No matter how much you prepare for Ofsted, nothing quite prepares you for the phone call.
The school was graded as outstanding in March 2007, but teaching and learning had been judged to good. As teaching is a limiting factor, this has been a key priority ever since, and rightly so.
The Chair of Governors, Headmaster, deputy headteacher and myself (deputy headteacher) were listening to a headteacher of a local secondary school talking about their Ofsted experiences. They were graded to be outstanding in all areas. This is a fantastic achievement and we were grateful for the advice given.
I still recall the conversation from that evening. Headmaster to the headteacher "Do you receive
the phone call between 12 and 2?” and the headteacher replied "No, just after 12".
The following day, whilst we were sitting in an SMT meeting, the Headmaster's phone rang at 12:01.
The Headmaster smiled and turned to us and said "It's Ofsted". The eagle had landed!
I've captured my personal thoughts below to support senior leaders, middle leaders and classroom teachers.
Like a number of schools, we use the ASCL SEF template. Personally, I find it too long. At a local authority briefing at the start of the year, a summary SEF was shared. It made us really think about identifying our key strengths and areas for development and about how to limit this to two pages. We shared this with our staff at the start of the year. It’s clear, concise and was very helpful for the inspection team, who had to digest a lot of paperwork.
This is now my fourth inspection. As a former head of department and assistant headteacher, I wasted a
lot of time in my previous inspections, compiling dense files the night before, which weren’t even looked at.
Our game plan this time was to provide key data in their base room and thereafter produce information upon request. Inspectors don’t really have the time to look through dense files, considering the amount of time they now spend in lessons.
Thoughts for senior leaders:
Consider adapting your report to governors using the four areas of the framework. Ensure
governors know your strengths and areas for development and what you are doing to address these. They will be asked.
Disseminate the Ofsted updates and subsidiary guidance to staff on a regular basis. Have your finger on the
pulse and ensure you know the framework. Who does this in your school?
Ensure you focus on learning and teaching, we had sixty lessons observed! If you are attempting to demonstrate that results are indicating an upward trend, teachers will need to prove this in lessons.
Do your leaders 'really' understand data? For example, making expected levels of progress from a Ks2 Level 3 in mathematics is harder compared to a Ks2 Level 3 in English. Focus on achievement. Have you benchmarked the Ks2 APS for the different groups? There may be a gap between the achievement of boys and girls or other groups. This may be due to their starting points.
The Headmaster keeps a plan of action for the ‘call’ in his drawer. We had tweaked ours, following the excellent blog written by John Tomsett (Headteacher in York) @johntomsett.
We gathered the leadership team immediately after the call and began to inform staff and spoke to pupils in short assemblies throughout the afternoon, followed by a staff meeting at 3.45. The key message was ‘Be proud of our school!’
Don’t forget to telephone part-time staff and others out on courses.
Thoughts for senior leaders
Ensure you are calm, as you set the tone. If you are nervous, that’s fine, but don’t lose control, as this will
trickle down. Go about your normal day as much as possible and support the staff. We still had some staff going out on planned trips and carried on with external moderations.
Inspectors observed sixty lessons over the two days. They didn't spend much time in meetings. It's worth having two members of staff in meetings to support one another, in case you forget something. It's easily done, considering the limited time you have.
Order quality food for the long evening ahead: staff appreciated it. Ask support staff to be available to support photocopying and IT requests.
We were taken aback by the number of support staff offering their services, which says a lot about our
staff. They are ‘outstanding’.
Thoughts for middle leaders
You are the engine room of the school and the drivers of school improvement. Whilst Ofsted will be speaking to the SMT, you may be interviewed and observed. Use your staff to support one another. Spend your time wisely, as you won’t have much time. Don’t bog yourself down in putting together admin files. Our inspectors didn’t look at them. You can always produce something following a request. If you need help, ask for it! You are not alone in the process: it’s a TEAM EFFORT.
During the staff meeting at the end of the day, our assistant headteacher with responsibility for learning and teaching shared top tips to support staff. The key message was to ensure that you focus on what the pupils are learning. Pose targeted questions and if the lesson plan is not working, change it! It shows that you are responding to pupils. If books haven’t been marked by now, it’s going to be too late!
Thoughts for senior leaders
Ensure that you take part in joint observations straight away. We paired up with inspectors and jointly
observed two lessons each by the end of Period 1. We were then observed providing feedback to quality-assure our judgments. Getting involved in the joint observations allows you to 'calibrate' your judgments. All of us felt that the inspectors were all happy to be involved in healthy discussions. Make sure you carry the Ofsted handbook at all times and make reference to it during discussions.
