Ofsted recently introduced new arrangements for the conversion of short inspections for good schools, and from January 2018, good schools receiving a short inspection now face a range of possible outcomes. As before, many schools will receive a letter confirming they continue to be judged a good school and significant concerns, such as a substantial safeguarding issue, can still lead to conversion to a full inspection within 48 hours.
The real change, however, is for schools which are either at risk of dropping to ‘requires improvement’, or those potentially moving from good to outstanding. Such schools will now receive a letter stating their next inspection will be a full section 5 inspection, and between one to two years later.
The primary intention is to reduce the high-stakes ‘cliff edge’ for those schools showing the first signs of decline, however, the delay in recognising schools moving from good to outstanding has concerned some people.
Marchwood Junior School in Hampshire is one such school and in this guest blog, Headteacher Laurie Anderson provides a useful insight into her school’s experience as well as the mindset of leaders before, during and after the inspection.
As a school on its way to being judged outstanding, Marchwood Junior School is one of the first schools to receive a letter stating their next inspection would be a full ‘section 5’.
Here, Laurie explains how leaders seek to protect the workload of staff and how they will manage this in the interim leading to the section 5:
We hadn’t even mentioned Ofsted to staff (although the leadership team had discussed our impending visit a few times in the autumn term). An updated inspection handbook was published on 21 December2017, which we had already read when we received our call on 8 January 2018.
The phone call followed the points in the section 8 handbook (p21), which was reassuring. During the phone call, our inspector emailed me a draft timetable for the following day, which was also helpful in managing my nerves as this was our first short inspection.
Following the call, my deputy and I spent the afternoon following our aptly named ‘jobs to do after the phone call’ list. This list was invaluable as, even for an experienced head, the first hour or so after getting the phone call can feel stressful, especially when trying to convey an aura of calm and positivity to all around you!
Our inspector was great when she spoke to staff, reminding them about the four possible outcomes in the new handbook. She was reasonable and friendly to staff which helped allay fears. After positive conversations with parents at the gate and a thorough check of the SCR and personnel files, we decided to be proactive and asked to take her on an additional twenty minute learning walk of our school so we could provide her with an understanding of our school’s context. In retrospect, this was key for us as we were able to show off many of our strengths.
We were surprised the ‘leadership discussion’ focused so much on historic data as we had shared our current in-school progress data the day before. Being a junior school rather than a primary school, I was prepared for a robust discussion about KS1 teacher assessments compared to our baseline. However, the inspector listened to my views and seemed to understand the challenges associated with junior school data. During this meeting we also confirmed the six lines of enquiry and the inspector spent the rest of the day gathering evidence against each of these.
We spent time in classrooms completing three fifteen-minute lesson observations, each time sharing our evaluations with the inspector. This was straightforward as we have a strong culture of coaching in our school and regularly discuss what went well and what could be improved with staff.
The safeguarding meeting was as we expected, with systems checked and case studies discussed. Safeguarding is a strength of our school and having all the relevant up-to-date documents on our website meant the inspector could check off statutory requirements were compliant before arriving at the school.
The middle leader discussion in the afternoon did surprise us in its robustness. The inspector really challenged our middle leaders (English, maths and SENCo) and had requested our science lead join this meeting too. The meeting took place with sets of books from each year group (as requested by the inspector). Middle leaders were invited to show evidence of rapid progress for different pupil groups. In addition, the inspector asked to see evidence of specific National Curriculum objectives from across the curriculum, such as ‘Find me an example of teaching timelines before 1066’.
Other activities involved meeting with a group of children and meeting with our governors, which were both positive. We found it difficult to ‘read’ our inspector and it was 3pm before she really gave us an indication of the emerging judgement. This was challenging for my deputy and I as we were concerned all day how little time there was to show all our best practice during a short inspection.
We had self-evaluated as good overall, but with outstanding elements, and were concerned throughout the day that a letter effectively saying we were a ‘good’ school might not capture the many strong elements of our school. However, we were thrilled that the letter we received not only matches our self-evaluation that we are pushing towards outstanding, but that it also captures the distinctive essence of our school.
We now have a full inspection to look forward to at some point in the next year or two, but this won’t be our focus. Rather, we will continue to do what we do well everyday – teach consistently good lessons, support all staff and children to be the best they can be, and continue to create great enrichment opportunities for our children. We are highly ambitious for our children but are not a school that is chasing an outstanding judgement, although we are very happy that our improvements and strengths have been recognised in our very detailed letter.
As a leadership team, we will actively seek to limit any additional pressure on staff in readiness for our next inspection. Staff are clear we will not be asking them to complete additional work in an attempt to achieve an outstanding Ofsted status. I have a firm conviction that happy staff make for great teaching and happy children. With any luck, this will hold us in good stead when the full inspection arrives.
ASCL Inspections and Accountability Specialist Stephen Rollett shares his top tips to help you though an Ofsted inspection in our guide Ofsted: 101 ideas to help you manage inspection.