Achieving Ofsted outstanding for the Behaviour and Safety of Pupils

Written by: HTU | Published:

The behaviour and safety judgement is one that underpins Ofsted inspection. In the first of a four-part series focusing on the four core inspection judgements, Suzanne O’Connell talks to five schools who are ‘outstanding’ when it comes to their behaviour

With the new school year just begun, schools anticipating an inspection will be anxious to download the new School Inspection Handbook and work out exactly what Ofsted’s top priorities are for this year.  

There is no doubt that being familiar with Ofsted’s guidance documents is a crucial part of the preparation. However, every school is unique and where it is and where it is going is a much more complex process than a best fit to a grade descriptor. In order to understand what “outstanding” really looks like, Headteacher Update will be featuring schools who have been given this grade against each of the four key judgements. To begin the series, we spoke to five schools, all of whom had been given outstanding for the “behaviour and safety of pupils” judgement.

Although the schools are very different in their size, catchment and context, there are very similar themes that emerge. The importance of the whole-school ethos, the relationships that exist, the curriculum and the quality of teaching, cropped up in every discussion. However, each school also had its own story to tell.

Introducing the schools

Hatch Beauchamp CE Primary School in Taunton is the smallest of our schools. Its headteacher, Deborah Barrett, was happy to speak to us on the condition that we did not hold her school up as an exemplary model for all: “It is easier in the context I work in and I am well aware of that from my experience at other schools. I understand the difficulties that schools can have and the danger of assuming that what works in one will work in another.”

Of similar size is St Hilda’s RC Primary School in Whitby. Four of our five schools have a religious denomination and Pamela Crabtree, headteacher of St Hilda’s, is keen to emphasise the role that faith has: “As a faith school our mission is based firmly on the teaching of Jesus. He is our role model.”

Whitchurch CE Infant School in Shropshire is our largest school and is located in a rural town with few amenities and poor transport links. The school serves an increasing number of families with challenges of their own.

“We are now at 20 per cent free school meals (FSM) but when I first arrived it was seven per cent,” explained headteacher Greg Smallbone. “We realised that a lot of families who were entitled to it weren’t applying and needed encouragement.”

Westminster Cathedral RC Primary School in London has perhaps the most challenging catchment with an above average number of children in receipt of FSM. More than three quarters of the pupils come from minority ethnic groups and more than half speak English as an additional language. Linda Vassallo, headteacher, is described by the inspectors as setting the calm and professional tone of the school.

Although Freshfield Primary School in Merseyside is perhaps the school with the most advantaged catchment, it doesn’t mean that all was well there initially. Headteacher Vin Osbaldeston explained: “I would say the school was coasting when I first arrived. We have now had three outstanding inspections within a period of six years.” For Mr Osbaldeston, one of the initial issues was lack of consistency. 

Collecting the evidence 

“Judgements about behaviour and safety must not be made solely on the basis of what is seen during the inspection” (Ofsted handbook 2013). In all our schools the inspectors used a mixture of their own observations, discussion with pupils, staff and parents, and examination of data to form their judgements.

Observations

Inspectors were out and about from the start of the inspections – in classrooms, out in playgrounds, talking to parents, pupils and staff. These were not just paper exercises, but very focused approaches that drilled down into the detail beneath the statistics.

Mary Fardon, chair of governors at Westminster Cathedral Primary, commented on the extent of their observations: “Their judgement was based on how the children treated each other, the respect they showed to everyone – staff, visitors and other children. They noted how the children supported each other in play and at lunchtimes and their knowledge of who they could approach if they needed to.” 

The inspectors might need to understand behaviour over time, but first impressions matter too. At Freshfield Primary, Mr Osbaldeston felt that inspectors were forming the behaviour judgement from the start: “I took them round and they were bowled over by the way that the pupils were moving around the school. They got the feeling for us straight away. It wasn’t just about behaviour, but the children’s attitude to learning. The whole ethos.”

Discussions with pupils, staff and parents

Discussions took place both formally and informally with children selected by the school and selected at random by inspectors. For example, at Whitchurch Infant School, “they went out to talk to children in the playground and talked to parents very early on in the inspection”. Mr Smallbone added: “They were picking up the evidence all the time from what they were seeing, both incidentally and directly.”

The discussions with pupils included questions about safety as well as behaviour and bullying. Year 6 pupils told Ms Barrett at Hatch Beauchamp Primary that inspectors wanted to know about e-safety, road safety and bullying. At Westminster Cathedral Primary, inspectors checked pupils’ understanding of bullying and racism and that they knew what to do if it occurred. 