Thoughts for middle leaders
We had three middle leaders who were asked to jointly observe lessons with inspectors. How confident are you in grading the separate judgments: teaching, achievement and behaviour?
I must admit that the behaviour section can be the most difficult. Quiet and well-behaved pupils doesn't equate to outstanding behavior in lessons. In fact, it can result in good behaviour, as pupils can be
deemed to be 'passive'. If you haven’t graded lessons in this format, do so now with senior leaders.
Thoughts for classroom teachers
If teaching and learning are graded as good overall, the school cannot be graded as outstanding. It's what
you do in the classroom that counts. The vast majority of lessons were observed for twenty-five minutes; a small number involved walk-throughs and two colleagues out of sixty were observed for an entire
Planning: The inspection team thought the 'five-minute lesson plan' was really creative. We also used a
variation of this, which allowed staff to plan a lesson on a page. This did save staff a lot of time. Thank you
Questioning: Ensure that you differentiate your questions. I would highly recommend the Pose Pause Pounce Bounce technique PPPB.
Marking: Do you allow pupils to respond to your marking? Do you check this? I picked this up on twitter by
@Gemmaharvey73 RAP. We’ve recently introduced the ‘green pen’ policy. Pupils respond to staff marking using the green pen. Simple yet effective.
Data sheets: All too often in schools, we have a habit of bombarding teachers with too much data. If you're
demonstrating progress, why not strip back what's on your data sheet for the inspector and others to view?
Here's one I used.
Key comments from inspectors regarding the best lessons:
- Pupils were able to 'fly', as activities were not closed and the teacher did not interrupt the flow of the lesson
- Minimal teacher talk
- Targeted questioning
- Targeted activities for identified pupils
- Pupils responded to high quality marking
This doesn't happen overnight, but due to consistently good teaching and as David Dadiou stated in his blog the '1 in 4 rule' @Learningspy.
At my previous school, I had responsibility for data and I recall visiting the headteacher at Wembley High School as part of a leadership programme. I was amazed at how she had transformed the school, which had an intake considered to be below national average (Ks2 APS of approx. 26, compared to 28 nationally)
Pupils were at the heart of everything. The timetable changed to meet the needs of their pupils: the timetable was on version 40 in April! There were strong levels of accountability, supported by high-quality coaching for all leaders and a real desire to improve. Have a look at their data below -
(Sandeep 12 A*s - Class of 2012)
Wembley Data Dashboard
5A*-C inc English and mathematics pass rate 2009 - 2012
The headline figure at the school where I worked at the time was 44% 5A*-C including English and
mathematics and I attempted to blame the results on our poor intake. Rightly I was challenged by the headteacher, who clearly showed how Wembley High School did not allow excuses to take place. There was always something that could be done.
Key learning point for me: outstanding leaders do not use poor intake or challenging contexts as an excuse
for underachievement. This is an issue of provision, do something about it!
As part of an SSAT leadership programme, I recently visited Park View School in Birmingham. The headteacher said something similar: if they knew they had a particularly weak cohort, they would meet the individual needs of pupils and didn't use context as an excuse. Again, exceptional outcomes and a pleasure to meet @leeDonaghy, whose blogs really get you thinking about modelling. I can see how and why
the school achieved 75% 5A*-C including English and mathematics last year from an intake which would be described as well below the national average in a very challenging context.
At the SLT Teachmeet in London this year, I spoke of how schools need to embrace conflict, particularly within the confines of SMT meetings. Challenge one another even if you disagree: however, as soon as you walk out of the room, each member of the team needs to stand shoulder to shoulder with the agreed decision. Link to my presentation.
We had those challenging discussions and put the needs of our pupils at the centre of all our decisions.
In 2012, the school that I left achieved 66% 5A*-C including English and mathematics (FFTD Target was 60%). Well done! This just shows that it is possible for pupils from challenging contexts to achieve.
There are a number of data packages out there to support schools. Having spent years refining data to
support staff, we found 4matrix very useful to support us during the inspection in conjunction with other reports. Thank you @Mike_Bostock @4MatrixOnline
A useful blog from @KevBartle and @chrishildrew sharing their experience of using data.
My current school may have been described as a 'coasting school'. Having arrived as a deputy headteacher
last April, I have set about implementing small changes to gain the extra marginal gains, adopting excellent strategies shared by PiXL. If you haven’t joined the network, you should. Thank you @pixlclub.
