This much I know about…preparing for an OFSTED inspection

I have been a Headteacher for 9 years and, at the age of 48, this much I know about preparing from an OFSTED inspection.

In March 2012 I received a letter from OFSTED saying that the earliest we could be inspected was the summer term 2013, which begins tomorrow…

Don’t be naïve about OFSTED Inspections. A good report frees you for five years to develop your school; a bad report can, as Robbie Burns once wrote, Leave us nothing but grief and pain,/For promised joy!

A clear, intense and highly effective focus upon improving the quality of teaching is the only preparation for OFSTED that really matters, because the quality of teaching is the only thing that really matters in a school. You can have great data but if the teaching observed is ordinary you can be in trouble; you can have mediocre data but if the teaching observed is outstanding you can get a Good judgement; it’s true, I’ve read the reports. My Preparing for OFSTED training session for colleagues is, essentially, a focus on improving teaching and a whole load of common sense. A copy of the Preparing for OFSTED Teacher booklet and accompanying presentation is here:

Preparing for OFSTED booklet 2013

OFSTED Training Day 25-02-13

You and your SLT team get the school organised for the inspection.  You get as ready as possible whilst everyone else nails the day job and teaches their faces off, day in day out, OFSTED or no OFSTED. In the end, you need to be ready for inspection all the time.

Get to the point where an Inspection is a moment not an event. I would love to claim this aphorism as my own, but it comes from the ever brilliant Zoe Elder. She said, verbatim, in a recent Twitter conversation with me and @Gwenelope: Get to the point where you’re on the front foot: know your pupils and ensure this informs your learning design. All day, every day for all pupils. When it doesn’t work out, reflect, rethink, revisit and redesign. Designing learning is iterative. Planning lessons less flexible. Bit of a mindset thing I guess. Ask, What’s the story of the lesson? So that you can tell it as it happens to any visitor but importantly; students. Bit like advanced driving commentary. Values. Best (and only) compass I know in a land of uncertainty.

Have a preparation plan for your SLT. There’s so much you can do beforehand to help get the inspection right. Make sure you attend to everything under your control so that the only variable out of your control on the day is what happens in the classrooms. Our plan is here:

OFSTED Inspection Preparation Timeline 2013 Final blog version

Effective Governance is crucial. We had a full meeting dedicated to me briefing Governors on the story of the school for the past year. We focused on their role in setting the strategic direction of the school, our data story, the Performance Management process, the impact of our Pupil Premium spend, and the quality of teaching across the school and in departments.

Make the inspection as easy as possible for the inspectors. There is no point being anything other than fully cooperative. We have a page on our website for the Lead Inspector with hyperlinks to all the information we have to provide mandatorily on our website; it saves the Lead Inspector wasting time searching for it all. And set up a base room for the Inspection team with fresh cafetière coffee and fruit. I always think about the process from their point of view – it must be a pretty awful job at times.

The relationship with the Lead Inspector is crucial. We had a full inspection eight days into my first Headship; seventeen inspectors, all week. We had twelve weeks’ notice. The Lead Inspector was a really decent bloke. In his pre-inspection visit, eight weeks before the Inspection began, we gave him a guided tour of our vast catchment. During that car journey we worked out that from his days refereeing semi-professional football down in Sussex he knew Richard, my brother-in-law. In the following weeks leading up to the inspection he emailed me with reminiscences of his refereeing days for me to relay to Richard. On the Wednesday of the inspection after he had observed a shocking Music lesson he came to see me and said, I know you’re on top of what’s going on in Music, we won’t count that one. He agreed to every single amendment to the final draft of the report that I requested. Those were the days…

Listen to Michael Wilshaw and stop teachers performing tricks they have never used in lessons before. I have played my staff the video of Michael Wilshaw’s talk he gave to the RSA a year ago and given them the transcript.

After listening to the Chief Inspector’s words of wisdom, one of my colleagues remarked in front of all his peers, That’s the first time I’ve ever agreed with anything he’s said.

