Reflections on an inspection

Written by: HTU | Published:

They had been expecting the call, but the reaction of the entire staff when Ofsted arrived was phenomenal. Here follows anonymous extracts from a diary kept by the headteacher during the inspection

Wednesday (the day before)

12:02pm: I answer the phone in my office and heard my admin officer say the words I had been waiting five years to hear: “It’s Ofsted on the phone!”

My heart immediately began to race, so I gave myself 30 seconds to calm a little and compose myself, before asking for the call to be put through. Lots of deep breathing ensued, as I grabbed a notepad and pen. My plan had always been to get my deputy to join me so she could hear the call, but unfortunately she was out on this particular Wednesday morning working at the local university.

I have to say that I am someone who makes fairly early judgements about people and my initial thoughts about the lead inspector (Ann) were positive. She put me at my ease as she talked me through the process of how the inspection would work. Obviously, the lead inspector has to follow a script so that there is a consistency as to how each of these pre-inspection phone calls is conducted. That said, there is still the possibility for them to be slightly less robotic and to show their human side – Ann certainly took the opportunity to do this.

As I had been told to expect, the content of this call was almost entirely about organisational details for the inspection. She told me the names of the others inspectors in the team and briefly outlined what day one would look like. This gave me a heads up about when she would like the representative from the local authority to be present in school and when she would like to interview the governors.

She also told me which subject leaders she would like to talk to after school on day one. As she gave me the opportunity to ask any questions I took the opportunity to clarify how my teachers would obtain feedback on any lessons observed – she said that the onus was on the teachers to seek feedback but that the team would all be prepared to provide brief feedback at lunchtimes or after school. She also made me aware that the team would select a couple of teachers for extended feedback, where they would enter into a dialogue with teachers about how school leaders had supported and developed their quality of teaching.

As this 15-minute call was coming to an end, Ann gave me her email address as well as her mobile number and told me to contact her if there was anything at all I wanted to know. 

One final, but important, point I would make about the phone call is that because it is the initial contact it is going to be the first impression that the lead inspector has of the school. I know that I gave a very positive, upbeat and confident first impression to Ann; this was partly because we had been waiting for the call so felt ready and partly because I knew it was important that I portrayed that positive and confident attitude.

12:35pm: I went quickly round the school and told all the teachers that we had received the call and asked them to come immediately to the staffroom – we had been expecting it for some time, so I made a conscious decision to tell them as I went round rather than wait until they were all gathered. This turned out to be the right decision because by the time they had all arrived and I came in to talk to them, they were already discussing lesson ideas as well as reassuring each other.

12:45pm: I met the teachers so that I could run through the details that the lead inspector had told me on the phone. I also gave them the opportunity to ask any questions of me. We clarified what format we would use for lesson plans, what timetable proforma we would use – we felt it was important to have some consistency in these things. 

I was able to clarify that each teacher would have a full 30-minute lesson observation as well as subsequent shorter visits to their classrooms, as this is what Ann had told me. I also took this opportunity to remind teachers about the importance of performance management and to tell them that a couple of them would be selected for extended lesson observation feedback and, within this, the impact of performance management on their teaching would be explored.

We agreed that planning, preparation and assessment time scheduled to take place wouldn’t happen, as we wanted class teachers teaching their own classes. We have superb PPA cover teachers and we allocated them to support specific year groups, so that they also had an important role in the inspection.

1:15pm: The teachers returned to class and the learning support assistants came in from their duty. I then went to the staffroom with them and talked them through a slightly edited version of what I had just told the teachers. This meant that everyone was in the loop.

1:30pm: The email arrived from the inspection officer (a member of Ofsted’s admin staff) and it had half a dozen attachments. Two of these had to be immediately sent out to parents and in a slight moment of panic I found it hard to work out which were which! Once I calmed myself and looked at these it soon became very apparent. There was also a staff questionnaire which we printed out and distributed to all members of staff. We then sent our self-evaluation form (SEF) to Ann and then worked on getting the list of paperwork (outlined on one of the attachments) ready for the team on their arrival. On sending the SEF we felt very confident that we were providing an accurate, detailed and positive evaluation of our school.

