Lead inspectors have always been expected to spend time before the inspection going through the initial evidence available to them and drawing up a pre-inspection analysis as a briefing note. Years ago, this was done just for the benefit of the other members of their team.
For some time, Ofsted has required that this pre-inspection briefing (PIB) be shared with the head, usually the day before the inspection. This reflects the way inspection should be seen as an adjunct of school self-evaluation and carried out, as much as possible, in partnership with school leaders.
The PIB is intended to help focus the inspection, so that inspectors can direct their attention to what and why aspects of the school are especially strong or weaker than others. The notes also point inspectors in the right direction when judging the accuracy of the school's self-evaluation.
In doing this, inspectors are expected to form initial hypotheses, drawing on data from RAISEonline and on the headteacher's commentary on the school and its results, and on how leaders have responded to the issues from the previous inspection.
If, for example, the head glosses over seeming underperformance suggested by RAISEonline, that may suggest management weaknesses that need to be followed up. If the lead inspector agrees, they will be expected to say so in the PIB.
That does not mean inspectors have made their minds up about the school before they arrive. Sometimes initial hypotheses are confirmed, but often they are rebutted. The fact that they are shared in advance should be seen by heads as an opportunity to discuss them with the lead inspector at the start, not dismissed as evidence that Ofsted is going into the school with a closed mind. The head can expect to have the opportunity to add their comments or point out, at the start, where they think inspectors have misinterpreted or where an explanation would help clarify things for inspectors.
Selwyn Ward has been an inspector for 15 years, working in primary and secondary schools. The views expressed here are his own. To ask him a question, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.