Safeguarding & the quality of education: A case study of Ofsted inspection

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From updated statutory safeguarding guidance to a focus on prior learning and the quality of education, what lessons can we draw from a recent primary school inspection? Here are some notes from an anonymous headteacher

While we have a common framework for inspection, the context is always unique.

In our case we are a small school in an urban area. The timing was particularly challenging in that the inspection came very early in the new school year. Not only were we embedding new pupils but approximately half of the school’s staff were new following a far higher than typical turnover during the summer term.

Finally, while we were within the timeframe for inspection, we were very much at the early end and therefore we (and the local authority) were not expecting the call.

In our case we had one inspector for two days and it was an ungraded inspection under the adjusted framework.

You can be prepared

There is a great deal you can get done before the call. Paragraph 96 of the Education Inspection Framework (EIF) lists what the inspector will want, so have a digital folder ready with copies of all the documents.

If you have not had a Data Protection Officer visit recently book one. Equally, audit your website (new this year is uniform policy and school opening hours showing at least 32.5 hours a week).

Even though it is early days, your safeguarding policies must reflect the changes to Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) statutory guidance.

Equally, identify your subject leaders who will meet the inspector. With an ungraded inspection the inspector does not have much time so can only meet a small number.

Finally, Angel Solutions has a free app called Watchsted which will give you details of any inspector and immediate access to their past inspections. While your inspection will be unique, using this did give us an idea of what our inspector typically looked for.

As an executive headteacher, I have led many inspections in schools with more than my fair share of top grades and yet my stomach still lurches when the call comes.

There are two key phone calls – the Ofsted administration call followed by the arranged inspector call. Both are critical. You will have planned for the latter but pay attention to the former too as there will be letters and surveys that must be shared in a timely way.

Deep Dives – a core aspect of the quality of education judgement

The deep dives are now an established and core part of inspection. They were agreed over the phone and there were common themes:

  • Professional development (both received and given).
  • Why the curriculum is created in the way it is (and if you use a published scheme then explain why you are doing so).
  • Sequencing of learning across year groups. How is this assessed in the classroom?
  • What strategies does the school use to help pupils retain learning? Do teachers discretely reference prior learning?

The inspector is trying to get a feel of the school. How we sequenced learning and then, in the classroom, how teachers assessed became core themes of the two days. Another key aspect was prior learning – do children remember what they did when they last came across a skill or a topic and how is it different now?

Over the two days the inspector met with various groups of children as well as dropping into classes. One note here – ECTs were inspected several times and are no longer exempt as NQTs used to be with prior learning once again being a constant theme.


Our inspector was looking to see that we were a safe school. Safeguarding was cross-referenced in several ways:

  • Discrete meetings with the designated safeguarding lead.
  • A discrete meeting reviewing the single central record.
  • As part of surveys.
  • Ad-hoc questions around the school.
  • As part of questions with groups (staff and pupils).

It is important in these meetings to be clear and succinct. As part of our preparation we had examples showing cases when staff had brought a child protection issue to our attention, how we had pursued it with the local authority, and in one case we were able to show how we had pushed the case further and its outcome.

We also discussed our staff’s use of the TED model (tell, explain, describe) as part of professional conversations/professional curiosity. And don’t forget, all staff must be able to say what they would do if there was a safeguarding issue.

Other advice I would give you based on our inspection experience includes the following points:

  • Know exactly what the changes to KCSIE are for 2022/23 (have a list).
  • Be clear that if a member of staff's conduct towards a child poses a risk it will lead to LADO (local authority designated officer) involvement.
  • Numbers of looked after children, children in need and Early Help.
  • How safeguarding concerns have led to changes in the curriculum (e.g. increased awareness of online risks have led to lessons on online bullying in PSHE lessons).
  • Does the school conduct social network searches on new recruits as part of the recruitment process? This is not statutory, so we were careful how we responded. We said we were aware but were waiting for local guidance which the inspector understood.

Professional curiosity – a common theme

You may well hear this phrase a lot from inspectors, certainly in terms of safeguarding. The curious professional does more than observe and wait – they will pursue a train of thought. During our inspection process this was addressed in two ways – safeguarding and prior learning.

Core in KCSiE is professional curiosity. It is no longer good enough to observe or wait for a disclosure. By that point we may be too late: “Exercising professional curiosity and knowing what to look for is vital.” (KCSIE, 2022).

Colleagues should act when they see change. The groundwork for this was laid out years ago as part of the Prevent Duty. KCSIE expects professional conversations, and the principles are the same – if you see a change be professionally curious. For me, the TED strategy is a proven model (for more, search online).

