our school was overdue a visit from Ofsted. The school had last been inspected two years earlier and graded “requires improvement”. After months of sharing ideas, change and new staff coming on board – including me – the school was ready. It was my very first inspection as a headteacher. So, what did I learn about how fledgling heads should approach their first visit from Ofsted?
Lesson 1 The call will come when you least expect it
It was Monday morning and a subset of the senior leadership team were meeting to discuss our route forward. We were challenging each other’s ideas and our approaches to maximising the progress of different groups of pupils – one of our current missions. Then there came a knock at the door – a transferred phone call and we had been officially told: Ofsted would be visiting for a two-day section 5 inspection.
Lesson 2 Be prepared
I had ensured that my “in case of emergency” pack was ready. It consisted of help sheets for each staff role in the form of a set of steps (success criteria, in a way). We felt that if each staff member had contributed to creating this, and had it to hand, it would support a focused approach to our preparations for Ofsted’s visit.
When in need, we simply had to refer back to our help sheets to see where we were up to. These were really useful for structuring our conversations and keeping them short. We knew when it was the right time to leave school that night. There was no infinite task list and no staff ended up staying until sunrise because, “We have to be ready for Ofsted tomorrow.”
Lesson 3 Trust your instincts
After the initial call with an Ofsted inspection coordinator, I was phoned by the local authority – who were lovely and very helpful. I refused an offer of consultant support. In my experience, an influx of new ideas or faces can do little to aid staff members. If there are any wobbles, this is your opportunity to lead, support and guide. In other words, a perfect chance to use the very skills that you were excited about developing when you applied for the post.
Lesson 4 Be positive
In the initial phone conversation with the lead inspector, they asked: “How much, or not, would you like to be involved in the inspection?” After a millisecond of hesitation, I responded confidently with, “I would like to be involved as fully as possible.” This determination stayed with me from that point until the inspectors left.
After the call, I gathered together the timetables from each class, rounded off a sentence or two in our self-evaluation framework (SEF), and emailed these across to the lead inspector. I then focused solely on positively supporting our teachers until we closed the school at approximately 9pm. This mainly consisted of visiting all the teachers, checking their progress towards readiness, supporting planning ideas and reassuring everyone that we were ready for what the next two days had in store.
Lesson 5 Empower discussion
The inspectors arrived promptly at 8am for an 8.20am greeting to staff. I decided to based the inspectors in my office – it’s set up for professional meetings and other spaces in the school are purposefully crafted not to feel “business-like”. The inspectors were surprised that I gave up my office, but I insisted, and it ensured that I stayed actively mobile throughout the two days. It also empowered me in the meetings that I had with the inspectors. My office is a very comfortable space for me to talk about our school, and the room – which had things easily to hand – gave me strength when I was challenged on any issues that the inspectors wanted more information on.
Lesson 6 Expect to be busy
There were two inspectors – one attended each meeting while the other was observing lessons. This was the schedule for Day 1:
9.00 Observations begin
11.00 Meeting about our SEF
11.30 Meeting about safeguarding
12.00 Meeting about attendance/behaviour
12.50 First pupil interview
13.10 Second pupil interview
13.30 Afternoon observations
15.00 Lead inspector meets the representative from the local authority
16.00 Lead inspector meets governors; additional inspector meets the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) coordinator
16.30 Lead inspector meets literacy lead; additional inspector meets maths lead
17.00 Inspection team meeting with the head
Lesson 7 Realise your staff are amazing (again)
At 6.15pm, when the inspectors left, I expected most staff to have headed home. But all the teachers were still at school and keen to chat about how the day had gone.
We had a quick impromptu staff meeting in a classroom. I said a very quick well done for Day 1 and stated the goals that we needed to tighten up on and to prepare to demonstrate on Day 2. A key sticking point during our inspection was the outcomes of pupils currently on roll. How did we know our judgements were accurate?
Lesson 8 Demonstrate stamina
When the inspectors entered my office on Day 2, their first reaction was “Wow!” A good start, I thought. I had prepared, then talked them through, a buffet of pupils books and data reports. “This is what our literacy lead has prepared. These are from our maths lead. Here are some science books you said you might want to explore. Oh, and an SMSC [Spiritual, moral, social and cultural] statement has appeared from the deputy and SEND coordinator.”
Our school mission statement lay in front of them. Our focus was sharp – albeit a little bleary-eyed.
Lesson 9 Expect to stay busy
This was the schedule for Day 2:
8.50 Analysing outcomes via pupil books and assessments, while questioning head
10.45 Observing lessons
12.00 Review with head
13.15 Final learning walk
14.00 Team meeting and final decisions with senior leadership team
15.30 Feedback to local authority, diocese and school governors
16.00 Ofsted team leaves
16.15 Staff feedback
16.30 Headteacher leaves the school and sits in a dark room
Lesson 10 Absorb, learn and take a breath
At about 10.30am on Day 2, once the outcomes and school data were agreed by the inspection team, I felt that the judgements would be positive. But I still scurried around making sure everybody was maintaining their readiness, robustness and positivity – the staff did an excellent job.
Once the outcome was shared and we were all sworn to secrecy, I congratulated everyone and headed home. We achieved our goal of “good” by working really hard and could now take a breath before the next challenge that lay ahead.
I can honestly say that the whole process was very positive for my development. I now have a greater understanding of inspection and how to guide a team to achieving the goal in one piece. I still feel like a complete novice, but my approach is one of constant learning – perhaps somewhere in there lies a green shoot of strength.
Martin Kyle is headteacher of St Faith and St Martin Church of England Junior School in Lincoln