The emotional side of an Ofsted inspection (part 2)

person signing document paper

Click here to read part 1

We were told the official line we could tell people was, ‘It was a positive inspection and it did not convert to a Section 5 inspection’. Those in the know would have instantly known that it meant we had managed to remain a ‘Good’ school.

When our lead inspector told us that our school ‘remained Good’, it was the greatest feeling in the world. Despite knowing there were some key areas that needed developing, the fact that I now knew I wouldn’t have to look for another job was a great relief. Mainly because I really love my job.

Around the time of our inspection there were so many Ofsted horror stories flying around it was enough to make you want to resign before O-Day arrived. But as realist, I know there is balance in everything and I’d seen the reflections of other leaders on how positive their experience had been, so all I could do was pray for the same.

In the weeks proceeding the inspection we’d been on high alert. Several ‘Good’ schools in Greenwich had been inspected so it was only a matter of time before it was our turn. One year and 7 days to the date, we got the call.

In the two weeks proceeding the inspection I’d sent out two updated versions of my ‘Ofsted Initial Call Action Plan’ document, where the first words are ‘First and foremost…don’t panic!’ and no-body did (please message me if you’d like a copy).

When the admin call came in (for the second time…the first time the person got cut off!) at 10.34am it was action stations. My admin staff knew who they needed to email. I saw my premises manager walk past my office with a kettle on his way to what would be he Inspector’s room and at lunchtime we arranged for the children to stay outside for a bit longer so that I could speak to teachers in between the long call. The plan was executed well.

As much as there was a level of anxiety, as a team, we were also of the mind that this was what we’d been waiting for and it was time to just get it over and done with.

As with most schools, staff stayed late, pizza was ordered and there was a lot of camaraderie. We were all in it together.

Knowing our lead inspector was Julian Grenier had it’s own challenges. My Assitant Headteacher and Early Years lead, had only just purchased a copy of his book Successful Early Years Ofsted Inspections: Thriving Children, Confident Staff. We did joke that she should get a refund, or ask for him to autograph the book – neither of which happened. But as the person who had led on the revision of Development Matters, we knew he really knew is stuff and the level of scrutiny would be intense – as you would expect.

The 60 minute call was intense. I had my DHT, AHT and English lead in the room with me, and the call on loud speaker (the inspector was aware). Whilst I talked, they wrote notes. It was at this point that I was glad I had sat down with each of my curriculum leaders over the course of the previous few months to establish where they were at. It was then that I was pleased we’d done so much work on our curriculum. It was during the call that I realised I really needed to develop a better understanding of phonics as despite having sat in on the training that my English lead had delivered earlier in the term, the last time I’d taught a phonics lesson was probably back in my NQT year, in 2003!

Despite the negative press Ofsted inspectors had received on social media, in particular from those who didn’t believe serving headteachers should be inspecting schools and pretty much branded them traitors, our inspector was great.

He was considerate of the fact that we were a one-form entry school so ensuring cover was available for staff who were observing lessons might be a challenge. He was also considerate of the fact that as a smaller school, individual staff would be wearing different hats and would therefore need time to take off one hat, compose themselves and then put on a different one.

Have a read of The Emotional Side of Ofsted Inspection (part 1) to get an idea of the emotions I experienced during the two days.

Next was the waiting game. The gap between the end of the inspection and the day you receive the draft report is no-man’s land. You’re full of relief that the inspection is over and you have an idea that things are ok, but at the same time there was the niggling feeling of, “what if it’s not ok?” What if the Ofsted team who read the report think the inspector’s notes don’t add up and therefore demand a re-inspection? Mad, I know…..but hey, these are some of the thoughts that momentarily invaded my mind.

On January 4th 2022 I received the draft report. It was strictly confidential so only my AHT, DHT and Chair of Governors were able to view it. When I read it there was an immense sense of relief. There were no nasty surprises, no phrases that made it sound like we didn’t have a clue about what we were doing and lots of examples of how hard we work to ensure our children have a great education. I was proud to read the report and to know that we had officially kept our ‘Good’ status.

On the 20th January I received the final Ofsted report and I was more than happy to share with everyone, including the Twitterverse. It was something I was proud of and I wanted to share the hard work that everyone in our school community had contributed to. I appreciate that not everyone will want to publicly share their reports, especially if they include comments that aren’t particularly positive. But as someone who had obsessively skimmed read many reports in the previous two years in an attempt to pick up tips on what ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ looked like in other schools, I wanted to be able to share with others, what ‘Good’ looked like for us. And to be fair, even if I hadn’t directly posted the report, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to Google my name, the term ‘headteacher’ and find my school themselves. So I thought I’d save people the time and trouble!

Someone on Twitter said it’s a shame that external validation is needed, but for me, external validation – whether from Ofsted, the local authority or even from parents – is simply confirmation of what we already know – that we’re doing a good job. It’s public acknowledgement of the hard work staff do day in, day out. Everyone appreciates ‘strokes’ – those acts of recognition which can be verbal or physical and which tell someone, ‘you’re doing grand job.’ Strokes are what help people feel appreciated and we all need them even if it is from an official body such as Ofsted and as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that.

All in all, my first inspection as a headteacher was most definitely a positive experience and I think it was for three main reasons:

  • First and foremost, we were as ready as we were ever going to be; I’d been preparing for the inspection from the day I took on the headship in September 2019.
  • Secondly, I have an amazing team of staff, without whom we would not have achieved what we did.
  • Finally, we had a considerate but rigorous inspector who who helped us to reflect on our practice.

I’m aware that everyone’s experience of an Ofsted inspection is different – this is mine. I realise my next inspection may not be as positive; I also realise my school still has work to do to ensure there is consistency across the board. But that’s ok, because in the long run, the most important stakeholders to benefit from what I’ve learnt from this experience and what we will do going forward are the children. And they’re the reason I go to work every single day (oh, and to get paid of course!).

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