I will start with a funny story relating to our last inspection, in October 2014. Our previous inspection was nearly seven and a half years ago, so we had been on standby for the past four years.
Every year in October, my deputy and I go to spend a day with each of our Year 6 classes when they are away in Tollsbury on their residential visit. Each year, someone from school has phoned us while we were there to say we had had ‘The Call!’ Staff thought it was very funny to wind us up in this way. Well, when ‘The Call’ did actually come on the 22nd of October, it just so happened we were in Tollsbury, getting kitted up to go on the high ropes with the Year 6 children.
‘It’s the usual staff joke,’ we told ourselves, and it took several calls from senior staff for us to accept that this time it was for real. Does this remind you of Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried wolf?
Writing ten top tips makes it sound easy, and as though there is some magic formula to success in Ofsted inspections. Sadly, there is not, otherwise we would all be Outstanding! However, there are some things that can really make a difference.
These are the things that have worked for us:
Have an overall immediate action plan for when you get the call from Ofsted. Everyone on your leadership team should keep it in their top drawer ready to refer to/follow when the call comes. It includes things like who to contact immediately (governors, local authority, etc.), sending a memo to staff, preparing the room for inspectors, doing a school walk, which documents to prepare, and sending out information to parents. This helps to ensure that everything runs smoothly and you are not caught on the hop.
Hold a meeting with the staff the night before: this is vital to reassure, motivate and encourage everyone to operate as a team, be positive and set the tone for the inspection. Prepare clear messages so they know what to expect – and remember to tell them they are fabulous! Provide teachers with an Ofsted checklist, so they can focus on preparing everything they will need: timetables, planning, marking, classroom environment etc.
The learning environment: this says so much about your school. Showcase your very best work in central areas; display a wide range of work which shows the breadth of learning in your school, and the range of SMSC activities (remember British values) you do. Include lots of examples of pupils’ best cross-curricular writing, which demonstrates that children are using and applying their English skills widely.
Exercise books: these are a key indicator of the quality of teaching over time. Keep your best exercise books from the previous year, to show Ofsted that learning is consistent over the long term. The quality of presentation – handwriting, layout, and so on – is a factor in the ‘behaviour for learning’ judgement, and the quality, range and quantity of the work should demonstrate the wide range of skills children have. Marking and feedback should enable children to move forward in their learning – a consistently applied marking policy is a must! Good peer- and self-marking also demonstrates children’s ability to take ownership of their learning.
Documentation: build up key files which show that all aspects of the school’s practice are thorough and of a very high standard. Link these files to key Ofsted areas – e.g. a leadership and management file, an SMSC file, a behaviour file, a safeguarding file, a curriculum file, a maths and English file, a Pupil Premium file, a policies file and a governing body file. The files should showcase examples of practice, and should contain photographic evidence, key policies and aims, case studies, etc. Go to any Ofsted interviews armed with your files so that you can proactively demonstrate your good practice.
Data – that dreaded word! It’s all about attainment and progress, and ensuring the school is working really hard to narrow any gaps between groups or individuals. Be clear and specific about the data for key groups in your school, and how the school is using this information to enhance their learning: this includes most able pupils and pupils with SEND. Also ensure you can present data over a three-year period, so be familiar with your RAISEonline reports for the previous year, as well as the latest one. Inspectors will have looked at your RAISEonline figures, data dashboard and your website for information on this.
Teaching: ‘quality first’ teaching, in which teachers set really clear, high expectations for every single pupil and champion each individual, is what it is all about! Agree on your high-impact strategies and use these consistently across the school. Ensure that planning, assessment and marking are consistent and of a high quality. Ensure teachers use their talents and skills in their classrooms and demonstrate their passion for teaching. It is essential that teaching assistants know the children really well: helping to support their learning, but not spoon-feeding them.
SMSC: schools should be special places which model a future world in which everyone is valued and respected. Does your ethos create a sense of awe and wonder, the excitement of learning, and drive to be citizens of the world? Is there singing, music and dancing? Are children’s talents and skills recognised and developed? Are staff exemplary role models in all they do and say? Are expectations clear, high and shared?
Engagement with the inspectors: first of all, make the inspectors very welcome. Make it easy for them to find their way around, prepare a tidy, clear space for them to meet, provide refreshments. It is a very busy two days for the inspectors, so be as helpful as you can. Then be proactive in contributing to the inspection – have your files ready, do joint observations and learning walks, share your judgements on your school, your key issues and how you are addressing them. Demonstrate how well you know your own school. Ensure all senior and middle leaders present themselves well and are ready to engage in interviews, learning walks and so on. Sell yourselves!
Know the Ofsted handbook well, so that nothing comes as a surprise. Ensure the leadership team has gone through it and highlighted areas to work on. Plan Ofsted-style interview questions linked to the handbook and quiz each other on these. Have it to hand during the inspection and bring it to the team meetings, so you can confidently engage in discussion linked to the handbook statements.
Phew! It’s hard work getting there, and stressful going through it, but remember why we do this: nothing is more valuable in life than serving our communities by educating our children. So go for it, and be the best you can be! SR