After reading lots about the new Ofsted framework, I had my first experience of it in the past week. During some transition visits to my new school, we got ‘The Call’ and had Ofsted descend. It was a peculiar experience to by there as headteacher designate rather than a substantive head. However, it was great to see how the inspection was conducted and to be able to support my new school. This blog won’t go through every moment of the visit – just key areas/bits of information. I am always happy to answer any follow up questions.
My new school was last inspected in January 2019. It was judged as inadequate by the team at the time. I won’t go into the circumstances around that as I was not head at the time. However, the school have been keen and awaiting a visit since then. The school is growing and will be 3FE in all year groups in the next two years. We have been coping with building work for some time now and are literally about to move into a brand new building in a couple of weeks (although there is building work for the rest of the year to demolish the existing building etc).
This inspection started as a section 8 monitoring inspection (one day). We had a team of three – 1 HMI, 1 Shadow HMI/OI and a third OI (Ofsted Inspector). Towards the end of day one, they decided to convert the inspection to a section 5 full inspection so we had a fourth person join us as an OI on day two.
When the office told me Ofsted were on the phone, my heart raced much as it has in any previous inspection. The mixture of nerves and excitement kick in almost instantly. This time it was heightened as I knew I wouldn’t know everything expected of me if I was substantive head. The lead HMI had a friendly tone and was clear from the outset that, whilst Ofsted clearly had ther job to do, it was OUR inspection and we were in charge, i.e. if we wanted to speak as a group for clear reasons then that is fine.
The first part of the call is pretty standard and similar to previous inspection. It contained all the standard information sharing and typical pleasantries etc. We were told there would needto be a longer chat which we could do now or later. We asked for a call slightly later to allow us to gather information and inform staff etc.
During the second call, there was a rigorous exchange of information but it wasn’t an interrogation. We were very honest about where we were and had conversations, at length, about school context, the progress since the last inspection, key trails from the IDSR, school priorities, curriculum etc. As usual, it was agreed to exchange the SEF and SIP in advance and the a list of documentation which would be required during the inspection was emailed.
As our inspection was a section 8 monitoring inspection initially, we were told they were looking for some very clear things:
- Has the school taken effective action to improve and are there clear plans in place?
- Have governors had an impact?
- Has the quality of education improved for children?
- Has the school taken appropriate steps to build an effective curriculum?
I keep saying it but remember our experience started as a one day section 8 so the focus may be different if you go straight into a section 5.
When we were sent the timetable for day 1 it focused the morning on the following areas:
- Lesson visits – phonics, reading, writing and maths (this may be because we usually teach those subjects then but we weren’t asked to change)
- Meetings with SENCO (as SEND provision was identified in last inspection) and a learning walk with SENCO
- Meetings with English Leader (discussing writng as an area from IDSR) and a learning walk with English Leader
- Safeguarding activities – check on Single Central Record, meeting with safeguarding lead, conversations with staff/pupils, review of records etc
- Meeting parents (before school) to gather their views. As it was a S8 visit, they didn’t send questionnaires but they spoke to parents, reviewed Parent View and looked at any info we had from questionnaires etc
- Meetings with Maths Leader
- Meetings with PP leader
- Meetings with Chair of Govs (or any governors we had available)
- Meetings with LA SIO
- Meetings with PP Leader
- The afternoon was initially written as inspection activities – they kept this open so that they could look at where the inspection took them. We realised that essentially the morning had started deep dives into reading/phonics, writing and maths. Later, as they considered whether to convert, they started to look more widely at the curriculum so started deep dives into History and PE.
It was a packed first day and like any inspection, of course, the team were looking at things in between the formal planned activities, e.g. looking at behaviour around the school, on playgrounds etc. They’d go the office and ask the staff there if they knew safeguarding procedures, they’d ask staff members in corridors about behaviour etc. This is very much about what a school typically does rather than just putting on a show. It is also not simply about SLT knowing the school – it is everyone! Do staff know the priorities, how is CPD helping them etc?
