Diary of an Ofsted inspector

Written by: HTU | Published:

In a bid to give readers a valuable insight into the school inspection process from the Ofsted point of view, we asked a school inspector to keep a diary of a recent primary school inspection visit. Writing anonymously, they take us through the process

Six weeks before

I receive notification by email that I will be involved in an inspection on specified dates in a specific local authority.

Three weeks before

I receive details of the actual inspection. This includes the name of the school. Almost by instinct, the first thing that I do is have a look at the school website.Obviously when I am visiting the school site I am doing the formal tasks like reading the statement on Pupil Premium that all schools have to have on there.

I will admit though, that I also sneak a look at the most recent newsletters that the headteacher has written – you would be amazed at how many headteachers just use their newsletter to moan to parents about parking, head lice and uniform!

In this case, it was lovely to come across a school where the newsletter is used to genuinely celebrate the achievements of the pupils or to inform parents about issues relating to teaching, learning, curriculum, etc.

The website of the school I was inspecting on this occasion was reasonable, though the Pupil Premium statement was pretty vague and lacked any detail about the impact and outcomes of this additional funding.

One day before

I am a mere Team Inspector (TI) and not a Lead Inspector (LI), so the day before the inspection begins I wait to receive “joining instructions” from the LI.

While there are common characteristics of these instructions, they do vary. Some LIs provide an analysis of data and some possible hypotheses about potential inspection trails, like we used to get in the form of the Pre-Inspection Briefing (PIB). Other joining instructions will be exactly that – they just provide an explanation about the practical arrangements of the inspection – parking, timings, etc.

Personally, I think the fact that schools no longer receive a PIB is the biggest shame of the current framework. As headteachers, it gave us a heads up on the initial thoughts of the inspection team, based on their fairly robust scrutiny of the RAISE Online data, the self-evaluation form and our previous inspection report.

As a TI, Ofsted only pays for the days that I actually spend in the school inspecting, there is no time given for preparation. This does mean that some TIs will arrive on day one without a huge amount of knowledge about your school. In order to do the inspection justice, I always spend time looking at RAISE Online as well as the previous inspection report.

The afternoon before the inspection starts I generally receive some self-evaluation work from the LI who has had it sent through from the school. With the end of the formal self-evaluation form, this documentation is hugely variable in both quality and quantity. On this occasion, we received eight sides of A4, two on each of the four Ofsted key areas. I spent the evening prior to the inspection going through this and highlighting what I considered to be the key points.

Day one

In the joining instructions, the LI had instructed me to be at the school by 8am, but if I arrived early it was made clear that I should not go into the building before 7:55am – this is pretty standard on most inspections I have done recently. I arrived at the school just after 7:30am so used 20 minutes in the car to re-read some inspection paperwork.

As on most inspections, it then took a further 10 minutes to actually gain access to the school building. With all the recent focus on safeguarding, most schools are like Fort Knox to get into. Once I had negotiated codes and buzzers on the front door, I then had a lengthy input from a member of the admin team who was keen to show that she was extremely vigilant with safeguarding and I was not getting into the school before I had learned their entire health and safety policy off by heart!

I then had the pleasure of meeting the school’s headteacher who on this inspection was really charming. She was confident, friendly, professional and welcoming – I couldn’t have asked for a nicer welcome. She led me to the room put aside for the inspection team.

There, I met for the first time the other two inspectors – I had never met either of them before. This is not unusual; I have never yet worked with the same inspector twice. It became apparent that the LI was very organised and had meticulously planned every minute of the first day for each of us – my only worry when she gave me the timetable was when I was going to be able to go to the bathroom; coffee and lunch were certainly not going to happen!

Both the LI and the other TI seemed very nice, both were friendly, professional and open-minded about the school. I have to say that despite all the scare-mongering and rumours perpetuated by heads, in all the inspections I have been involved in, there has only ever been one inspector that I would not want to inspect my own school, the others have been very fair and honest. I should also add at this point that I was actually quite nervous – inspections are a big deal to schools and I therefore take the responsibility very seriously, so I am always a little anxious at the start.

Despite being very experienced, the LI also admitted that she always feels a little nervous as well. Just thought you might like to know that we are human too!We then had a very quick team meeting to establish the individual roles and responsibilities of each of us before we went to the staffroom to meet the staff team, who were nervously congregated ready to say hello.

I thought that on this occasion the LI did a very good job of reassuring the staff and she stressed that the inspection would be done with them and not to them. We then had a brief tour of the school, really so we could get our bearings about the geography of the building.

As soon as the children arrived in school the observations began. I observed the children on the playground before school and took the opportunity to talk to a number of parents about their views of the school, all recorded on an evidence form of course.

I followed the children into school and made my way to the classroom for my first lesson observation. The LI had identified the teachers she wanted me to watch and I spent 30 minutes in each and completed four observations before lunch.

Regarding feedback, the staff were encouraged to seek us out at lunchtime or after school if they wanted information on their lessons. At lunchtime I was approached by three teachers so I had a brief conversation with each of them individually; they all accepted their feedback happily and I duly noted their responses on their observation evidence forms.