Professionals can adopt a similar curiosity with linking learning. How we sequenced and linked prior learning became a thread. In truth we blinked at this point. For a long time, we have launched new projects by referencing prior learning, but we had moved closer towards a culture of “what can you recall?” rather than “this is what you learned”.

A more professionally curious approach would be to combine both – what can you recall, and do you remember that this is what you learned?

If a child is looking at how colour creates atmosphere, the last time they looked at colour may have been year 2. We must provide leads towards that learning and be intentional: “This is when you last learned about colour – what can you remember, what else do you know? This is how we are going to deepen our understanding.”

The professionally curious teacher will also look to assess as they go. How you question, challenge ideas, adapt learning, and ensure learners are where you would expect them to be is central to teaching. This is not new, but it is all too easy to panic. Trust your instincts and slow down. This may not impact on your overall grade for quality of education, but it may be an action point.

An unerring focus on quality of education

In all likelihood, you will know at the end of day one if the inspector has any concerns with quality of education or safeguarding.

The inspector will also ask you if there are any concerns about the inspection so far – our inspector asked directly how we were. This was a common thread, and our experience was – genuinely – positive throughout.

At the end of day one the inspector will likely say that they have not made a judgement but that they have “questions” they are forming. These will be probed in day two.

In truth, day two was dominated with meetings rather than class visits. What was interesting was to analyse the amount of time spent directly looking at the quality of education – this aspect of the inspection dominated the two days with approximately half of the entire timetable spent on this one area. It is very much the main event.


With an ungraded inspection there is not enough time to review all four aspects of the framework in depth. They are not forgotten but, in this case, are referred to as spotlights. In our case we had six spotlights:

  1. Behaviour
  2. Personal development and wellbeing
  3. Staff workload
  4. British values
  5. Off-rolling and gaming
  6. Wider provision

Behaviour: It is worth having three to four years’ worth of back-dated information which must be across key demographics. Data should also identify KCSIE core areas: homophobic bullying, online bullying, sexist language, and your commentary around these cases should explain how they have been resolved (this aspect will also be a feature in any pupil meetings, particularly bullying, and part of the school surveys).

Personal development and wellbeing: This will be a strand when meeting with teachers and in the keeping in touch (KIT) meetings to check your wellbeing and that of the staff during the inspection. Governors will be asked how they are supporting the leadership. This is a good opportunity to share examples – supporting a colleague during a bereavement or a change to working hours to address work/life balance.

Staff workload: We talked about smart marking to reduce marking workload and other strategies – particularly how we adapted commercial curriculum programmes to fit our context rather than writing our own. We also shared that, in our context, staff wore many hats and therefore streamlined systems, working alongside leaders to ensure there is consistency.

British values: Have clear examples. Most likely your school values or vision will uphold British values, and, in our case, we reference them in weekly assemblies. We also discussed aspects of the school that upheld these values such as democratically electing our House Captains. Our school is a UNICEF Rights Respecting School and this was very useful. We had a wide range of examples at our fingertips that upheld national and global values

Off-rolling and gaming: Check that you have the new school on your off-roll form as this will be checked. Gaming is less of an issue for primary schools.

Wider provision: This was a wide-ranging conversation, but it included questions about the charities we supported, why, and how they were chosen. What is the strategy behind the wider provision. What was our wraparound care and what clubs did we have and why. How do we support families who are just about managing (supporting food banks)? Finally, how do we enrich the school day (with swimming, extended trips, day trips, use your local area)?

We didn’t discuss…

Your website is critical and because our Sports Premium and Pupil Premium reports were online already, we barely discussed them. Likewise, there was no discussion about finance in wider terms at all. Covid saw a short discussion, but only a few minutes. Finally, there was no discussion about SATs or assessments in any form. Perhaps this was partly down to time limits as well as the information being readily available online.

My reflections

It is less about paperwork and more about what is lived. The inspector will certainly reference your paperwork, but it is the evidence they see before them around the school that really counts. Essentially, are you doing what you say?

Quality of education is central to the entire inspection and so it is critical to consider the language of learning – using the right words in the right way. Are teachers providing discrete links to prior learning in all subjects. Unsurprisingly, inclusion of all and reasonable adjustments to ensure equitable access to the curriculum was a key theme (have case studies ready).

In terms of behaviour, it was largely judged on what is seen and reported in surveys. Be open. This was a key reflection from the inspection – they do not like asking for something twice. The bottom line is that these people visit schools all the time and will know if you are stalling.

Finally, but most importantly, be confident about your school.

  • The author of this article is the headteacher of a primary school which was inspected during September.

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