A tale of 30 Ofsted reports

Written by: HTU | Published:

With its focus on leadership, teaching, achievement and behaviour, the new Ofsted framework is leaving no-where to hide. Suzanne O’Connell looks at 30 recent Ofsted reports to find out what lessons we can learn

The task of trawling through Ofsted reports is certainly much easier these days. With most reports being between 11 and 13 pages, it does not take long to find out what Ofsted has to say about each school.

Sir Michael Wilshaw did threaten that reports would make it “absolutely clear on the first page” if Ofsted thinks a school is good enough or not. He was at least right on that count.

We were moving in this direction already. Reports from the 2009 framework were also quite succinct with an average report being around 14 pages long. A different picture to the mammoth essays of 40 pages and more produced in 2002.

Does this reduction in content still enable Ofsted to tell the story of the school? In Amanda Gregory’s experience it does not. She was disappointed that the Harris Primary School report did not really reflect her school.

She told Headteacher Update: “Lots of people have said that it somehow misses out its character. It’s very bland.”

The reports I looked at represented a cross-section of schools. Ranging from one primary with 84 pupils to another with 629, some were described as having well above average free school meals and others well below.

There was one school where almost all the pupils were of minority ethnic heritage and another where a quarter of the children were from families of service personnel.In this exercise, we focused particularly on the grades given and the areas for improvement, and considered how far these reports really go towards reflecting the practice in our schools.

Inspection judgements

What was perhaps most noticeable from the report trawl was that the vast majority of the primary schools inspected were judged to be good against all five judgements. There were no outstanding schools for overall effectiveness and no schools judged to be failing.

The “behaviour and safety” of pupils was the one judgement that schools were more likely to receive an outstanding for. Schools who were judged to be mostly satisfactory were more likely than not to have a good judgement for their behaviour, with one satisfactory school receiving an outstanding grade.

In every case except one, the first three judgements of “overall effectiveness”, “achievement of pupils” and “quality of teaching” were given the same grade. The only exception was where in one school, “quality of teaching” was given a higher grade than the first two judgements. The grade for “achievement of pupils” was always the same as for “overall effectiveness”.

Only four schools out of the 30 received a satisfactory for “leadership and management” with the remainder being judged as good. Overall, the comments about leadership were very positive. Schools were demonstrating good levels of self-evaluation without the self-evaluation form (SEF) and resilience where there were changes in leadership. Leadership and management appeared to be an area of strength for schools rather than a cause for concern that has hit the headlines.

Areas for improvement

The following were the areas most frequently identified for improvement (with the number of mentions identified in brackets):

• Raising attainment in maths (10).

• Marking of pupils’ work, providing feedback and what they need to improve (8).

• Raising the attainment and challenge for more able pupils (8).

• Using and applying basic skills, including in other areas of the curriculum (6).

• Raising attainment in writing (6).

• Improving the impact of subject/curriculum leaders and/or middle managers (6).

• Increasing opportunities for pupils to work independently (5).

• Sharing best practice and developing greater consistency in teaching across the school (5).

• Increasing the proportion of outstanding lessons (5).

Since 2009, Ofsted reports have included specific recommendations based upon their diagnosis of the school’s strengths and weaknesses. This move aimed to tackle the criticism that inspectors identify areas for improvement and do not provide any indication of the actions schools might take.

However, by providing more detail they also run the risk of being accused of dictating specific strategies which may be discredited in a few years’ time. Marking, tracking and identifying what pupils need to do next to improve occur frequently as the actions recommended. Most schools would agree with these now, but who knows what will be the consensus in years to come.

View from the schools

Headteacher Update contacted a couple of the schools inspected to find out what they thought about the inspection process and their reports.

Amanda Gregory, headteacher at Harris Primary School in Preston, had a mixed reaction to her Ofsted experience. There had been a drop in results in 2011 and the school had boycotted the SATs in 2010.

The result was that although they had had years of good results previously, they found themselves on the back foot when it came to this inspection: “We really had to demonstrate that we weren’t letting standards slip. The inspectors looked very closely at what our pupils were doing and we had to prove through our evidence that there was a dip in the previous year that wouldn’t be repeated. It was a tough inspection.”

As a good school, Harris Primary was last inspected in 2006 with an interim assessment in 2010. Ms Gregory feels that in some ways this made things more difficult for them: “I was involved in an inspection at another school I was working with. Its inspection was under the 2009 framework. From my experience of that, I feel that under the previous framework we would have received outstanding. It would have been nice to have had that under our belt.”

