Dealing with School Inspections
The time leading up to the start of an inspection can be the most challenging of the whole process. Often, the period between notice being given and the first day of the inspection can make or break a teacher's view of inspection.
Recent changes have meant that the notice period is much reduced with most schools now receiving between two and five days' notice.
If you have just received notice of an impending inspection, keep these points in mind:
- Lead the inspection from the start and tell your story of the school. This means you are more likely to receive an inspection report with which you are happy.
- Anxiety among staff may be an indicator to inspectors that there is an issue at the school. Keep staff well informed during the inspection weeks to try and remove unnecessary fears and concerns. Make sure someone in the management team is available to deal with staff concerns as soon as they arise. Praise and appreciation from school management, including the head teacher are key factors for keeping stress levels down.
- The way that inspections take place is evolving and some schools will now be inspected less, some inspected more. Whenever an inspector arrives, they will always want to look at the key areas: leadership and management, teaching, learning, performance in tests and exams, and the five aims of the Every Child Matters programme.
Make sure you prepare your SEF thoroughly, long before an inspection is due to take place. Top tips for this include:
- Keep it brief and with bulleted items to illustrate your points.
- Make sure it's kept up to date and current; inspectors will want to see this very soon after the inspection is announced to you.
- Keep it positive! Talk about all the issues in the school and say what you are doing about each one. Try to start and end each section on a positive note.
- You can now complete these online at the Ofsted website, here.
Know your data
The inspectors will have already seen your data before they visit your school for inspection, so make sure you know all about it, too. Have it all available at the school and include any other data you may use to help with the running of your school.
This is a key area for inspection, so demonstrate your leadership skills at all levels, including the governors.
- Make sure that everyone involved in the process knows the key issues that you've identified for the school to move forward and how you will make this happen. This could be levels of achievement, behaviour, etc. That way the inspectors will get clear messages from all involved.
- Tell the inspectors about any internal training you have in place for professional development, particularly for areas like new managers or those managing at a lower level.
Prepare the school
It will be clear to the inspectors very early on if everyone involved in the inspection has been well briefed or not. So make sure you prepare your staff, pupils, governors and parents. Top tips for this include:
- Conducting an assembly as soon as you know the inspection is coming up to highlight achievements of the pupils over the last few years. Help your pupils to feel proud of their school and remember all the good things they've achieved.
- Give staff and pupils the same positive messages. Pupils will often then prepare the parents in the same way.
- Make sure the school carries on as normal; don't change normal timetabling arrangements during inspection.
- Prepare staff so that all teachers (including NQTs) are aware of the inspection framework and what inspectors will be looking for but make it clear that they should carry on as normal - the inspectors want to see what happens on a day-to-day basis so there shouldn't be extra pressure on teachers to perform.
- Encourage staff to build a rapport with the inspectors - good inspections are the result of collaboration and cooperation.
- Inspectors won't know about the pupils before they begin an inspection, so teachers should make it clear when they are being observed how many in the class have SEN or are highly achieving, for example. Remind your staff of this.
- Make sure that no teacher is observed more than any other - this can occasionally happen so discuss it with the lead inspector if it does.
Teaching and learning
Learning is everything! Encourage staff to focus on the outcome of the lessons and what progress students make in the lesson. Have clear objectives for each lesson and make sure this is communicated within the lesson.
It's very rare to find an inspection that goes absolutely according to plan; there will be moments that are difficult so it's important to lead these confidently.
Try to have plans in place to deal with worst case scenarios. This could be anything from a flooded school to badly behaved pupils. If you have a plan in place and execute it well then this need not be a disaster.
As the inspectors go through their inspection process they will come to conclusions on key areas of the school. Make sure you work with the inspectors to try and shape these emerging findings. Inspectors will often be very open about what they plan to say so you could think about requesting a meeting halfway through the inspection process for an update on this. This is your opportunity to say if you feel that some of the findings aren't quite right or need adjustment.
Areas for improvement shouldn't come as a surprise - they should already be outlined in your SEF documents and be in your school development plan. What is important is that the inspectors look at, and hopefully include, what you say about these points already and what you plan to do to combat them. This will also give you authority once the inspection is over to say that this is the way forward for the school.
You will receive a draft report shortly after the inspection has finished. This is your opportunity to make sure the wording and feel of the report is right, although you won't be able to change the grading itself. Spend time looking at this report carefully and include your senior management team in this process.
You want the inspection to illustrate the very best of what you're doing at the school.
After an inspection
- Be aware of the impact that inspection may have had on your school. There may be an atmosphere of success or a feeling of anti-climax. Remember that staff will follow your lead.
- Ensure you and your staff are clear about the implications of each point made in the inspection report - ask for clarification if necessary.
- Prioritise any professional development needs within your school that have become apparent.
- Discourage any talk of blame. Offer support, encouragement and motivation.
- Think about how to handle any publicity following an inspection.
- Recognise that regardless of the outcome, your whole team will have worked hard to ensure your school was seen in the best possible light. Celebrate that in some way, even if it's a word of thanks and a glass of wine in the staffroom.
- Reinstate anything like trips or events that may have been postponed because of the inspection.
- Carefully choose when to make any changes to policy and procedure at the school and be prepared to push the boundaries. Initially focus on identified priorities.
- Take time to make notes on what worked for you and your staff during the inspection. Think of it as advice for the future.
- Lasting success in your school is never the result of the work of one person. It will always be down to good teamwork.
- Always remember that the inspection itself cannot improve a school. It is teachers, backed by strong leadership, who are the agents of change and success.
Visit the Teachernet website here for more tips on dealing with inspections.
Teachers TV has a range of videos and online resources that deal with inspections. Visit the website here for more.
The time when an inspection is announced can be an extremely stressful and challenging time for the school as a whole. Here are some tips to help your staff cope with the inspection experience.
- Encourage staff to share any concerns with colleagues, the support of others is a great benefit.
- If there is a child, or group of children they are particularly concerned about, be supportive.
- Encourage staff to be as fully prepared as they can, but avoid the need to be perfect. Being 'good enough' is fine.
- Try to avoid changing the way you teach and interact with your staff. An Ofsted inspection can be stressful, but don't lose sight of the value you bring to your pupils with your own style of teaching and to your those people you manage.
- Encourage staff to speak to you about any concerns they have with how the inspection is going. You'll be meeting with the inspectors on a daily basis and should be able to raise any concerns.
- Enter the inspection process positively; a positive attitude will set the tone for the inspection.