Recently we ran a useful OfSTED planning session with my SLT and some key governors to prepare the ground for next year. We’re hugely likely to be inspected and we thought that, with new governors and refreshed SLT, it was time to revisit the framework together. I take pride in our stance on OfSTED – which is to take it seriously but keep it very low key. We’re explicitly not an OfSTED-driven school; I never ever refer to OfSTED in messages to staff because anything we need to do, we should be doing anyway: a) because we believe in it and/or b) because it simply has to be done to raise standards in the school; not merely to satisfy external accountability pressure. That said, OfSTED is there to be dealt with and I want my leaders to be able to take it in their stride without passing on the stress and burden to teachers and staff on the front line.
In truth, I found the exercise was extremely useful. Re-reading the framework, there’s almost nothing in there that seems unreasonably hoop-jumpy – albeit that I’m dubious that several aspects of the framework can be evaluated meaningfully in a one or two day fly-by. In lots of areas, the framework provides a solid base to kick against; it demands rigour and clarity in our thinking where perhaps we’ve been too woolly; it requires a level of reporting on various issues where, perhaps, we’re not using data effectively enough to inform our judgements; it presents a picture of excellence (e.g. ‘impeccable behaviour’) that is a useful, if daunting, standard to aspire to; it demands a unity of purpose across all leaders and governors that perhaps isn’t quite as strong as we’d like. All in all, the read-through and discussion felt like a necessary and helpful focusing exercise.
To begin with, there’s this list of pre-inspection preparation:
38. Inspectors will request that the following information is available at the start of the inspection: (an edited list)
- a summary of any school self-evaluation or equivalent; the current school improvement plan or equivalent, including any strategic planning that sets out the longer term vision for the school
- the single central record of the checks and vetting of all staff working with pupils
- records and analysis of exclusions, pupils taken off roll, incidents of poor behaviour and any use of internal isolation
- records and analysis of bullying, discriminatory and prejudicial behaviour, either directly or indirectly, including racist, disability and homophobic bullying, use of derogatory language and racist incidents
- a list of referrals made to the designated person for safeguarding in the school and those that were subsequently referred to the local authority, along with brief details of the resolution; a list of all pupils who are open cases with children’s services/social care and for whom there is a multi-agency plan
- up-to-date attendance analysis for all groups of pupils
- records of the evaluation of the quality of teaching, learning and assessment
information about the school’s performance management arrangements, including the most recent performance management outcomes and their relationship to salary progression, in an anonymised format
- documented evidence of the work of governors and their priorities
- any reports of external evaluation of the school, including any review of governance or use of the pupil premium funding.
Most of this is ready to go or close to it. However, our discussion was less about whether we could generate the info on demand; it was about whether we’re systematic enough in sharing these reports for ourselves to inform actions so that, when OfSTED come, we’re simply sharing what we’re working on as a matter of routine. We’ve just beefed up our child protection and Looked After case review system (important when you’ve got over 100 ongoing cases); we’re working to smarten up our BlueSky performance management output; we’re exploring whether our departmental reviews are sufficiently robust; we’re checking that the behaviour system reports on bullying and prejudicial behaviour are being analysed (as opposed to being merely compiled) – and so on. The framework is a useful prod to get stuff that we need done, done.
Grade descriptors for overall effectiveness
- The quality of teaching, learning and assessment is at least good.
- All other key judgements are likely to be good or outstanding. In exceptional circumstances, one of the key judgement areas may require improvement, as long as there is convincing evidence that the school is improving it rapidly and securely towards good.
- Deliberate and effective action is taken to promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and their physical well-being.
- Safeguarding is effective.
Looking at the overall effectiveness Good grade, we focused on making our SMSC work – that we think is a strength of the school – is fully promoted and celebrated. We also discussed the need to make sure the ‘assessment’ element of ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ is fully understood across the school, especially where we’re still embedding our new KS3 post-levels attainment grades.
Effectiveness of leadership and management
- Leaders set high expectations of pupils and staff. They lead by example to create a culture of respect and tolerance. The positive relationships between leaders, staff and pupils support the progress of all pupils at the school.
- Leaders and governors have an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the quality of education at the school. This helps them plan, monitor and refine actions to improve all key aspects of the school’s work.