2pm: Somewhat fortuitously we had six student teachers who were in the middle of their teaching placements with us, so I encouraged teachers to let the trainees teach for a bit of the afternoon to release class teachers to meet and chat about their lesson ideas. I have to say that the students were a real asset during the inspection; we made it clear to them that while they would not be teaching, they could play an important part in our final outcome by helping teachers plan and prepare resources and by taking on the role of teaching assistants during the two days – they did both of these roles absolutely superbly.

4pm: When we had met at lunchtime we had agreed to meet the teachers again at 4pm so we could discuss what subjects were going to be taught in each year group. This was really useful as it gave my deputy and I a good picture of the curriculum coverage during the two days of the inspection. It also gave teachers a chance to ask any questions of me (there were lots), as well as letting me remind them how important children’s books are in the inspection process.

6pm: I met with three of the four governors who had previously indicated a willingness to meet with the inspectors during our inspection. Obviously, I was a little fortunate that they were able to come in and chat to me, but we phoned them at midday to alert them to the inspection details and were delighted when three of them were able to come along to our preparatory meeting.

7pm: We ordered pizzas to keep everyone going. This went down well and in addition to giving people sustenance it also brought everyone together, we had a few giggles which gave morale a bit of a boost.

7:30pm: My deputy and I spent large chunks of this evening listening to lesson ideas from our various year teams and then chatting through our views on their thoughts. I am an Ofsted inspector myself, so I have a pretty good idea of the ingredients of a good or outstanding lesson and I think my teachers capitalised on that to hone their ideas into really sharp, focused lessons.

8:30pm: At the request of my literacy and numeracy subject leaders, the three of us met up to discuss possible questions that the inspectors might ask them in their interview that was scheduled for the end of day one. This was the sixth meeting of this sort we had held since September, as we knew an inspection was pretty imminent and the two of them were determined to be as prepared as possible. This meeting lasted an hour before disintegrating into giggles as my literacy leader regaled us with amusing, far-fetched tales of just how dreadfully the meeting with the inspector was going to go!

11:30pm: With teachers showing no signs of going home, I did the rounds and reminded people that if they were to perform well tomorrow they did need to get some sleep!

12:15am: With the last teacher leaving the school I locked up and made my way home.

Thursday (day one)

6am: Teachers had asked me to have the school open early, so I opened up at 6am and within 10 minutes three or four teachers had arrived. Everybody was in school by 7am.

7:45am: The inspectors arrived, so I welcomed them to the school with a warm handshake and a cheery smile. I showed them to their base where fruit, sweets, cakes and juices were all ready for them! I immediately left them to it, as we had agreed to give them a brief tour of the school at 8:15am.

8:15am: I collected the inspectors from their base to take them on a tour of the school. While I know they are pushed for time, I tried to make this more than simply a geographical orientation of the school, I tried to take the opportunity to push some of our key strengths and recent developments. They were receptive to this (not all teams are of course) so I was pleased that I was able to get a few early positive messages across.

8:30am: The staff all assembled nervously in the staffroom, so that the inspection team could introduce themselves and outline a few points about the inspection. I thought the lead inspector did this very well and tried her utmost to put the staff at their ease. After Ann had finished addressing the staff, I asked my colleagues to remain in the staffroom for a minute as I wanted to have a quick word. 

I took this last opportunity to remind them of how hard they work, how good they are at their jobs and how the kids love coming to school and love working with them. I stressed that our children enjoy school because the staff make learning fun, I urged them to be themselves – I acknowledged that they were likely to be nervous, but at the very least I wanted them to be slightly nervous versions of themselves. 

I told them to go out into their classrooms and show the inspectors how good they were – the last words I said were to go out and have fun with the kids, like they do every other day.

