Last reviewed 13 December 2016

Periodically, a senior Ofsted officer will state that inspection has raised standards. The evidence for this is usually a string of statistics citing the number of schools that have moved from “inadequate”, or from “requires improvement” to “good” and from “good” to “outstanding”. The causal links are never really clarified and most people in schools ascribe the only link as fear. In fact, it is because Ofsted expects schools to act upon the inspection findings and build this expectation into their statistical findings. Here, Tony Powell, consulting educationist, explores how to use the inspection process and findings as a way of systematically improving your school.

Given a positive outcome, most schools simply want to forget about the inspection until the next one is imminent. Understandably and probably, a short Ofsted holiday is necessary for psychological destressing but the message has to be: “Work intensively during and immediately after the inspection and then take your Ofsted break.”

The grade descriptors

Of course there are no grade descriptors for this but let us just imagine what they would be so we can self-evaluate.

  • Outstanding: The school systematically uses the findings from inspection to address any weaknesses and build upon strengths and this has had a highly positive impact on provision and raising standards.

  • Good: The school builds the main findings into the improvement plan and this ensures it addresses the correct priorities.

  • Requires Improvement: Not yet good.

  • Inadequate: The school has not adequately addressed the key issues identified in the previous inspection, with the result that weaknesses persist and standards remain too low.

What do inspectors look for?

Since September 2015, the guidance for inspectors for all remits is contained in the Common Inspection Framework (CIF), while specific advice is in the separate handbooks. Self-evaluation and improvement planning are inspected as elements within leadership and management.

Inspectors must take into account the following guidance.

  • Common Inspection Framework

    • evaluate the quality of the provision and outcomes through robust self-assessment, taking account of users’ views, and use the findings to develop capacity for sustainable improvement.

  • Inspection Handbook

    • the rigour and accuracy of self-evaluation and how well it leads to planning that secures continual improvement

    • the effectiveness of the actions leaders take to secure and sustain improvements to teaching, learning and assessment, and how effectively governors hold them to account for this.

Schools are expected to evaluate using a wide-range of evidence and this would certainly include the previous inspection report. For example, a school would be severely criticised if it failed to address the key issues for improvement stated in the previous report. This evidence must be used to build up a comprehensive and accurate understanding of strengths and weaknesses. This detailed picture should then be the basis for all improvement work, including maintaining strengths.

Inspectors will start from the premise that the previous inspection report was an accurate statement of the strengths and weaknesses of the school at that point. Therefore, the report provides a firm foundation for the school’s own evaluations.

During the inspection

Inspection is a hectic process for inspectors and schools. Nevertheless, schools should ask for further explanation and evidence during as well as at the end of the inspection, and take notes. This is not only excellent professional development for staff as they understand the inspection methodology better, but it builds up a detailed knowledge of the complexity of the inspection judgments and evidence.

How often have schools said: “I am not quite sure what they meant by this statement in the report.” It may surprise teachers to know that the next team of inspectors ask such questions because the only information they have is the report itself. There is no secret evidence or transcript of the inspection.

So throughout the inspection, any staff that have any significant contact with inspectors should take brief notes and these should be compiled by the school leadership team (SLT). Although this should not be seen as a confrontational exercise, a Head who knows exactly how much lesson observation took place can have a far more informed discussion about the quality of teaching with the lead inspector.

This should continue especially during the feedback meeting. Ask for a full explanation of each judgment, including the causal links with standards, and ask for the evidence base. Have a professional note taker at the meeting and ask senior staff to also take notes, and ask questions, to supplement these notes. Senior staff should have copies of the evaluation schedule for their area of responsibility and highlight points, for example, within the grade descriptors.

After the inspection

These detailed notes should be compiled while waiting for the draft report. When the draft is available, the SLT should match the two versions with the aim of ensuring that the final report is as accurate as possible. If there are any factual inaccuracies, point these out with reference to your own inspection records.

Analyse and share the inspection findings

Use highlighter pens and other visual methods to dissect the final report. For example, highlight strengths and weaknesses in different colours throughout the report, not just the summary. Supplement the Ofsted judgments in the report with the notes taken during the inspection and feedback.

Using the evaluation schedule, highlight all judgmental statements against the grade descriptors. For example, match the following statement from a recent report.

  • Senior leaders are equally ambitious for continued improvement. They have ensured that the collection of information about students’ progress has become more frequent and more accurate.

Share this analysis with all staff and governors and remind them of the findings periodically. The aim should be for all staff to have the same understanding so that there is consistency of explanation to all partners and outsiders such as parents and the next inspection team. Remember the point that the next inspectors only have the report itself. All staff and governors should be able to say: “Inspectors explained this point and they meant …”

Make sure the weaknesses are clear and unvarnished but do not forget to keep the strengths in balance. One good way to do this is by sharing the results of the highlighting exercise described above. It should graphically show that strengths outweigh weaknesses.

Amend the Self-Evaluation Statement

After each inspection the self-evaluation statement (SES) should be amended so that it provides a new baseline for improvement. Use an introductory statement for each section such as:

“In our last inspection leadership and management was judged to be ‘good’ overall. In the report and through discussions and comments inspectors explained that … We have fully addressed the areas for improvement with the result that … In order to improve leadership and management further our priorities are …” This is a formulaic approach but it leaves nothing to chance and exemplifies how the school has taken the previous report very seriously. The formula is:

Ofsted judgment + school action = improved school.

Revise the School Improvement Plan

If the school has an accurate understanding of the priorities, revising the school improvement plan (SIP) should not be a problem. This does not mean taking the necessary action will be easy. Make sure you include the key issues very clearly because inspectors will check on them.