How well do you know your school?

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Patrick McDermott answers your leadership questions.

I have been asked to prepare our staff for an Ofsted inspection related to the 'achievement and standards' section of the framework. We may be visited at any time from the beginning of the new academic year. We are anxious as this is different from our last experience of Ofsted. I have explained the major changes under the new arrangements. What else should I be telling the staff?

Inspections, old or new, are a significant cause of stress for all concerned so it's only natural that you are feeling nervous.

We still only have draft guidance from Ofsted. We have to hope that the final versions are not too unlike what we have at present, but this contributes to anxiety.

Another change is that the evaluation scale used by inspectors has been compressed from a seven to a four-point system. Schools will be termed "outstanding", "good", "satisfactory", or "inadequate". Make sure that your staff know what the descriptors for these categories are so that they can evaluate themselves and their performance against them. (This information is in Ofsted's draft document "Guidance for Inspectors of schools - using the evaluation schedule").

The inspectors will want to answer questions about learners' achievement, overall personal development and well-being. They will look into the effectiveness of teaching and learning and ask how well the curriculum and other activities meet pupils' range of needs and interests. They will look into how well learners are cared for, guided and supported.

They will begin by asking you for your answers to these questions and ask for the evidence to support your answers. This is a major difference from your last inspection and introduces the centrality and importance of self-evaluation for new inspections. This places you under a duty to prepare your staff and to ensure, in collaboration with your leadership team, that systems are in place that regularly and efficiently provide the evidence to support any judgements that you make as a school.

During a two-day inspection it's a pretty safe bet that not all teachers in a large secondary school will be observed teaching. However, it is possible that the inspectors will ask you to show them where the good teaching is and will want to accompany you to a classroom to see good teaching. By doing this they will, of course, be checking to see that you know what good teaching looks like and they will then make a judgement about your leadership in terms of the quality of your monitoring and evaluation.

This raises the question of how well you know your school. To prepare your staff, and yourself, you could engage them in the quest for the answers to, and more importantly the evidence for, some or all of the following: Do all pupils make good progress? Do pupils show good attitudes to their work because of effective teaching? Do the teachers engage pupils and encourage them to work independently?

Do teachers challenge and stretch their pupils in their learning? How well do teachers know the individual learning needs of their pupils? Do pupils know from their teachers what they must do to improve? Are pupils expert in assessing their own work? A discussion based on the answers to these questions will quickly get staff into the mindset of the inspectors and help to alleviate some of their anxieties.

The most important thing, though, is to ensure that the systems are already in place so that this information and evidence are readily available at short notice.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. He has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27.

He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. l Do you have a leadership question? Email

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