She notes that parent and pupil opinion was given a high weighting by the inspectors: “We’d had an issue in one class with behaviour that we had successfully sorted out. The inspectors picked up on this from our parents. They observed the class and came to the conclusion that behaviour was exemplary. However, the comments from parents still meant that a potentially outstanding grade for behaviour remained at good.”

Ms Gregory recommends that other heads be really clear about their data: “I would advise anyone expecting an inspection to be very familiar with your data. They are looking to see that pupils are making rapid progress. And this team at least was more interested in looking at ‘points’ rather than levels and sub-levels. In some respects, not having the SEF to draw on means that they are even more focused on what the data tells them.”

Ann Melville, who recently retired as head of Holy Spirit Catholic and Church of England Primary School in The Wirral, also had her work cut out in terms of enabling inspectors to see the story behind the data. She explained: “Our RAISEOnline was awful. Fortunately we had lots of data and baseline information that we had collected to show the progress that pupils who had been with us since key stage 1 had made.”

Holy Spirit had recently changed its name and its intake was increasing rapidly. Previous reports and information were not available to inspectors and the children they had admitted had depressed rather than enhanced their results: “We had two ex-headteachers for inspectors who acknowledged what we were doing and recognised the progress pupils were making. They were particularly interested in the children’s current work and listened to them read.”

Ms Melville and her school had last been inspected in 2010, so she is well-placed to compare the two most recent frameworks: “They spent a lot more time in the classroom. During the previous inspection they stopped observing earlier on the second day and there was only one of them. In both inspections they looked at our CRB and safeguarding early on the first day. Parent View didn’t include any comments for us so it was the written questionnaires that provided the information in the end.”

Although there is no separate judgement for SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural education), Ms Melville felt that they did take it seriously and were looking for it throughout. They were also interested in the experiences of a particularly challenging pupil that the school was supporting: “It was the other way round from how it’s supposed to be. James told me that he wasn’t going to be coming in to school and I told him that he must. In the end he did and the inspectors were impressed with the way we were working with him. I think you have to be confident about what you’re doing and honest with the inspectors.”


These shorter reports provide no room to hide. They might also be accused of providing no room to present the real picture of the school. From a 40-page document to 11 pages – have we compromised too much in the pursuit of accessibility at the expense of knowing what a school is really like?

The inspectors’ guidance

The Report Writing Guidance for inspectors (February 2012) provides some useful insights into what inspectors will be focusing on.

Key findings: Inspectors are instructed to make sure that the key findings are plainly stated without jargon and this section should be no longer than 300 words. They are told that they must include a bullet point that makes reference to the leadership of teaching and the management of performance.

In most cases the first key finding bullet point explains why the school has not been given the next level up. In most of these reports there was an explanation of why schools did not receive an outstanding, which led clearly into the areas for improvement mentioned later.

There is usually one bullet point for each of the inspection judgements. This does give the report a balanced feel and provides a clear indication of what the main themes of the more detailed comments in the main report will be.

What does the school need to do to improve further? Inspectors are instructed that there should be clear actions for improvement and that it might be helpful to specify targets, timescales and actions – although in the reports examined, only two did have specific timescales provided.

Main report: The suggested length for this section is 1,400 words but inspectors are still required to ‘tell the story’ of the school in this. Inspectors are reminded that they must include within the text reference to SMSC development and the impact of the school’s curriculum. Inspectors are required to include in this section:

• Any differences between key stages.

• What is distinctly good about the school.

Under “Achievement” inspectors must include:

• Evaluation of the pupils’ learning as observed.

• Evaluation of pupils’ progress.

• Whether attainment is above average, broadly average or low.

• Outcomes for different groups.

• Quality of learning for pupils with SEN.

• Attainment in reading at the end of key stage 1 and by the time they leave school.

• Views of parents – explaining whether this view is accurate or not.

Under “Quality of teaching”:

• Evidence directly observed by inspectors of the key strengths and weaknesses.

• Examples of good and better teaching.

• Reference to the impact of teaching SMSC.

• Reference to the impact of the planned curriculum.

• Views of parents.

Under “Behaviour and safety”:

• Typical behaviour over time and not just that observed.

• Reference to bullying and how well it is dealt with.

• Views of pupils and parents.

Under “Leadership and management”:

• Key features that have contributed to improving pupils’ achievement and the quality of teaching, particularly the impact of professional development.

• Improvement over time and capacity to improve further.

• How well the school provides a broad, balanced curriculum which meets pupils’ needs and promotes SMSC.

• The extent to which leadership and management promote equality and tackle discrimination.

• The extent to which leadership and management make arrangements for safeguarding.

• Suzanne O’Connell is a former primary school headteacher.

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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