So you’ve just failed an Ofsted inspection. Everyone's down. Deflated. Devastated. The inquiry begins. Where did we go wrong? Where do we go from here? What systems do we keep? Which ones do we scrap? You’re at your lowest and you don’t know what to do.
Well, for starters, you need to stop tugging at all those loose ends and try to make a plan.
Let me explain how to pull everything together after a failed Ofsted inspection.
That Sinking Feeling
The way people feel after a failed Ofsted inspection is a really important part of the equation. Some people feel disappointed. Others feel wronged. They may feel that the outcome was incorrect or that they were treated unfairly. And sometimes that feeling affects how they approach the process of improvement. Because they don't feel that they need to improve. In short, the inspector was wrong.
Therefore, the first thing I do with school leaders after a failed Ofsted inspection is gauge their response. I find out how people really feel about the inspection outcome.
Do they think it was fair?
Do they genuinely think that they need to improve?
If they genuinely think they need to improve, that's great, it makes the job a whole lot easier. However, if they don't think they need to improve, then they need to find a way to outline what happens if they don't make a change.
The Trouble With Independent Schools and Ofsted Inspections
Unfortunately for independent schools, the DfE can be a little bit stricter on them than on their mainstream counterparts. They’re not allowed to coast — even though I imagine they wouldn’t want to. Independent schools cannot get away with continued poor performance in inspections for years on end.
Essentially, if they fail to meet the Independent School Standards, they are given a chance to fix the problem. In fact, on occasion, they might even be given a second chance to fix whatever isn’t working after another failed Ofsted inspection. However, depending on which standards they're failing (those to do with the safeguarding and welfare of pupils being the most important), the DfE can quickly swoop in and start putting restrictions in place. These can be as extreme as stopping them from recruiting more pupils and even asking a school to close its doors.
So, when responding to a failed Ofsted inspection it's essential to paint that picture very clearly. Especially for those who think they don't need to improve.
This is the painful truth.
Steps to Recovery From a Failed Ofsted Inspection
I spend a great deal of time analysing trends — reading about inspection outcomes and exploring the knock-on effects and ramifications of continued underperformance. So, when working with a school trying to pull everything together after a failed Ofsted inspection, this would be the first step. Understanding the school’s situation and detailing what those ramifications could be, going forward.
Then, the next step is to work on their action plan. Schools are asked by the DfE to compile an action plan which demonstrates how they will meet the Independent School Standards after their failed inspection.
I’ll be honest. I could simply look at their inspection report and compile an action plan easily from home. But I don't. Because that action plan has to be based on what works for the school.
Anyone can read an inspection report and draw conclusions. But not everyone was there during the inspection. Therefore, it’s imperative I talk to the school’s leaders to find out the details about what happened during the inspection. Get the anecdotal evidence to go alongside the written report.
Doing so helps me understand what led to these judgments, for example, ‘what were they talking about here when they said this?’
All this helps us come up with a better action plan. One that:
Works for the school.
Identifies who's going to do what.
Determines when they will do it by.
Finally, I devise a plan for implementation. A way of recording their approach, their progress, and the evidence that determines success. As part of this, we have a midway progress review and then a final audit when they feel that they've addressed everything and they're ready for the next inspection.
We’re All Human
It’s very easy to forget when we’re so focused on data and outcomes. But, we’re all human. And it’s important not to lose sight of that.
There are two things to consider when recovering from a failed Ofsted inspection. Firstly, there's the system implementation — the processes that you need to do to improve. But then there's always the human element. You can't just implement the system without looking at the humans who are expected to implement it. You need to go in there and you need to get everyone on-side because if they're not, it's not going to have any impact.
To effectively recover from a failed Ofsted inspection it’s important to find out what works in the school. How they do what they do. Whether the school's culture will align with improvement. Are we working with a group of people who believe in doing what they do well and trying to do it better tomorrow? Or are we working with a group of people who are just there to do a job and pay lip service to any improvement strategies?
There’s Always Room for Improvement
This is why it’s important to get to know the humans behind the report. As I mentioned earlier, it's essential to know how those working in the school feel about improvement in general. Are they open to it? Or are they the kind of people who want to do the bare minimum to get by?
Ultimately, even if you haven’t failed an Ofsted inspection, there will always be room for improvement.
The sensible approach should always be prevention rather than cure.
But, of course, that’s entirely up to you.