As mentioned earlier, the inspection converted to a section 5 so lasted two days. We were reminded that, as this is no longer just a monitoring visit, there needed to be a wider focus as the team would be making judgements in all areas so they needed to gather evidence for these. The schedule for day two included:
- Further scrutinity of curriculum overview documentation
- Collection of parent views
- Meetings with additional governors
- Listening to children reading individually to an adult
- LOTS of meetings: meetings with various staff (different groups such as NQTs, different key stages etc) to talk about the school generally as well as the curriculum, meetings with specific year groups to further understanding of curriculum progress/certain subjects, meetings with safeguarding lead, attendance lead, meetings with children etc
- Further work on deep dives from yesterday including an additional deep dive in the area of science
Rather than blog about every detail of the inspection, I shall unpick some key areas of the inspection that I think worth noting…
As these are new and causing some hysteria, I wanted to share my thoughts about them. I too was worried for primary schools as we have non-specialists leading subject areas but I was reassured by the process. We were told there were six parts to a deep dive:
- Exploration of medium/long term plans
- Meetings with subject leader(s) and/or curriculum leader
- Observations/Learning Walks (often with the relevant leader). If the subject isn’t taught on the day of inspection then they understand that but they did say there would have to be a subject agreed that was taught during the inspection as not all deep dives could miss this aspect of it.
- Work scrutiny (if available – if a practical subject then they cannot always do this)
- Meetings with teachers teaching the subject area
- Meetings with children about their learning in the subject area
We were told that for a school of our size (3FE), there are usually 6-7 deep dives. This will always include reading/phonics and is likely to include maths. For us, it included writing too (as this was a priority area from the IDSR). We agreed History as a subject we identified as a strength and PE was chosen (as it was taught by lots of people on the day). We agreed science between us and the team for day 2.
The focus of the deep dives is to get to know how and WHY a subject is taught in the way it is. We had conversations with the team about what we were trying to achieve in our curriculum and these conversations were not restricted to a deep dive area or a meeting with the curriculum lead. I would say this focus is central to the whole inspection – curriculum design is very much at the centre.
The conversations go deeper than the order of topics, for example, or the organisation of National Curriculum programmes of study. It wasn’t intimidating but it was challenging, e.g. why are they learning that aspect of history in Y2? How does that build on what we saw in Y1/EYFS? etc. They were also keen to talk about curriculum beyond subjects, e.g. what else are we trying to develop for our children? How do we bring our curriculum to life? (i.e. a sense of OUR children and what do we need to offer them compared to other children in other schools).
Inspectors were also clear about their inspection and exploring the curriculum from EYFS (if you have this phase) to Y6. They stressed that, even if subjects were called something different, they would expect an understanding of how EYFS areas of learning feed into NC programmes of study from Y1. Transition and preparation for the next stage of education was a constant theme.
We were also pleased that the team were not rigidly looking at the acquisition of knowledge. Yes, they want to know what knowledge is taught and when/why. However, they also discussed skills development with us, e.g. how do enquiry skills developed in Y1 history help children in KS2 etc? Teacher’s pedagogical understanding was a key part of dicussions with staff so, even if they don’t know subject requirements in depth in different year groups, they would expect staff to have given some thought into how and why they are teaching the curriculum they are in relation to their point in the whole school.
Deep dives also explored how we help children remember knowledge so that teachers don’t have to revisit it in every year group.
This felt new and I don’t recall meetings like this in previous inspections. Essentially, it is a conversation about pupil mobility. We were told that they would only ever look back at the previous 12 months but they wanted a list of any child who had left at a non-standard transition point in the previous 12 months. They would then ask to look at some paperwork, e.g. a child who was removed from roll for elective home education or children taken off roll because they had moved abroad. They reviewed records to ensure appropriate agencies were involved and children were safeguarded etc.
