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Making light work of inspections (sponsored article)

If we can create schools where good practice is occurring relentlessly, then whether Ofsted is in school or not is irrelevant, says one headteacher

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If we can create schools where good practice is occurring relentlessly, then whether Ofsted is in school or not is irrelevant, says one headteacher

Surely it is a given that all of us want to be the very best for our pupils, every lesson, every day. We want to teach solidly good lessons, day-in, day-out. If we work in a school where everyone is being the best they can be in the classroom every day, every lesson, then that is all we can do.

It follows that we have to do all we can as school leaders to make it as straightforward as possible for our colleagues to teach. We have to remove all the activities that get in the way of teachers teaching well and pay heed to workload. We have to support teachers to follow this process: assess pupils’ work; plan responsively so that teaching is informed by assessment; give pupils feedback on their work; teach lessons that help pupils progress in their learning; set pupils assessments that show how much they know, understand and can apply; assess pupils’ work…

If we can create schools where this practice is occurring relentlessly, then whether Ofsted is in school or not is irrelevant. You and your colleagues are doing all you can for your pupils and that is all anyone can ask. As Sir David Carter said to me recently, “People think that teaching ‘rock star’ lessons is what you need to do to be judged outstanding. I say that teaching consistently good lessons that are well planned and progressing sequentially from the previous lesson is outstanding.”

These are five things you can do that will help your colleagues teach solidly good lessons every day of the week, without adding to their workload:

  1. Stop excessive lesson observations and ban making judgements of lessons – instead, ask your teacher colleagues how you can observe them in a way that will best help them to improve their teaching.
  2. Ensure meetings finish on time. There should be no prizes for looking busy – work in a way that suits you. Let colleagues go home if they are not teaching last period of the day.
  3. When it comes to performance-related pay, begin from the assumption that everybody will get a pay rise unless their pupils’ outcomes are poor and use your wisdom when making that call, with utter transparency.
  4. Embrace a marking and feedback policy designed from the bottom up by classroom practitioners, based upon a set of principles, different according to the subject.
  5. Identify one or two key pedagogic priorities for developing over the year, stick to them and provide high-quality training for colleagues to support their development.


When it comes to preparing explicitly for an Ofsted inspection, senior colleagues should bear all the burden. All you should ask of your classroom colleagues is to teach as well as they possibly can, which they will be doing anyway, for the pupils. Your supportive, light-touch quality assurance processes will give you the confidence that solidly good work is going on in classrooms every day.

At the end of school on the day you get the inspection notification call, when you bring your colleagues together, your advice as a senior colleague should be limited to the following:

  • Welcome inspectors into your room and be as helpful as possible towards them.
  • Make available any information on the pupils you have and use in your planning.
  • Plan solidly good lessons, keeping our development priorities in mind.
  • Teach as you have learnt to teach over the past couple of years. No whizzbang lessons, just plain good teaching and learning.
  • Don’t be here late, go home as soon as you can and get some sleep.
  • Embrace tomorrow and keep things in perspective – what’s the worst thing that can happen? Honestly?


Senior colleagues should make sure the following things are in place, all year round:

  • A school development plan, which details two or three things you are doing to improve the school, and a review of things that could be stopped or made more efficient.
  • A side-of-A3 self-evaluation form, which is updated regularly and “speaks” to the development plan.
  • Good records of performance management processes that minimise the impact on workload.
  • A forensic knowledge of the pupils’ genuine progress, especially around the following groups: disadvantaged pupils, low/mid/high attainers, and pupils with SEND.
  • A record of what you are doing for disadvantaged pupils with pupil premium funding, which is different and additional to what you are doing for all pupils.
  • A complete, functional single central record.
  • Pupil portraits where you have intervened to improve the pupils’ progress and the impact has been tangibly positive. Although this is not necessary for an inspection, it helps make tangible what you might claim about your school.


And there are other things, all of which are not difficult for senior colleagues to identify from the Ofsted handbooks, including Ofsted’s myth-busting document. The key thing is, all of this must be kept from the rest of your colleagues. And all of this should be in existence all of the time if you want your school to be the best it can be at all times for your pupils.

The bottom line is that the only way school leaders will secure a good outcome from inspection is to ensure that their teacher colleagues can teach as well as possible. And that cannot be achieved overnight. So, as a school leader, don’t prepare for Ofsted; instead, create a culture where your teachers can thrive. The best thing for pupils is a team of highly motivated, well-trained, happy, healthy and expert teachers and support staff. So don’t just put pupils first, put staff and pupils equal first, because then everyone will better off.

Above all else, look after people. Lead a school where the pupils’ outcomes are almost a by-product of the culture you have established over the years.

The best test of a school is what is going on when no one is looking. Doing what is best for pupils and staff every lesson, every day, every week, all year, is the best preparation for Ofsted. If you do that, you’ll be Ofsted ready every day.

John Thomsett is headteacher at Huntington School in York