- Teachers value the continuing professional development provided by the school. It is having a positive impact on their teaching and pupils’ learning. Teaching is consistently strong across the school or, where it is not, it is improving rapidly.
- Leaders consistently promote fundamental British values and pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Leaders, staff and pupils do not tolerate prejudiced behaviour.
- Safeguarding is effective. Leaders protect pupils from radicalisation and extremism. Staff are trained and are increasingly vigilant, confident and competent to encourage open discussion with pupils.
Listed above are some of the elements of Good leadership and management that provoked some discussion. The key here is that ‘Leaders’ suggests ‘all Leaders’. We can’t afford to have pockets of excellence; we need that to be uniform. We discussed the need to work with each of our middle leaders to support them in ‘having an accurate understanding of the quality of education’ in their area and in tracking the departmental CPD through to impact on pupils’ learning. This needs to be a reality, not window-dressing.
Grade descriptors for the quality of teaching, learning and assessment
- Pupils focus well on their learning because teachers reinforce expectations for conduct and set clear tasks that challenge pupils.
- In lessons, teachers develop, consolidate and deepen pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills. They give sufficient time for pupils to review what they are learning and to develop further. Teachers identify and support effectively those pupils who start to fall behind and intervene quickly to help them to improve their learning.
- Teachers use their secure subject knowledge to plan learning that sustains pupils’ interest and challenges their thinking. They use questioning skilfully to probe pupils’ responses and they reshape tasks and explanations so that pupils better understand new concepts. Teachers tackle misconceptions and build on pupils’ strengths.
- Teachers give pupils feedback in line with the school’s assessment policy. Pupils use this feedback well and they know what they need to do to improve.
- Most pupils commit to improving their work. They are given time to apply their knowledge and understanding in new ways that stretches their thinking in a wide range of subjects, and to practise key skills.
- Teachers challenge stereotypes and the use of derogatory language in lessons and around the school. Teachers promote equality of opportunity and diversity in teaching and learning.
Again, listed above is a subset of the bullet points for Good in this area. We talked about making sure these basic elements are strengthened continually. Although we have an ambitious agenda for teaching and learning, really our main focus is to ensure the core practice, every lesson, every day, is at least Good by these criteria: questioning; feedback; improving work; reinforcing expectations. Simple stuff, done well. It’s also worth noting, again, how strongly embedded the equalities agenda is in the framework. You can’t argue with that.
Grade descriptors for personal development, behaviour and welfare
Personal development, behaviour and welfare are likely to be inadequate if any one of the following applies.
- Pupils’ lack of engagement, persistent low-level and/or high-level wilful, disruption, contribute to reduced learning and/or disorderly classrooms.
- A significant minority of pupils show a lack of respect for each other or staff and a lack of self-discipline. Pupils ignore or rebut requests from teachers to moderate their conduct. This results in poor behaviour around the school.
- Pupils show negative attitudes about the value of good manners and behaviour as key factors in school life, adult life and work.
Sometimes it’s useful to explore the Inadequate judgements. In a school like mine, we’re faced with some degree of challenging behaviour every day. We put a huge effort into tackling it and creating a safe and productive learning environment – but we don’t have the power to change the fundamental character of some students or the environment they live in. The descriptors above suggest that, if we tolerate low-level disruption, a lack of respect for staff or negative attitudes about good manners – we’d be risking an Inadequate judgement; that would, in turn, render the whole school Inadequate; something the vast majority of students do not deserve to be said about their school. Conclusion: we cannot and must not tolerate these things. There is a difficult line to walk between inclusion and exclusion when seeking ‘impeccable behaviour’ in a 70% Pupil Premium school – but the OfSTED framework gives a clear steer. We should not equivocate; I found this helpful given how far we’ve gone to support some very challenged and challenging young people this year.
So, whilst most of the time, OfSTED sits firmly in the background, this has been a positive exercise. We can’t be ‘OfSTED Ready’ if that means relying on some last-ditched spit and polish and some gerrymandered data; we’ll only be ready at any time if we are genuinely ready at any time – and that means doing sensible things properly and consistently. That’s the challenge. Let’s see how it goes….