Ofsted – an inspector's advice

Written by: HTU | Published:

We are now two months into life under the new Section 5 inspection arrangements. Here, an Ofsted inspector and practising primary headteacher – writing anonymously – looks at the key changes that schools must be aware of under the latest inspection regime

England’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw addressed all Ofsted inspectors during our recent training via video presentation.

He spoke about “tougher requirements on schools from September 2012, significant amendments and changes to the January framework”, as well as referring to the “two million children who are in schools that do not provide a good standard of education”.

Inspection requirements have changed and as school leaders we must do our utmost to prepare as thoroughly as possible. Here, I explain the main changes to the inspection process and outline how I think this will impact on us as headteachers. This is a summary. I would recommend that all headteachers download The School Inspection Handbook and The Framework for School Inspection from the Ofsted website and become as familiar with them as you can.

Notice period

Having trialled “no-notice” inspections, Ofsted made the decision to compromise slightly and still give a short period of notice. From September 2012, schools have been receiving notification of their inspection the afternoon before. The school receives a phone call at around midday notifying them of the imminent inspection.

This call will be the responsibility of the inspector leading the inspection and the nature of the call is to establish organisational arrangements. We are told that it should not be used to probe the school’s self-evaluation, it should merely focus on practical issues. However, inspectors may invite the school to share a summary of its self-evaluation via the inspection officer; headteachers can offer to do this if the inspector does not request it.

At the inspection training, we were advised that this should be a “succinct summary”. Rightly or wrongly, when my school is inspected I intend providing the lead inspector with four sides of A4, one side on each of the four areas of inspection focus – achievement, teaching, behaviour and leadership.

Inspectors will generally telephone between noon and 2pm the day before. Be warned, if for some reason the school does not answer the phone, the inspection will most probably become no-notice!

Deferring inspections

Ofsted has a clear Deferral Policy that outlines what is and is not good reason for an inspection to be postponed. For example, three quarters of the pupils need to be off-site before a deferral would be permitted.

The headteacher not being present is not a valid reason for an inspection to be delayed. If a school thinks it has good reason for a deferral, it must make this clear and the final decision will be taken by Ofsted HQ – not by the lead inspector.

Briefing report

A significant change that I am sad about is that there will no longer be a PIB – Pre-Inspection Briefing report. This means that the school will no longer get an early steer on the main initial focuses for the inspection. The lead inspector will provide a document called “joining instructions” for each of the inspectors in the team. While this will cover administrative and organisational details, I think this will also be used to outline possible, emerging inspection trails, or at the very least some conclusions from the analysis of Raise Online (RoL), previous inspection reports, Parent View responses, etc. This will not be shared with the school.

The school website

All headteachers should take note that there is now an expectation that the inspectors look closely at the school website prior to every inspection. When I inspect, I have routinely done this anyway as I think the website is an interesting window into a school. Heads should give some thought as to what information is included on their website and should consider what first impression it gives.

Revised regulations came into force on September 1 that set out new online requirements. Schools must now publish online:

• Pupil Premium allocation, use and impact on attainment.

• Curriculum provision, content and approach by year and subject.

• Admission arrangements.

• Its policy in relation to behaviour, charging, and SEN and disability provision.

• Links to Ofsted reports and to achievement and attainment performance data.

• Its latest key stage 4 attainment and progress measures.

My own school website is considered by parents to be a good one, as it is updated very regularly and used effectively to communicate information and promote the achievements of the children.

That said, I now have plans to develop the use of our website further, by making some key documents more obviously accessible on there – a summary of our most recent parents’ questionnaire results with subsequent actions identified, for example.


Not everything is different in this amended framework, a number of aspects have stayed the same. With regards to the achievement judgement:

• Inspectors will still take account of standards of attainment and progress in recent years and the learning and progress of pupils currently in the school.

• Achievement of different groups of pupils, including those who are disabled and those who have SEN, remains at the heart of the achievement judgement.

The government has defined expected progress as two national curriculum levels between key stages 1 and 2 and the only national figures that take account of pupils’ starting points are those in the National Transition Matrices. If you have managed to overlook these in your RoL, you need to dig these out as they are going to be key documents in the new framework.

I am sure lots of you are familiar with the Matrices – they are the tables that show what percentage of children moved from Levels 1 to 3, or 2 to 4, etc. They are the ones where the green squares show the number of children who made the expected (or greater than expected) progress and the pale blue squares indicate the number of children who made less than the expected progress.

It is worth noting that on these matrices in the 2011 RoL, there is not a separate column showing what percentage of children exceeded the expected progress, only columns showing the school percentage of pupils who achieved the expected level and indicating the comparative national picture. Clever headteachers may want to impress inspectors by calculating their percentage of “exceeders”.

Another important consideration is the impact that the Pupil Premium has had. There is a significant emphasis on this in the new inspection regime. You may want to consider:

• How much money has your school received in Pupil Premium?

• How has this funding been used?

• Why has the funding been allocated in this way?

• What impact has this had on pupils’ learning and how is this impact measured?

• How can you demonstrate/evidence this impact?

Would teachers in your school be able to answer these questions? Would they be able to identify and articulate who the pupils are who have benefited and discuss this with an inspector? If they are able to do this, inspectors will be very impressed. Equally, would your governing body be confident in discussing these questions?

It may well be that your SENCO will have the Pupil Premium discussion with the inspection team. My SENCO is very knowledgeable but I am going to need to work with her on a number of these issues in order to fully prepare for our next inspection. Remind your SENCO that it is considered good practice to compare the progress of SEN children with all pupils nationally.

