Ofsted inspections are rarely met with delight. Being scrutinised and judged by an external agency is never a pleasant experience. We’re naturally predisposed to focus on the negatives. Dwell on our shortcomings. Perceived or otherwise. Which is why it’s important to reframe the inspection experience as a positive process. One where Ofsted is your friend, there to support you in delivering the best educational provision possible. Not one where they’re “out to get you”. In order to change this negative association with Ofsted inspections it is therefore important to demystify the process. If you know what to expect from an inspection, you can be ready for it. And preparedness goes a long way towards reducing stress and anxiety.
So, let’s take a closer look at the inspection process in relation to the new Ofsted framework (2019). You’ll soon realise that the monster under the bed is actually just a pair of fluffy slippers.
Inspections Begin Before the Inspectors Arrive
Typically, Ofsted inspections tend to start around midday, or shortly after, on the first day of inspection. This is the day after notification.
However, it is worth noting that inspection activity technically begins with a preparation telephone call on the day of notification. This happens later in the afternoon after the inspection support administrator’s call.
This first conversation between the lead inspector and the headteacher bears a lot more weight under the new Ofsted framework (2019).
Under the previous framework, this call covered issues such as:
informing parents about the inspection and sending them a link to the survey;
talking about pupils educated offsite in alternative provision;
checking if the school has additional sites;
making practical inspection arrangements;
and requesting documents.
Under the new framework, this call will last up to 90 minutes and have two aspects:
a reflective, educationally-focused conversation about the school’s progress since the last inspection;
and a shorter inspection planning conversation which focuses on practical and logistical issues.
These two issues may be discussed in one go or in separate conversations.
When discussing the school’s progress since the last inspection, be ready to talk about the following:
Your school’s specific context and challenges
Progress since the last inspection on specific areas for improvement
Specific areas of the school (e.g subjects, year groups, aspects of the provision) that should be focused on during the inspection. This is your opportunity to showcase your strengths.
Your assessment of the school’s current strengths and weaknesses in relation to the curriculum; the way teaching supports pupils to learn the curriculum; the standards pupils achieve; pupils’ behaviour and attitudes; and the personal development of pupils.
In order to speak confidently about these issues it would help if your most recent self-evaluation assesses the areas that are inspected under the current framework. We can provide you with a package designed to help you do just that.
It’s important to realise that, after this initial phone call, the lead inspector should come away with a very clear picture of who your pupils are, as well as your assessment of your school’s current strengths and weaknesses. Know that, by the time you have this conversation, the inspector has looked at all the information about the school that is publicly available, including your website. So make sure it is up-to-date and meets the standard about provision of information.
What Will Inspectors Do During Inspection?
In short, inspectors will gather evidence to assess the school’s compliance with the Independent School Standards and secure inspection judgments in the four areas outlined below:
Their approach will include the following:
1. Reviewing a range of key school documents (see our audit tool for details)
2. Visiting lessons. Inspectors will invite the proprietor, headteacher, curriculum leaders and other leaders to take part in joint visits to lessons.
Unlike under previous frameworks, visits will not be to a random sample of lessons. Instead, inspectors will visit several lessons across the same subject / department / key stage / year group and then compile the information to evaluate how what is happening in lessons contributes to the curriculum Intentions.
Information gathered from these visits is triangulated with evidence from other activities such as discussions with leaders, staff and pupils, and the scrutiny of pupils’ work. Altogether, this will contribute towards the “quality of education” and “behaviour and attitudes” judgment, as well as determining compliance with standards 3, 5, and 9.
3. Scrutinising pupils’ work. Another new addition to Ofsted inspections. The lead inspector will invite curriculum leaders and teachers to take part in joint scrutiny of pupils’ work. Inspectors will not take a random sample of books / folders / electronic files. They will scrutinise pupils’ books across the same subject / department / key stage / year group and then compile the information to evaluate how what is happening in lessons contributes to the curriculum intentions.
Information gathered from scrutinising pupils’ work is triangulated with evidence from other activities such as lesson visits and discussions with leaders, staff and pupils.
Work scrutinies help inspectors evaluate whether pupils know more and can do more. They also help establish whether the knowledge and skills they have developed are well sequenced and have developed incrementally. Information gathered from visits to lessons will contribute towards the “quality of education” judgment, also to determine compliance with standards 3 and 5.
