- Schools should ensure that strengths identified in their inspection report are maintained, and weaknesses are addressed and eradicated.
- An effective way to improve, especially for schools that want to achieve ‘outstanding’, is to use inspection findings systematically.
- Schools should use two highlighter pens to go through the report and colour the strengths and weaknesses.
- It is Ofsted policy to identify areas for improvement even where the school has been graded ‘outstanding’.
- Action plans to address the key issues should be incorporated into the school improvement plan as distinct priorities.
We have all seen at least one post-mortem drama where the forensic pathologist dissects the body to determine the cause of death and reveal evidence that invariably unmasks the killer. Without pushing the analogy of assailant and victim too far, all schools should carry out a detailed analysis of the inspection process and their Ofsted report.
What we know is that when the school is next inspected, the previous report will be the starting point. Inspectors will want to know whether:
- strengths have been maintained and developed further
- weaknesses have been addressed and eradicated.
This is particularly the case where the school has been graded as ‘good’ since, if it receives a section 8 inspection, the presumption is that the school remains ‘good’, i.e. ‘substantially the same’. If standards have risen or fallen substantially since the previous inspection it is very likely that the lead inspector will arrive ready to deem the inspection a section 5 very quickly. An effective way to improve, especially for schools that want to achieve ‘outstanding’, is to use the inspection findings systematically. This is in fact what happens where ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ schools are monitored by HMI.
This article provides a step-by-step process for deconstructing Ofsted.
The inspection process
Inspectors are not employed as school improvement experts but as analytical evaluators. What schools can best learn from them is how to do this analytic evaluation in a very short time by cutting through to what is most important. School leaders should combine their experiences to build up a detailed picture of the process by asking the following questions:
- What did inspectors do?
- What evidence did they gather?
- What additional evidence did they request?
- What questions did they ask you and what was your reply?
- When did they make the decisive judgements and why?
And, in order to improve next time, they should ask the following:
- What should we have done differently?
- What do we need and need to do to improve our skills in managing the inspection process?
Staff should take notes during the inspection and these should be written up to provide a comprehensive description that can be cross-referenced.
Highlight strengths and weaknesses
Using highlighter pens in two different colours, go through the report and highlight the strengths and weaknesses. Try to identify every sentence and comment as either a strength or a weakness. As you do so, keep referring to the Ofsted handbook, particularly the grade descriptors.
This very simple task has a number of important advantages.
- It will force you to read the report in detail and consider the meaning of every statement.
- It will familiarise you with the Ofsted handbook.
- In the vast majority of schools, the strengths outweigh the weaknesses and this will be visually apparent when presenting to staff and governors.
The Ofsted methodology is based on an input‑throughput-output model, which is why starting points and value-added are so important. Except for ‘outstanding’ schools, this should be apparent in the summary of key findings at the start of the report in the statement of strengths and the caveat of areas for improvement preceded by ‘because’.
The logical process for Ofsted is: outcomes for learners are the result of the quality of educational provision, which in turn is the result of the quality of leadership and management. Therefore, leadership and management cannot be effective unless the outcomes for learners are positive. The white paper (Educational Excellence Everywhere) proposes that Ofsted consult on removing the grade on teaching, learning and assessment to make this link even more direct.
Study the Ofsted handbook for section 5 inspections, describing how inspectors arrive at the judgement on overall effectiveness. As you follow the sequence for grading each key area, read the report and the Ofsted grade descriptors to identify why inspectors have awarded each grade.
The key issues
The ‘because’ statements in the summary become the key issues for improvement, and inspectors are required to evaluate progress against these in the next inspection. It is Ofsted policy to identify areas for improvement even where the school has been graded ‘outstanding’.
Except in a very small number of cases, the key issues are always partial weaknesses. The easiest thing for any inspector to identify is inconsistency of practice. Below is a typical key issue from a school graded ‘good’.
Eradicate the remaining inconsistencies in teaching and learning by making sure that all teachers:
- provide pupils with written feedback that helps them to improve the quality of their work
- provide opportunities for pupils to act on this advice
- use questioning effectively to develop pupils’ understanding.
What this actually means is that some teachers are not giving constructive feedback, not providing opportunities for pupils to act on the advice and not using questioning effectively. Discussions with inspectors and the report will add detail. For example, in this school the report identifies some excellent practice and some weaknesses in questioning techniques in mathematics. All subject and aspect leaders should be asked to submit reports on how each of the key issues relates to practice in their area of responsibility, identifying good practice as well as any weaknesses.
Unfortunately, weaknesses will be traced to individual teachers and leaders, and this must be tackled robustly. Senior leaders need to identify whether weaknesses stem from issues such as recalcitrance or inexperience. Reasons should be specified:
- This teacher does not use questioning techniques effectively because …
Obviously any teacher with weaknesses must be supported to improve, but it is useful to understand from the start the balance needed between challenge and professional development.
Action plans to address the key issues should be incorporated into the school improvement plan as distinct priorities. Subject and aspect leaders should be required to draw up and implement specific action plans.
Performance management objectives should be linked to key issues. Teachers identified as excellent practitioners in an area should have objectives to provide support, while weaker staff should have objectives to improve linked directly to the Ofsted recommendations. Progress should be monitored and evaluated against improvements in outcomes for learners.
Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in this article into practice:
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