Examining data and records

“Our inspector wanted to see our record of racist incidents and our behaviour log,” explained Ms Barrett at Hatch Beauchamp Primary, “she also asked to see minutes of the governors’ meetings and she looked at the data on exclusions, although this was something we hadn’t had to do.”

A faultless health and safety audit the year before helped the staff at the school to feel more confident. The inspectors still made their own investigations but did take notice of this recent report. The Single Central Record was a feature of every inspection. At Freshfield Primary, inspectors spoke to two of the school’s safeguarding officers: “They looked at some of our files,” explained Mr Osbaldeston, “but they didn’t ask to see any policies.” 

Impressing the inspectors 

We asked our schools what features they felt particularly impressed the inspectors. Attitudes to learning and the way pupils responded in class were key themes. For example, Mr Smallbone said: “Our children want to learn, they are enthused by our curriculum and they don’t want to miss out. Inspectors could see that.”

At Hatch Beauchamp Primary, inspectors were impressed by the independence of the children at key stage 1. Independence and attitude shone through at St Hilda’s Primary too: “The inspector did comment that he was impressed with the way the children took ownership of their learning,” explained Ms Crabtree: “He remarked on how the children wanted to succeed and improve.”

The importance of the quality of teaching and the experience in the classroom is a vital part of what inspectors are looking for. Mr Osbaldeston describes his practice: “I ask staff, where is the excellence in your classroom? I also expect consistency and we have a weekly briefing to make sure that everyone knows what’s happening.”

Organisation and consistency were recognised and complimented at Whitchurch Infant School: “Everything is covered and there aren’t any loopholes,” explains Mr Smallbone. “Inspectors loved the sense of wholeness and one  remarked, ‘I can see how it comes together’.”

At Westminster Cathedral Primary, inspectors were impressed by the way in which the older pupils looked after the younger pupils, particularly at playtimes. They commented on the atmosphere in the school, the pride of the children, and the exemplary behaviour that was the result. 

The importance of the relationship with parents was a feature of several of the reports. At St Hilda’s Primary, inspectors commented on the extremely supportive parents who particularly appreciated the open door ethos of the school.

A headteacher’s perspective 

What did our headteachers believe to be the outstanding features of behaviour at their schools? For Ms Barrett, the curriculum and the way the children work together is a key feature of Hatch Beauchamp Primary: “Being such a small school it is so important that our children mix well with each other. We have a very harmonious mix of ages and we were pleased that the inspector recognised this. We do work very closely with parents so that children hear the messages we give them repeated at home and within the community.”

Giving children experiences beyond their local community can be important too. Mr Smallbone is keen that the pupils at Whitchurch Infant School have plenty of opportunity to explore beyond their usual environment, such as trips to the seaside and film clubs: “We like to take our children out and about as much as possible. They don’t always get the cultural experiences that you might expect. We try to make up for this.”

Relationships are key elements to outstanding behaviour in all of our schools. At Hatch Beauchamp Primary, relationships are strengthened by the fact that teachers might teach the same child for several years: “They get to know them and their families very well. The relationships go deep and this is so important. Behaviour is about relationships.”

The basis for these relationships is having mutual respect and seeing the right behaviour in action – a key feature of the ethos at St Hilda’s Primary: “The inspector commented particularly on the strong mutual respect that pervades the school. The staff are outstanding role-models in their encounters with children. The children trust all of the staff and would approach any staff member should they need support,” explained Ms Crabtree.

Respect is highlighted by Mr Smallbone too: “There is an atmosphere of respect in our school that pervades everything. You’ll never hear anyone shouting at a child. We discuss their behaviour with them. They use a reflection board and consider the questions: How do I feel? What have I done? How have I made others feel? Can I make it better? What will I do next?”

No matter how small the school might be, there is always room for additional adults who have time to spend with children and their families. Hatch Beauchamp Primary has access to a family support advisor as part of the Taunton Learning Partnership: “She doesn’t come in regularly but she is available to us when we need her. This has been very useful.”

Building close links with the family and community is considered vital at Whitchurch Infant School too. Family learning is encouraged and courses are run from the school in City and Guilds. They have a community speech therapist who works from the school site and courses are run jointly with the children’s centre. 

A little advice 

Without exception, the schools Headteacher Update spoke to were modest as well as proud in relation to their inspection reports. No-one wanted to appear as if they “knew it all” or could really give definitive advice to others. However, Mr Osbaldeston was prepared to share his thoughts: “There has to be a common understanding and clear guidelines that everyone follows. Leadership at all levels is crucial and you must back up your staff rigorously. Sing praises when things work. If I’m pleased, I let people know.”

  • Suzanne O’Connell is an education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

Further information

School Inspection Handbook (September 2013): www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/school-inspection-handbook 

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


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