Headteachers are advised to use the “narrowing the gap” tables at the back of RoL as a starting point in finding information on the progress of Pupil Premium pupils. At present, the RoL summary report does not contain expected progress tables for looked-after children or free school meal pupils (or school action or school action plus for that matter), but it is hoped that these will be available in 2012. In the meantime, these can be accessed via the interactive RoL site, using the filters.

Trends in achievement continue to be important and three years seems to be the optimum period. That said, Ofsted is advising inspectors that they should not let data from the last three years pull down judgements where there have been clear improvements that are robust (oh yes, “robust” is back in vogue!) and where the evidence clearly shows this improvement across year groups and for different pupil groups.

Performance management

Another significant change is the importance being placed on the impact of the school leadership team on the quality of teaching, specifically focusing on performance management. Inspectors have to consider the robustness of the performance management process and the effectiveness of strategies for improving teaching.

Considering inspectors’ love of triangulating evidence, you may wish to consider how well your staff could talk about their performance management objectives, whether they could articulate how their objectives can be measured and monitored, and how much these targets impact positively on their teaching.

Ofsted advises lead inspectors to ask headteachers to provide information about the school’s performance management arrangements, including the most recent outcomes and their relationship to salary progression.

It may well be that this will include the number of staff progressing through threshold this/last year and a table for each salary point with the corresponding number of staff and the number that met their objectives. All of this must be presented in an anonymised format.

A final point: teachers can expect to be asked about the impact of performance management when inspectors are giving them lesson observation feedback – forewarned is forearmed!


The new Teaching Standards were introduced in September. In the new inspection guidance, we are told that when judging the quality of teaching, inspectors should consider the extent to which the Standards are being met.

With regard to teaching, we are told that Ofsted has no preferred teaching style. As in the past, there is the obvious link between teaching and learning/progress in lessons. The Ofsted handbook outlines criteria for judging the school’s teaching as a whole and while this is not intended to be used for the assessment of individual lessons, it does include many criteria suitable for lesson observations and inevitably inspectors will refer to it.

If an inspector observes a lesson for 25 minutes or more, feedback should be given to the teacher. When teachers receive feedback they can expect to be given the overall judgement for the lesson. This is likely to be conveyed in words, such as “good”, rather than numbered grades.

There has, of course, been a strong, recent emphasis placed on the teaching of phonics and this will definitely continue. Headteachers can soon expect a push on maths too, as this framework has a slightly sharper focus on the quality of maths teaching.

Governors and parents

There is an increased emphasis on the role of governors (see pages 41 and 42 of The School Inspection Handbook). Ask yourself:

• To what extent do your governors really contribute to the school’s self-evaluation?

• Do they hold you to account for improving the quality of teaching, achievement, etc?

• How aware/involved are they in the deployment of Pupil Premium and are they clear on the impact and outcomes?

The new grade descriptors for leadership and management contain increased reference to governors and governance. You need to consider what information you are sharing with your governing body, as they need to have “a deep and accurate understanding of the school’s performance, and of staff and pupils’ skills and attributes” if leadership is to be judged outstanding. Even to be considered good, “governors must systematically challenge school leaders”.

My governing body is very supportive, but I will still work with them so that they are able to show how they have challenged me and held me to account for standards etc, and to ensure that these “challenges” are noted in meeting minutes. If you look at the “inadequate” descriptor for leadership and management it states that “governors are not sufficiently robust in holding the school to account for pupils’ achievement, the quality of teaching and the effective and efficient deployment of resources”. Certainly food for thought.

Obviously heads are now aware of the Parent View website, but judging by the current completion rates the majority of parents are not! Schools should have efficient mechanisms in place for collecting and analysing the views of parents. Inspectors will be expecting schools to have this information and to have actions based on what the information tells them.


When it comes to behaviour, nothing much has changed. Inspectors will still ask to see the school’s behaviour records and will want to know what exactly the school does with this information.

Inspection teams will be looking to come to a judgement about “typical behaviour” and will therefore be focusing on behaviour over time. Information from previous years will be scrutinised and inspectors will of course talk to children about their views on bullying, behaviour and safety. As has happened from January, pupils who speak to inspectors about behaviour will be selected by the inspection team.

The reports

The format of inspection reports are significantly different now. The front page of the report has the grades for the four inspection areas, as well as the grade for overall effectiveness. There is also a summary. There will no longer be a letter to the pupils as there has been in recent years.

Inspectors are being encouraged to avoid jargon throughout the report, but this front page in particular should be completely jargon free. The summary on the front page sets the tone for the style of the rest of the report, as it is bullet-pointed and intended to be fairly punchy.

For example, with a school rated “good” the report will state, “this is a good school because…” – thus listing some key strengths. Below this the front page will include “it is not an outstanding school because...” – listing the key areas for development.

If teaching is judged to be less than good, the first improvement bullet-point will relate to teaching and should spell-out exactly what needs to be done in order for teaching to improve. Once inside the report, heads will find basic information about the school and then a section on each of the four inspection areas. Each of these sections is to be written using bullets and, as before, these should be evaluative and not descriptive. We are advised as inspectors that in the section on teaching, we should be precise in specifying which elements of classroom practice require improvement and in which subjects or year groups.


As ever with inspection, the key word is preparation. Use the inspection handbook, become familiar with the new framework and make sure that you drive your inspection so that it is done “with you” and not “to you”.

• This article has been written anonymously by a practising headteacher from a primary school in England who is also an Ofsted inspector.

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

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