This meeting also explored quality assurance checks and welfare monitoring of children in alternative learning provision. If you do have any children on roll who are not educated at your school, it is important you have all your paperwork in order and QA is undertaken. There is an expectation of formal paperwork too for any children on part time timetables.
Finally, they reviewed reasons and paperwork for any children not entered for statutory assessments in the past year.
This is just a quick point. They asked to hear children read (they selected from bottom 20% of Y1). They said it was ok, if children were more comfortable, for a member of staff to do this with the selected children whilst the inspector observed. They suggested this was useful for leaders to do which I thought was a good point.
The observation was exploring how early reading was taught, e.g. it wasn’t about comprehension skills but the skill of the adult in developing fluency skills as quickly as possible.
There were a LOT of meetings with various staff. They kept these brief as they understood staff were teaching so most of these took place in lunchtimes. They also didn’t push if we couldn’t release people. We agreed that if any staff had to be taken out of lessons then the person covering wouldn’t be observed at that time.
The inspection team were very flexible in allowing us to decide who attended meetings. Very few meetings had one person in them as we explained various people were involved in most areas. for example, in a meeting about personal development, we had 6 or so staff – PSHE lead, safeguarding lead etc etc. They were very happy to facilitate this.
As with the previous framework, they would always check that what was said in meetings, matched the practice they saw. We were also fortunate that our team were very open. If they had a line of enquiry or a thought, they would articulate this openly so we were not having to second guess their thoughts. We could counter their challenge where necessary or agree with their findings if this matched our own thoughts.
I almost didn’t write this because it was not a feature of this new framework at all. There was a very brief meeting on day two about our assessment approach and, of course, during deep dives they looked at the quality of feedback to pupils. However, they were NOT interested in any data beyond national datasets, e.g. IDSR.
Having said that, they were prepared to look at data if it offered something. For example, we were allowed to show them some outcomes for PP children from the end of last year as this was not available in the information available to them.
Ofsted reports hve never really told the whole story in my opinion. However, it was stressed during this inspection that the new style reports are brief and there are strict word counts to stick to. The primary audience is parents/carers so the team gave us plenty of opportunity to give detailed feedback during their visit. I have never worked with a team that were so focused on wanting this visit to be helpful for the school. We took lots of notes (as I am sure most leaders would) so that we have this for future use as lots of it may not feature in the report.
Similar to me in my last inspction, my new school were not totally satisfied with the conduct of the inspection team in their last inspection. As I said above, I won’t go into the detail too much as I was not at the school at the time. However, if I compare to the inspection I last had at my previous school, it was completely different. The team were prepared to listen, understood context and felt like they were completely on the school’s side. They weren’t there to just pass a judgement; They were very clear about wanting to help and support the school.
This made so much difference and was a really refreshing change. I don’t think I have ever felt this so much in any inspection I have ever been part of. Whether this is a change in focus due to the ‘new’ HMCI or whether we had a very good team remains to be seen. It made such a difference though and really enabled people to relax and show their best. Nobody had to second guess what the inspection team were thinking as they told us so we could debate/challenge their thinking etc. We were as much a part of the inspection as the team themselves were. I sincerely hope all future inspections feel like this. I am sure the inspectorate aspire for that to be the case but, as with any organisation, it will be dependant on the people who on the front end.
I shall also finish by saying that, whilst I was much happier with the new framework and quality of inspectors than in previous experiences, I shall never celebrate the outcome of any inspection (no matter how good) in the same way as I might previously. I have seen first hand how damaging RI/Inadequate can be to people’s careers and a school community. It does not help a school in any way. Ofsted have argued that this helps parents recognise the quality of a school but, now that reports are so brief and contain so little information, the judgement label is more blunt than ever before. My aspiration is that this is recognised in the future, judgements are scrapped and Ofsted simply report whether a school is meeting therequired standard or not.