The school provided us with a lovely tray of sandwiches and fruit, so with two minutes to spare I tucked in before dashing off to meet a dozen pupils to talk to them about their perceptions of the school. These children came from all year groups within the school and had been picked at random – the 19th child on every register. They spoke positively about the school and were particularly clear about what constitutes “bullying”, informing me that it must be “consistent over time”!In the afternoon I observed another three lessons, two of which were joint observations with members of the school’s leadership team. Jointly we saw two “good” lessons and happily the school’s judgement matched my own, so we avoided any awkward conversations.

You may be interested to know about the common characteristics of the good teaching that I observed during day one. In the better lessons, relationships between the adults and children were very secure, there was a high level of challenge for all pupils achieved through good differentiation, and good support was provided by the teaching assistants.

Teachers had good subject knowledge and used it to inspire and motivate the children. A strong feature was effective intervention by adults during the lesson and detailed marking that outlined next steps present in pupils’ books. After school I gave feedback to the teachers I had observed. With regard to the joint observations, in one feedback I observed the headteacher feeding back to the teacher, and in another I fed back and the deputy observed me.

Once this was complete, each of the three inspectors had a leadership meeting scheduled with key staff – the SENCO, the key stage leaders and the literacy and numeracy managers. The general feeling was that these meetings had gone well as the school had some impressive staff in these posts.

At around 5pm, we had a longer team meeting and for this we were joined by the head and deputy. In a friendly manner, the LI made it clear to them that they were there in an observational capacity only.

I have to say that it does feel a little odd having discussions about a variety of aspects of the school but not really involving the head too often. I was conscious that sometimes we were slipping into feeding back the findings so far to the school leaders, rather than discussing the findings as a team, but maybe that is not so bad.

We left school at 6pm, which is considerably better than the 7:30pm that I had at another inspection. Back at my hotel I did some further work on the areas that the LI had asked me to focus on, in preparation for day two. I also went on to Parent View to check out what the parents were saying about the school, as many parents had added their views during the school day. On this occasion only about 10 per cent of the parents had registered their views (which I think is a fairly disappointing total), but they were very positive.

Day two

I arrived at the school just before 8am for our team meeting. Overnight the LI had carried out some data analysis using internal tracking information that the school had provided. This had enabled her to shape the focus of the next day. She outlined this to us in our meeting and asked for our thoughts. Once this had been discussed, she talked us through how she wanted us to use our time on day two.

The first 45 minutes of my day was spent with the deputy headteacher looking at the impact of the Pupil Premium funding that the school had received. He was able to show me group data about these pupils which demonstrated that they were making good progress.

In addition, he provided a couple of very interesting case studies that showed very clearly how positive an impact the Premium had had on the individual pupils, academically, socially and emotionally.

At 9:30am and 10am I had two lesson observations both looking at numeracy as this appeared to be less secure with regard to the internal tracking data. After break-time, which I observed in order to complete an evidence form on behaviour, I observed two more 30-minute sessions, one numeracy, the other literacy.

One of these was a “good” lesson, but the other was less secure. This happened to be a joint observation; the deputy and I agreed that this was not a good lesson and we spent 15 minutes discussing whether the lesson should be judged as “requires improvement” or “inadequate”.

Having gone through the relevant section of the Inspection Handbook we decided that it was a Grade 3 lesson and agreed that I should provide the feedback for the teacher, which I subsequently did and the teacher readily accepted my views.During lunch-time we carried out some “work sampling” exercises. We looked at literacy and numeracy books focusing on a number of criteria including evidence of progress since September, pupils’ presentation and pride in their work, differentiation, continuity across classes in the same year group, and progress from one year group to another. On this occasion scrutinising work merely reinforced the overall views that we were already formulating about the school.

Also during lunch-time I carried out an analysis of the staff questionnaires. The LI had already looked at them to ensure there were no major issues, so I just had to collate grades and summarise the views. To the great credit of the head and her leadership team, the staff responses were unanimously positive – in some inspections there is a group of teaching assistants who use the questionnaire to vent their discontent about a lack of communication or something similar, but on this occasion it was 100 per cent positive and supportive of the head.

The final meeting

When this was complete we had a little time to complete any summary evidence forms before our final team meeting where key judgements were discussed and agreed. As with previous meetings, the head and deputy were invited to attend and while, strictly speaking, they were once again observers at the meeting rather than active participants, the LI managed this well and did give the school leaders a number of opportunities to answer questions and make one or two points.

By the end of this, all five grades were agreed by the members of the team and of course the headteacher and deputy were aware of (and on this inspection very happy with) these judgements.

At the end of the day we had a fairly short feedback meeting where the key findings were fed back to the head and deputy as well as a number of governors. In this particular inspection the school was judged to be good across all four key areas, as well as for the overall judgement. The leadership team and the governors present were very pleased with the outcomes.

The headteacher also took the opportunity to express her pleasure with the way the inspection had been conducted and the way in which the inspectors had carried out their duties – obviously I made sure to note those comments on my final evidence form!

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

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