4. Talking to pupils about their work. Inspectors will talk to and observe pupils in a range of situations including outside normal lessons. According to Headteachers who have been inspected under the new framework, inspectors will spend a lot more time talking to pupils than they did in previous inspections. They will talk to groups and sometimes individuals.
Headteachers also said that inspectors may follow a pupil / a group of pupils / a class all day to “experience” what it is like for them to attend the school, which is a new feature under the 2019 framework.
In the new inspection reports, inspectors now talk about what it is like to attend the school. This section is strengthened by what inspectors find when talking to pupils. They talk about the feel of the school and whether the school ethos, its aims, and its mission are visible throughout the school.
Inspection reports now also include many quotes from pupils. Inspectors will ask pupils about their experiences of teaching, learning and behaviour in the school, including prevention of bullying and how the school deals with such behaviour when it happens.
It is important for inspectors to be able to have these conversations with pupils because they allow them to assess the effectiveness of the school’s bullying and behaviour policies, how the school ensures safeguarding arrangements, and how the school promotes fundamental British values. This affects standards 5, 7, 9, and 10.
Some pupils might not be comfortable talking to strange officials and inspectors will understand this. However, if they are unable to speak to any pupils at all, inspectors will be unable to triangulate their evidence and determine how well some standards are met. Therefore, it is important to get pupils gradually accustomed to speaking to visiting professionals.
5. Talking to teachers and curriculum leaders. Inspectors will talk to teachers and curriculum leaders, mainly to evaluate how well the curriculum is implemented and to check compliance with some of the Independent School Standards.
They will talk about what specific groups / classes are studying, what the intended end points are, and how well they are progressing. Inspectors will also ask about how often they are required to record, upload, and review data, as well as reviewing schemes of work / long-term planning with them. Information gathered will be triangulated with work scrutinies, discussions with leaders, and visits to lessons. It will contribute towards the “quality of education” judgment and standards 2, 3, 4, and 5
6. Listening to pupils read. This will happen mainly in primary schools. Inspectors will pay attention to pupils reading below their reading age. They will be asked to read from unseen books appropriate to their stage of progress. For these pupils, inspectors will check to see how well the school is teaching phonics and supporting them to become confident, fluent readers.
7. Talking to the proprietor and those responsible for governance. This is essential to evaluate the effectiveness of the proprietor’s work in monitoring how leaders at the school ensure that all the Independent School Standards are met. The outcome of these discussions contributes to the “leadership and management” judgment and standard 34.
8. Meeting leaders. Inspectors will provide updates on emerging issues and initial general findings. Headteachers should use these updates effectively. If it sounds like inspectors might be missing something or misunderstanding something about your school, this is the time to raise it with them and point them towards additional evidence.
Inspectors will also alert the headteacher to any serious concerns (e.g. safeguarding) and allow the headteacher to raise concerns, including about the conduct of individual inspectors.
Feedback from Headteachers is that inspectors spend a lot less time with them than they did in the past. They tend to spend their time out and about within the school, only checking back in for updates. Inspectors now also spend relatively less time analysing documentation than they have done under previous frameworks.
At the end of day 2, inspectors will invite the proprietor and headteacher to a meeting to discuss and record emerging findings.
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is at this point to address anything that you think inspectors are not quite getting about your school so you can clarify things and if necessary, point towards relevant evidence.
At the next meeting you will be invited to, inspectors will be finalising judgments and identifying areas for improvement. At this point, it is too late for anything you say to have an impact on the outcome of the inspection.
9. Analysing documents relating to the welfare and safety of pupils in alternative provision
What Headteachers Are Saying About Inspections Under the New Framework
Feedback from headteachers on their experiences of the new inspection procedures seems to be quite positive. Many have said that inspection no longer feels like something that is done to you, Instead it feels like a professional conversation between education professionals.
Although inspectors will spend time analysing documents, they will spend a lot less time doing that than they did under previous frameworks. Now there is a lot more discussion (with leaders, teachers, support staff and pupils).in order to get information about what it is like to attend the school. Inspectors are now more likely to follow pupils or groups of pupils experiencing everything they experience. This forms part of their deep dive approach.
Your Next Step
So now you know what to expect from an inspection. But are you inspection-ready?
We can provide you with a self-evaluation package to assess the areas that are inspected under the new Ofsted framework.
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