9am: Ann had asked for a meeting with me first thing and I explained that my deputy would be joining every meeting that I had with any of the team, because we work so closely together. She thought that was a good idea and we met to discuss “achievement”. We were well prepared for this meeting and she gave us the opportunity to talk her through our analysis of the most recent RAISEonline as well as our pupil tracking systems for each year group. She requested one or two additional documents from us that we provided for her later in the day. At 9:20am I asked whether she would like to see Guided Reading before it finished and she jumped at the chance. 

9:30am: While I was meeting with Ann, the two team inspectors (both of whom normally lead inspections, but on this occasion were “teaming”) went out into the school to observe Guided Reading. For the last three years we have been doing Guided Reading across the whole school from 9am to 9:30am every morning. I think it is a brilliant start to the day and the kids love it. We have 40 parents who come in and hear groups of readers and we train them so that their work with pupils is as effective as possible. All three inspectors were blown away by our Guided Reading session and all three rated it as outstanding.

11am: The inspectors had asked my deputy and I to join them for a series of joint observations. Happily all four lessons went well – two (very) good and two outstanding. Possibly more importantly, our judgements were exactly the same as that of the inspection team. 

Looking back I think this was a fairly significant moment in the inspection, because I think it further increased the confidence that the team had in our judgements about previous teaching, as well as about other areas of our self-evaluation.

12:30pm: The lead inspector invited my deputy and I to join them for their team meeting at lunchtime on day one. This was a pleasant meeting as everything they had seen so far had been positive. Teaching had all been good with a high proportion outstanding. Obviously the inspectors were careful about giving an indication of potential judgements as it was still early days, but there was a very positive feel. It was a relief to know that the Single Central Record was all okay and there appeared to be no issues about health and safety or site security. All three inspectors commented very positively on the quality of display around the school; this was pleasing as our staff work very hard on this.

12:45pm: I met with staff and they were pretty positive about the experience so far and no significant issues were raised.

1pm: The afternoon involved more lesson observations, meetings regarding data, analysis of the staff questionnaire as well as ParentView. There was also much talk about work sampling and they explained to us that this was possibly more important than the lessons they had observed, because it would provide a good picture of teaching over time.

3:30pm: The inspectors had arranged to have meetings with my literacy and numeracy subject managers and I am pleased to say that these went very well and the inspectors were particularly impressed with their knowledge of the standards of teaching and learning across the school.

4:30pm: My deputy and I again joined the team meeting to hear what the views of the inspectors were at what was effectively the halfway point. Again, this was a positive meeting – one of the inspectors was leaving the inspection at this point and she talked very positively about standards in PE, art, display, behaviour and also praised the impact of our monitoring of teaching and learning. 

One issue that started to emerge was marking and it was put to us that teachers praise work a little too much and don’t set targets for improvement enough. They also commented that they hadn’t seen pupils responding to marking. As this was an area we had worked really hard on for the last 18 months, I took this as a bit of a challenge and I politely said I would provide evidence to contradict this view by the following morning.

6pm: With the inspectors having just left the building we ordered our pizzas and all met up to discuss plans for day two. I sensed very definitely a different feel in the staffroom at this point; confidence was much higher and teachers were openly saying that they wanted to be observed the following day, there was much more of a “bring it on, we can do this” sort of vibe – and if I am honest it made me feel very proud.

7pm: As on the previous evening, the majority of the next few hours involved me chatting to teachers about their lessons. Most year groups wanted to take the opportunity to run their ideas by my deputy and myself.

9pm: Once teachers were all happy with their lessons, we met as a leadership team and went through two literacy and numeracy books from each class. We put sticky notes in every page of every book where teachers had set improvement targets in their marking, as well as where children had responded to teachers’ comments. To be honest, this was pretty much every page of every book because my teachers work incredibly hard and I believe their marking is second to none. We had also been set another data exercise by Ann, so the three of us worked on that too.

