Worrying about Ofsted inspections is one of the most popular issues that keeps independent school leaders up at night. Inspection can be a stressful experience especially in an independent school because if things don’t go well the impact can be severe.
A large majority of non-association independent schools rely on pupil referrals from local authorities for all their admissions. When a school fails to get a good or outstanding inspection grade, local authorities sometimes react by stopping pupil referrals or even withdrawing pupils from the school inevitably leading to school closure. Schools whose admissions rely on parents applying to enrol their children at the school, also suffer as parents become reluctant to continue paying thousands of pounds to send their children to a school with a poor Ofsted grade.
Because of the high stakes, is it any wonder that school leaders are worried about inspection? Having said this, is it possible to feel differently about inspection? To feel ready and rearing for Ofsted to come to your school because you can’t wait to showcase how much your pupils are benefiting from being at your school? Yes, it is possible. And it’s not about actively preparing for a specific inspection. It’s about developing a state of inspection readiness. Here is how you do it – it’s a 3 part strategy.
Part 1: Know what to expect
Just like a subject teacher ensures that they and their pupils know what to expect from the exam, it is important to know what to expect from inspection.
Read the documentation which tells you what to expect:
Non-Association Independent School Inspection Handbook – it tells you what to expect from a standard Ofsted inspection. This is the one which takes up to 3 days and leads to a grade for overall effectiveness
Handbook for Additional Inspections of Independent Schools – it tells you what to expect during the other 4 types of inspections, which are all about compliance with the Independent School Standards
Inspecting Safeguarding in Early Years, Education and Skills – it tells you how the effectiveness of safeguarding will be evaluated during inspection
Speak to peers who have been inspected.
If you have a friend or colleague who has been inspected under the current framework, ask to speak to them about their experience. Set aside some time to talk, prepare your questions and ask your peer to share their experience
If you do not have a friend or colleague who has been inspected under the current framework, know that most Headteachers are only too happy to help their peers. Go to the Ofsted website and click on “Find an inspection report”. Add “independent school” into the box labelled “Name, URN or keyword” then use the filter “Publish date” to choose the most recent inspections. You can then get information to contact schools that have been inspected recently and ask the Headteachers if they would be willing to spare an hour of their time. It can also be the beginning of a partnership
Attend our training workshops.
At Marell Consulting Limited, we know how busy school leaders in independent schools can be. We know that you might not have time to read through the documents listed above and only talking to peers is not enough. On the other hand, we have time to pour through those documents over and over, we are regularly present during the inspection of our clients, and we are always talking to Headteachers about their experiences. Because of this we have been able to put together 2 training workshops that can provide you with the essential information and tools to ensure that you know what to expect from inspection and we will be resuming delivery of these workshops this October:
Take part in Ofsted consultations. Every time a major change is coming, Ofsted conducts a consultation. Take part in the consultations, encourage others to do so and you will not only influence policy but know exactly what changes are coming. How will you know when there is a consultation? The Ofsted website will have it in their news section and it will be included in updates to schools.
Attend Ofsted events – conferences and information events. When the current Ofsted inspection introduced – many events were held across the country to inform schools about the details – did you attend? Take the time to attend such events so you can hear from inspectors before they step into your school.
Take the time to read the updates that Ofsted send to schools
Sign up for email alerts on the Ofsted website or check the “Latest from Ofsted” section of their website at least once a week
Part 2: Embed the Ofsted evaluation schedule into your own monitoring and self-evaluation procedures
It’s not enough to know what to expect during an inspection, you need to know how you will fare against the evaluation criteria that Ofsted will use during that inspection. The best way of doing this is to embed the evaluation criteria that Ofsted use into your own monitoring and self-evaluation procedures. I have mentioned monitoring procedures specifically here because waiting for the annual self-evaluation to evaluate your school against the Ofsted criteria means that for most of the year you have no idea where you stand. If however you ensure that your monitoring schedule includes Ofsted evaluation criteria then you not only know where you stand throughout the year but when self-evaluation comes around you will not struggle to find evidence to inform your judgments. We develop resources to help embed the Ofsted evaluation schedule into your monitoring and self-evaluation procedures, you can buy these from our shop:
Part 3: Get and external person to conduct an audit against the Ofsted inspection framework
I know this sort of activity gets a lot of bad press – particularly from Ofsted themselves. As I see it, what they are strongly against is the idea of Ofsted inspectors conducting mock inspections in schools because:
if schools get a different outcome from the real inspection compared to what they got during the mock inspection it leads to complaints.
of the potential for undisclosed conflicts of interests when Ofsted inspectors who have conducted a mock inspection fail to disclose and end up conducting a formal inspection of the same school
For these reasons, Ofsted is insisting that inspectors should not identify themselves as such when they are not doing Ofsted business.
Anyway, back to the audit against the Ofsted inspection framework – this gives you a chance to experience inspection-like activity before the real thing. Not everyone will want to do this but for those who do, you can invite a peer from another independent school, a non-operational leader in the company, an “Ofsted inspector” who does not identify themselves as such and makes it clear they are not working in that capacity or a consultant like me. Make sure that whoever you invite to conduct this audit has a thorough knowledge of the inspection framework.
So, there you have it. A 3-part strategy to develop inspection readiness. Why don’t you start today? Take steps to feel confident, by being consistently ready for inspection.