of the phone call (on the Wednesday). This is the way that parents give online feedback that then becomes live on the Ofsted ParentView website. 

Second, to provide the CRB (now DBS) single reference and to include governors.

Third, reschedule appointments in the school diary until after the inspection. The inspectors do say to run the school as you normally would, but you do need every spare minute to work on the evidence as they request it.

Fourth, there were further people who I had the admin team contact – all staff who were not in to let them know, peripatetic music staff, Fit for Sport instructors, club providers, and parent volunteers.

Act 5: Day 1

The day ran as it was described on the telephone during “the call”. At the end of the day, I was given the areas that were under close scrutiny. In our case it was achievement and attainment, English as an additional language pupils (EAL) and projected progress of year 5 and 6 for this year. I was given number-crunching to do to present evidence in these three areas.

The inspectors were finding evidence that the school was adding value to children’s progress in each year group. They were establishing that all groups of pupils make sustained and exceptional progress.

They gathered much evidence from children’s books and wanted to go back to books started by the children in September. We were very tight on maths and writing targets, but hadn’t set targets on reading as our school excels in this area. That was a learning curve for our school as you can’t become complacent with what you are already doing well in. Reading is a huge area of focus for Ofsted inspections.

Act 6: Day 2

This day felt far more focused as we were clear about what we needed to prove and show evidence for. Having two members of staff on planning, preparation and assessment time (PPA) served us well as there is an awful lot of running around gathering evidence to be done.

Act 7: Final feedback meeting

This meeting was detailed. The inspection went exceptionally well and we were proud of our judgements – outstanding in all areas.

Act 8: Final recommendations

  • Parent View: Encourage all parents to go online and share their views on ParentView. The parents’ voice is very important.
  • Label classrooms as to year group and teacher’s name and provide a map of the building.
  • Display and showcase areas of strength and also areas picked up on from the last inspection. 
  • The SEF was an integral part of the process. It is crucial to get the school’s internal evaluations accurate. It is far better to be transparent and aware of where improvements are needed and how they are shaping the school’s development plan rather than to try to talk up less successful areas of the school. All schools are on a journey of school improvement and this is understandable and acceptable.
  • Helen Frostick is headteacher of St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in Mortlake, London.
  • For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.


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