Ofsted watch - New leaders needn't be scared of inspection

13th March 2015 at 00:00
Receiving the call from Ofsted when you've just become a headteacher can be terrifying. But it's all a matter of preparation

Undergoing an Ofsted inspection is never easy, and it can be particularly daunting for first-time headteachers. Before my maiden visit from the inspectors, I was eager to glean insights from colleagues and they were generous about sharing their experiences. But very little information was available (either inside or outside the school) on what to prepare, how to tackle challenging questions or how get into the right frame of mind.

So here is the strategy I wish I'd used ahead of my first Ofsted inspection.

Analyse previous inspections

It's inevitable that you will have inherited issues that don't necessarily reflect your methodology or way of thinking, but the best leaders can transform any institution. Demonstrate this by evaluating previous Ofsted reports on the school.

Ensure that you convey to inspectors how your clear vision, vigorous strategy and motivated community of students, staff, parents, governors and partners can work to raise standards, deal with any issues and achieve outstanding results.

Face your weaknesses

If your school has poor results in English and maths, if attendance levels are declining or if marking is weaker than it should be, you need to be able to explain why. Whatever the hot spot, you must demonstrate that a clear set of actions are in place to improve standards. Difficult areas can also provide you with an opportunity to show the inspectors that you have an in-depth understanding of the entire school.

Make sure everyone is ready

Whatever their role, every member of staff needs to understand what is expected of them. The site team needs to ensure that health and safety matters are up to date and that all facilities are functioning well. Senior staff need to become leadership champions and be assigned specific areas of the school improvement plan to review and develop. It is important that they are ready to share best practice and are confident about how the school will continue to raise standards.

Staff with subject-specific responsibility must show an exemplary understanding of the progress that students make by year, by ability group and by key stage, as well as against national and local benchmarks.

Select members of the team to review school documents, procedures and policies in line with the latest guidelines, covering everything from bullying, discipline and grievances to the latest research on curriculum standards and inclusion. You also need to make sure senior staff are fully briefed on what to do if you're absent during an inspection.

Prime your governors

During the inspection, it's crucial that a core group of experienced governors are available to explain how they support and challenge the school. They will be expected to provide an insight into specialist areas, so make sure that sufficient support is in place to enable them to do this and that they have access to key information at all times.

Work on your website

Your website must be fully functional across different platforms, so that inspectors can find information easily on any device. Besides the obvious contact details, admissions arrangements, exam and assessment results, and links to Department for Education school performance tables, you must provide rigid curriculum details, show how your school spends its pupil premium funding and make various policy documents available.

In addition, schools now need to publish SEN reports, prospectuses and a statement of their ethos and values. I would also recommend that you use the website as a platform to celebrate student success by uploading videos, media coverage, news stories, empowering testimonials, trophies and awards. These can showcase wider enrichment initiatives, as well as life beyond the classroom.

Show excellence in self-evaluation

It is vital that you show how you measure success. At my school, we routinely run student, parent and staff surveys, which can be a great way to evidence self-evaluation and reinforce impact and achievement measures. I also recommend creating a seating strategy that meets the needs of any vulnerable groups. This will enable you and your staff to explain the customised strategies that are in place for individual students.

Know your facts and figures

Resist the temptation to exaggerate or manipulate figures. You will be asked for data analysis on individual students, year groups and classes, as well as some random student groups.

There is a plethora of data to crunch, analyse and present, so prepare your reports in advance. Explore the figures on performance, attendance levels, value-added scores, free school meals, the pupil premium and GCSE results and analyse this information to show year-on-year trends. Demonstrate that you understand the school's performance in relation to local and national data.

Work alongside inspectors

The impression you make on the inspectors is critical, so be proactive without being sycophantic. Make sure you explain the actions you will be taking to raise standards and achieve outstanding results. Be willing to engage constructively in often contentious discussions. If any judgements in the draft version of the inspection report seem arbitrary, have the confidence to challenge them.

Show that you love the job

If you're going to be a successful headteacher, you need the resilience to handle the constant change. I also firmly believe that you should never lose sight of the fact that teaching other people's children is a privilege. For me, that has been true throughout my 40-year teaching career.

Phil Munday is headteacher of Henry Cort Community College in Hampshire

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