Know the Inspection documents inside out: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/schools/for-schools/inspecting-schools/inspecting-maintained-schools/main-inspection-documents-for-inspectors

Have a good look at the up-dates for Inspectors – they contain crucial gems of advice: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/advanced-resources-search/results/schools%20and%20inspection%20matters/2/all/any/202/any?solrsort=im_search_date_mktime%20desc

The Subject Inspection documents are useful too: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/generic-grade-descriptors-and-supplementary-subject-specific-guidance-for-inspectors-making-judgemen

Nail your SEF. I was aiming for four sides of A4 – I’ve got it down to ten and if you would like a copy just email me at j.tomsett@huntington-ed.org.uk.

Write your own Pre-Inspection Briefing. Since the Lead Inspector hasn’t the time to write a PIB any more, write your own based on your analysis of your RAISE. Mine begins: Having read our RAISEonline 2012 Summary Report, these are the questions I would ask about the school if I were the Lead Inspector… Keep it to one side of A4 and make sure you can answer every question the imaginary Lead Inspector will ask.

Determine why you are successful. Inspectors like success – it makes their job easier. And if you can provide them with really sharp evidence of your success which can fully support your judgements, your judgements will quickly become their judgements.

Counter the blunt Data Dashboard and know your data story in detail. The Data Dashboard is a shockingly crude tool whilst RAISE is much more nuanced. Looking at our Data Dashboard you wouldn’t guess for a moment that our RAISE ACPS and ATPS for GCSE only for FSM students was Sig+ and that our ACPS GCSE only figure of 279.7 for FSM is above the National ACPS GCSE only figure of 273.8 for all students, nor that in January 2013 we were named in the top 100 of all schools nationally for student progress from KS2 to GCSEs by David Laws, Schools Minister, calculated on the best 5 GCSEs including English and mathematics

Write to all your parents and invite them to complete the Parent View questionnaire. When I did I was pleasantly surprised by the responses, and it’s the only evidence of parental opinion available to inspectors.

Check your timetables. I know this sounds an odd piece of advice, but many teachers make room changes over the course of the year and don’t tell the MIS manager. The last thing you want is for an inspector to turn up to a room expecting to observe a lesson and there’s no-one there or a different class to the one s/he’s looking for is underway.

Focus upon getting the right teachers in front of the right students at the right time in the right rooms. Suspend ITT students teaching for the Inspection, and any other activity requiring cover which can be easily postponed; just be pragmatic and do everything you can to make every single lesson as good as it can possibly be.

Make sure everyone is following your school’s marking and feedback policy. And make sure every student knows how to improve in every subject. It’s a big ask, but it’s really crucial.

When the phone call comes write the details down; in the heightened pressure of the moment it is easy to get things wrong.

David Didau is great on how teachers can take control of the inspection lesson observation; his book, the Perfect OFSTED English lesson is superb! http://www.amazon.co.uk/Perfect-Ofsted-English-Lesson/dp/1781350523

didau book

If Day One goes badly dictate Day Two. Be assertive and present the inspectors with a revised programme which directs them towards all the really good stuff that’s going on in your school that they haven’t found yet.

Know your staff and have a convincing story about them, just in case one of your best teachers has a bad lesson. You need to be able to point to evidence of previous lesson observation records and student outcome data to prove to the inspector that the relatively poor one-off lesson s/he has just observed is not representative of that teacher’s performance generally. Tom Sherrington (@Headguruteacher) is excellent on knowing your staff. http://headguruteacher.com/2012/12/04/how-do-i-know-how-good-my-teachers-are/

Engender confidence in your colleagues wherever you can. To use Mike Hughes’ line, the SLT need to erect a sheet of polaroid across the school gate and stop the climate of fear entering school. There is no point whatsoever in creating panic amongst colleagues through spot-check unannounced observations and other such draconian practice. That’s not the way to improve teacher performance, that’s the road to madness. Our school values are Respect; Honesty and Kindness, and that’s for everyone in our school.