All we've done is implement very small changes with the same leaders and teachers. A lot has been said of marginal gains. I recorded the video below, from the BBC interviewing Dave Brailsford last year and shared it with heads of department. They worked with their teams to implement small changes to make the necessary gains, developing their ‘waves of intervention’. A 'tipping point' should secure our best set of results this summer. Watch this space! If you’d like a copy of our Year 11 ‘Waves of Intervention’, please email me.
Having worked in four schools, I have a lot of admiration and respect for the pastoral leaders at my current school. As teaching Heads of Year, we meet every morning at 8am and give up our lunch time each day to support, monitor, reward and at times sanction pupils. I can’t imagine a system like this being replicated in any school with teachers. It says a lot about the culture of the school.
We have 270 pupils in each year group and just over 1800 on roll. I’ve worked in schools where pupils have not been excluded for poor behaviour and have seen pupils and senior leaders undermine classroom teachers. It’s important for pupils and staff to feel safe at school and for staff to be allowed to teach the lessons that they spend a lot of time planning. Consequently, we do exclude pupils, but we also work with their families to remove barriers to their learning. A few quotes from the report:
“Students have exemplary attitudes to learning”
“The school is a calm and purposeful environment in which to learn”
“Pupils feel safe beyond the school gates” – this was my favourite quote from one of the inspectors.
Thoughts for senior leaders
Ensure that your year teams are consistent, where possible, in laying out expectations.Do pupils and staff know the rules? Keep them simple and visible.
Ensure that adequate administration support is provided so that the work of the pastoral team is focused on
James Heale @Heale2011 (Headteacher at Vyners School) gave me good advice, stating that one of the biggest priorities for his leaders was to be ‘visible’. Staff need to own the corridors and break out spaces during break and lunch for all pupils to feel safe.
Thoughts for middle leaders
Work closely with heads of year in supporting pupils. If pupil X is poorly behaved, we have a duty to support the needs of the pupil. Don’t allow them to get away with poor behaviour. Other pupils quickly pick up on this.
Thoughts for class teachers
I led a training session for new staff and showed a clip of Supernanny. The message given was that we can give mixed messages to pupils, which can result in them playing up. Let’s support one another by working towards consistency. We are in it TOGETHER!
Here are a few extracts from the Ofsted report:
“The headteacher sets the highest expectations for all members of the community. He believes passionately that all students, irrespective of their circumstances, are entitled to the best possible education”
“The school’s middle and senior leaders have a clear understanding of what makes outstanding teaching and learning. They provide high quality training for teachers and opportunities for teachers to learn from the best practitioners in the school”
The reason I applied to work as a deputy headteacher at this school was the school’s record of producing headteachers. The school has had two Headmasters since its opening almost forty years' ago. The current
Headmaster stopped counting how many deputy headteachers went on to headship after reaching double figures. I've had the pleasure of knowing and working for four members of staff who worked at the school, who have now gone on to lead their own schools. Can’t wait for my turn!
On day two, middle leaders were unhappy that they were not being observed. One of our heads of department emailed the Headmaster on behalf of all the middle leaders, to forward a message to inspectors. They wanted to be seen and were up for the challenge! How many staff would do this in your school?
Whilst I didn’t enjoy the process of sitting in and observing inspection meetings, unable to say anything. Listening to the word ‘good’ being mentioned too often at the end of day 1, the staff and pupil body were rallying around to support one another. I feel immensely proud to be serving the staff and pupils.
It was 3pm. We knew we had done everything in our control and were waiting to be called up by the HMI. The Headmaster was sitting patiently in his office whilst the leadership team were in the office next door. The call came, and the SMT made their way up.
The discussion between the inspectors started and we frantically took notes. As we went from one section to another, we knew everything rested on the teaching and learning grade. There was a change from day 1 to day 2: staff had raised their game and the HMI confirmed ‘grade 1’.
We controlled our emotions and knew we had done it! Straight 1s, outstanding AGAIN!
Don’t forget about the work of your support staff. If it wasn’t for all of them, we would not be able to perform to a high level on a daily basis, let alone survive the two days. The catering team staying on to provide food and refreshments late into the night. Staff supporting teachers to produce materials for their lessons, last minute data requests, additional administration, reprographics, covering duties: the list could go on.
In a recent article by Mike Griffiths in the ASCL Leader publication, Mike raised concern about the variability between inspection teams and the issue for some inspectors not having recent experience of school leadership. I’m glad to report; this was not the case for my school. The team was led by a ‘sharp’ HMI, and the additional inspectors worked WITH the school.
If you'd like to ask any questions or even visit us, do get in contact.