A positive Ofsted experience
There have been enough Ofsted scare stories to last a lifetime, and the perverse effect they can have on schools are well known. But sometimes credit should be given where it's due, so here is a tale of a supportive and constructive Ofsted visit under the new framework.
Our school is in Special Measures, has been for nearly 18 months. This September I joined the school alongside over thirty other teaching staff. Five sevenths of the leadership team are new to the school. On Tuesday we received 'the call', the long awaited Autumn term monitoring visit would take place Wednesday and Thursday.
The monitoring visit
The HMI who led previous inspections had actually retired as HMI, so we were delighted to see he had returned in the team as an additional inspector. The school has been on a difficult journey over the past 18 months, ensuring some continuity on the inspection team was a great start.
Inspectors conducted approximately 40 observations, with the majority joint observations with the SLT team. There was not a hint of grading in sight, each observation was based around strengths and areas for development. For joint observations we discussed and agreed these afterwards (there were no significant differences of opinion), SLT did the feedback for these with staff, the inspectors fed back where they had observed alone.
I wasn't privy to any discussions about percentages of good & better lessons / teachers at any point.
Meetings focussed on a number of areas including: leadership and school development; outcomes; teaching and learning; pastoral care; safeguarding; PSHE; off site provision; SEND provision amongst other areas. I think it fair to say these were focussed on checking the presence of key things from the inspection framework combined with checking that our own judgements of the quality of provision in each area were accurate. Meetings were professional and challenging. But they were also open and fair. The inspector would challenge in a number of areas, then they would always recap, summarise any possible comments that would come out of that discussion for the main report and ask if there was any more supporting evidence that we had not discussed that we would like to mention at that point and if their recap was a fair reflection of discussions and of the school's position.
It's November, so obviously the exam outcomes from the Summer were discussed, and rightly so, but the focus was definitely on the progress of all existing students, in all year groups and all subjects. Equally the lesson observations were clearly aimed at the broadest possible age/subject coverage. The accuracy of your progress data for all subjects and ages will be key to successful judgements under the new framework.
I think it's fair to say that the inspection team kept in line with the Ofsted Myths document: Ofsted inspections – clarification for schools throughout.
Myself, the Principal and Executive Principal were invited into the end of day debriefs where the three inspectors shared their findings with each other and agreed on the content of the report. This was fascinating to see the team in action quickly reviewing all the evidence they had collected, and again our input was welcomed whether it was to agree or disagree with discussions.
Whilst I don't want to pre-empt an unwritten Ofsted report I'm hopeful and confident it will be a fair document that is written in a way to support and challenge our next steps. As it should be. We were offered clear guidance and challenge of what to expect from our next monitoring visit in the Spring, and importantly, offered clear instructions of what it would take to convert that monitoring visit into a full Section 5 inspection at the end of the first day.
This is what you would hope and expect from a Special Measures monitoring visit, I hope it will become the norm as Ofsted mould how they work under the new framework.
Does Ofsted still distort work in many schools? Yes, of course. Should we be moving to a system of peer led accountability and support? Quite possibly. But I have more confidence after this week that Ofsted are trying to move in the right direction. They are trying to support schools that have underperformed in the past. They are validating the schools own self evaluation of their position. They are not showing preference to certain teaching styles. They're not grading lessons. They seem to be working openly and collaboratively. I hope it continues this was and that we hear some more positive stories, and less negative stories as the year goes on.