Headteachers need to trust their colleagues more than ever. Seneca said, “The first step towards making people trustworthy is to trust them.” In the climate of fear which this government has so brilliantly cultivated it is too easy to threaten staff in response to being threatened oneself. Headteachers have to do the opposite. At our school we deliver over 2,000 lessons each week; I cannot teach them all, so what I have to do is develop my colleagues in a safe school environment which allows them to thrive professionally and personally. It’s the only way to a decent OFSTED inspection. It’s the only way I will keep my job.

About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
This entry was posted in School Leadership, Teaching and Learning. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to This much I know about…preparing for an OFSTED inspection

  1. Michael Tidd says:

    All good advice, although not sure about stopping ask ITT students teaching. With less than 24 hours notice that’s a big change to make in some cases. Students will wonder, the teacher will be picking up in the middle of a unit they’ve not necessarily been teaching, and in some cases will be trying to tackle more problems than usual. I think these cases need addressing according to their merits. Inspectors understand the role of ITT in schools, abd can usually find another slot in which to observe your employed teachers.

  2. behrfacts says:

    I take my hat off to you and other heads for having to go through this process. Imagine if it happened to a Government Ministry … everyone would be up in arms! Also your comments about the Data Dashboard show that Ofsted clearly had some other agenda going on when signing it off.

  3. mrlockyer says:

    One message I constantly tell staff is that an inspection or observation is that it’s ‘show and tell, not hide and seek’ – we can assume that they have seen something, rather than made it very obvious and visible.

    Great article!

  4. Sue Cowley says:

    Great advice and ideas, thank you for your sane comments. Interestingly I also agreed with what Wilshaw says in that video, although I wonder whether his messaage is reaching his inspectors?

    I would add one further suggestion to your list: Always remember the reason we do what we do is NOT for Ofsted. What really matters is the day to day experience for our students.

  5. Great Stuff John thanks

  6. Martin Jowett says:

    Excellent advice there is no excuse if you can follow this plan of action. We were ‘done’ before Easter with a very satisfying outcome. Not a perfect experience but the ‘direct them on day two’ intervention pulled the rabbit out of the hat. Despite the overall result it still left two of our staff, excellent experienced with proven track records, devastated because one of the team seemed determined to find fault. They felt that they were not part of the success and needed support from SLT. Be prepared for some disappointment even if the overall outcome is better than you expect.

    Get all extra curricular activity on the website and in the diary and stick to plans
    Good all the time is outstanding but on the day a small slip can make the difference as some inspectors will expect 120% of normal

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  8. John Cooper says:

    Your’e never 48! 😉

  9. Tony Ryan says:

    Great article John. Hopefully no Ofsted for a while but some really useful stuff here. When all is said and done its simple really, concentrate on making lessons relevant, pacey and fun and the rest will follow! Speaking as a 49 year old, nothing wrong with 48!

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  15. M. Howson says:

    Hi…great blog and information about how you are preparing for Ofsted. Have tried to email you re; the SEF but unsuccessfully. Is the email address correct in the blog?

  16. Gove-Out says:

    I’m really interested in your “Inspection activity tracking device” – care to elaborate John?! Student or staff member???

  17. Jon Harris says:

    Good advice John! Anyone got any thoughts on key questions (and unusual ones!) that governors may be asked?

  18. Jilly Kelly says:

    Hi John, a very insightful article. Really interested in viewing your SEF. As a new HoD in the new term it would be great to get a head up in this document from someone with more experience than myself. I’ve viewed my new schools Faculty SEF and its been written very generically and not evaluative in anyway nor does it provide supporting evidence. I’ve always written mine evaluating the performance and providing evidence to back up my claims. Viewing yours would enable me to look at what I’m doing and looking at ways to improve it.

    Kind regards

  19. Pingback: When the phone rings and it’s Ofsted calling … | Clerk to Governors

  20. The message I like most here, is the one of – we can’t beat ofsted, we can’t fight them, we might disagree with some of what they say or want, but the only way to get through the inspection well, is to prepare.

    Thank you for sharing!

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  23. acox2013 says:

    Good evening.

    I was reading your blog post – this much I know – and finding it both interesting and useful. And when you offered a preview of a SEF that is much shorter than ours, I couldn’t resist trying to email – but it didn’t work.

    Does the offer still stand?

    kind regards

    Anna Cox

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