11:30pm: The first teacher was persuaded to leave the building so I used this to coax everyone else to go home! I have never doubted the commitment of my teachers but these two nights clearly demonstrated their professional pride, as well as their determination for the school to do as well as possible.

12:10am: I locked up and went home.

Friday (day two)

6:15am: I opened up the school and very soon afterwards teachers arrived.

7am: On my daily bulletin in the staffroom, I wrote a note to all staff commending them for their work on what was a very successful day one and letting them know that things were going well. But I also pointed out that we were only at half-time and urged them all to give a really strong second half performance, so that we had every opportunity of achieving the result that we all felt we deserved.

9am: We had our weekly Achievement Assembly. While this is a time where we celebrate the achievements of our pupils, it is ordinarily a fun time of the week where staff have a little friendly banter. On this occasion I was tempted to water down the assembly as I knew it was being observed, but decided to take my own advice and to be myself and do the assembly exactly as we normally would. The upshot was that we had a really lovely half an hour and in a fun way celebrated the things that the children had done well; the inspector described it as “wonderful” and graded it outstanding.

9:30am: The lead inspector had decided to do an extended learning walk, visiting a good number of classes in just over an hour. I was delighted to hear from her that this had gone really well and felt very proud that she saw almost entirely outstanding teaching as she moved from class to class – this was definitely a really significant factor in achieving our overall judgement.

11am: I had asked Ann if we could have a meeting about marking and this was a fairly short one, because as soon as she started looking at the books we had left out for her, she quickly saw all the evidence of lots of target-setting marking and also of children responding to the marking comments written by their teachers.

11:30am: We then had a meeting about curriculum and this again was fairly relaxed. Although as a school we were judged to be “good with outstanding features” in our last two inspections, on both occasions our curriculum was judged to be outstanding. If anything, we have strengthened it since then, while maintaining the creativity and breadth that we think is paramount. Fortunately, the inspectors also saw this and I think the work-sampling, the teaching they observed and the colourful and attractive wall displays around the school all played their part in this positive perception of a rich and varied curriculum.

1:30pm: After lunch, one of our classes was due to do their gymnastics display. Clearly we wanted to go ahead with this and, as usual, parents flocked into the hall to support their children. What I didn’t expect, because I knew they would be completing their summary evidence forms, was that one of the inspectors would come in to watch. The kids performed really well and another positive element of our report was written.

2pm: My deputy and I were invited to join the final team meeting and at this the inspectors went through each of the inspection areas and outlined why they had made the judgement they had come to. Happily for us we were judged to be outstanding in every area. 

At this point I should say that I have been headteacher here for 10 years and the judgement we received was the result of a lot of work, by a lot of people, over a long period of time.

3pm: The feedback meeting was scheduled for the end of the school day and the governors and a representative from the local authority were present. Obviously this was a fairly swift meeting and all present were delighted.

3:30pm: The best part of the whole experience was the staff meeting that we had scheduled for after school on day two! Everybody stayed behind so I didn’t keep them in suspense; I told them the overall judgement and let them whoop and holler. I then went through each key judgement very briefly, apart from “teaching” which I went into in as much detail as I could remember – I wanted them all to know just how well they had done.

4pm: A lot of high fives and a good few hugs took place before staff started to drift away. I said my goodbyes to people before heading to a nearby coffee shop to meet my beautiful and long suffering wife and give her the good news.


4:22am: It was effectively the middle of the night, I woke with my mind racing, full of thoughts about what I was going to show the lead inspector when I got into school. It took a full minute before the realisation dawned on me that the inspection was over and that we had attained the report we believed we deserved. 

I got up, drafted a text to my staff thanking them again for the incredible and unquestionable support they had shown over the last 48 hours (I saved it to send later on in the day!) and went back to bed with the words of one of my young teachers ringing in my ears. Becka had earlier sent me a text that made me very proud: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, to learn more, to do more and become more, you are a leader. Thank you so much for all your support and guidance.”

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