Ofsted Watch - Keep staff on the right path in an inspection

27th February 2015 at 00:00
An Ofsted visit can be particularly hard on a college's heads of curriculum, so use these tips to guide your team to success

To be the head of a curriculum team during an Ofsted inspection is to take the fear and responsibility a classroom teacher feels under these circumstances and multiply them by the number of teachers you are responsible for, the number of subjects you are responsible for, the number of learners for whose success you are responsible. It can be terrifying.

Yet inspection does not have to be a negative experience - it is a chance to show what you can do as a team. All you require is a little preparation and a calm head. Here is my routine.

Start swotting now

The most sensible way to lead a department is to be an Ofsted swot. Preparation should not begin when the visit is announced but should be embedded in the way you run your team. Check for updates on the Ofsted website, attend training with inspectors, visit outstanding departments in other colleges and study their Ofsted reports. If you know what Ofsted is looking for, you can ensure that your department delivers. Complaining that this is just "jumping through hoops" is a waste of energy. Our efforts should be focused on what is best for our learners and we need to trust Ofsted to guide us.

Keep an eye on your team

You will need to be confident that the teachers in your team are able to deliver outstanding teaching, learning and assessment during the inspection. This makes routine lesson observations, peer observations, themed drop-ins, regular feedback, CPD and year-round support critical.

Lead by example

All this preparation should mean that the call from Ofsted is greeted with less panic. However, the first thing your team will do when the call comes is probably exactly that: panic. So your support and guidance during the inspection is key to getting them through it relatively unscathed.

You need to ensure that you maintain good contact with your team, listen to their feedback from observations and meetings with inspectors, look over their lesson plans and resources before they teach a lesson and are generally around to filter their anxieties.

Remember, they will be looking to you for direction. If you are confident and take the attitude that you are excited for an Ofsted inspector to see all the wonderful work your team does, they will (with a bit of luck) follow your lead. Your confidence should empower them and enable them to deliver their best lessons.

Look after yourself

On top of supporting your team, you need to ensure that you have enough time and energy to plan your own outstanding lessons. Try to build in some space before you teach to focus on yourself, your learners, the content of your lessons and what you need to do to feel prepared.

Although the face you show your team should be one of positivity and calm, you will need to find a peer (probably another head of department) with whom you can share your concerns. You are not superhuman, even if you give that impression. You need to have a place to vent in order to be able to carry the anxieties of your team on your shoulders.

If the result is good news.

If the outcome of the inspection is at the sunnier end of the spectrum, you can allow yourself to be enveloped in the ensuing joy and celebration. You and your team will all have earned it.

Importantly, however, you must keep the team focused not only on continuing to do what they're already doing right but on seeking new ways to improve the experience of learners within your curriculum area of responsibility. Make sure no one turns this into an opportunity to rest on their laurels and pronounce "job done".

.and if it's not

If the outcome is not so good, have a private weep by all means, but then put on your armour and rally your troops. You need to look forward and show your team that you have an action plan that directly addresses the weaknesses identified by Ofsted.

There is no point wallowing in despair or arguing that Ofsted is wrong - this is a waste of energy. Moving forward is the key concern and it is vital that you take the team with you. They need to feel responsible for the improvement plan and understand the role they have to play in raising standards. Re-engaging with your students and their learning will remind you all why it's worth it.

Hayley Ryan is teaching standards and learning improvement manager at Southampton City College

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