Ofsted's blog: Inspecting early in the autumn term – are they really coming this week?

10th September 2018 at 09:03

I hope that teachers and support staff have had a relaxing summer and have enjoyed the chance to spend some time with their families and friends, and been able to recharge their batteries, ready for the new term.

The start of term is a very special time. It allows us all to begin afresh and establish relationships with new colleagues and pupils. It is, of course, challenging and there may be some tough days ahead.

The timing of inspections

Speaking to friends in education over the summer, I mentioned that I was looking forward to Ofsted’s national conferences in early September (where we discuss inspection in the round) and to starting the school inspection programme. Some of them looked surprised. "How will you be able to judge a school when the children have only started?" and "There won’t be any work in books" were some of the comments I received. Funnily enough, I hear concerns about inspection timing all year round, particularly at the end of terms, when pupils are sitting exams and when schools have special events on, such as trips or performances.

Indeed, I am sure, on some level, there is no such thing as the perfect week for an inspection. The likelihood of us inspecting a school at a time when nothing extracurricular is happening is very low.

The reality is, though, that there are a lot of schools we need to inspect and, as a result, we need to use the majority of the school year to conduct our inspections. Of course, there are occasions when we defer an inspection. When school leaders request this, which is rare, we consider it on a case-by-case basis.


Inspectors 'are teachers themselves'

It is important to stress that we do not expect schools to do anything differently when we visit. If you have planned a school trip, Christmas fayre, activity week or exam, we will work with you to ensure that the inspection causes little or no disruption to these important events.

Last year, I gave feedback to a senior leadership team in full football kit as they prepared to play their end-of-year staff versus parents football match – no studded shoes on the carpet, of course!

During exams, inspectors will not enter examination rooms, unless under exceptional circumstances; for instance, if there is a safeguarding concern. We work with schools to ensure that the inspection timetable is flexible and meets the needs of the school on that day.

We also work with leaders to look at how they evaluate the school, what processes they use and the accuracy of their judgements. We can do this at any time of the year, regardless of the quantity of work in books, the availability of exam results or the staging of the Year 6 play!

Inspectors collect a broad range of evidence before making any judgements. If a year group is out on a trip, or a member of staff is unavailable, inspectors can still evaluate a school’s effectiveness. They will look at books, interview staff, parents and pupils, observe lessons and consider the school’s own assessment information.

It is worth remembering that inspectors are all qualified teachers and have had substantial leadership experience. They have been on the other side of the table. They understand the wonderful complexity of the school year and how different activities add to a rich and stimulating curriculum. We do not want teachers to change their plans or normal practice on our account. We want to see the rich tapestry of your school as it is, day in, day out.

Teaching is one of the most satisfying and rewarding professions one can enter. I wish those teachers who join us this term all the very best of luck for the year ahead.

You can follow Dan Lambert on Twitter @dan_ofsted