From Inadequate to ‘Ofsted Outstanding’, how to deal with an inspection  – from getting the call, to the day of the report. From TES Award Winner and Headteacher of an Outstanding school, Chris Dyson.

Three years ago, Parklands Leeds Primary was rated ‘Inadequate’ by their local authority. Between 2013-14 they had five different Headteachers. Staff didn’t know whether they were coming or going. In the current Headteacher’s words, ‘it was a warzone’.

This is a blow by blow account of their latest inspection, and how they received an Outstanding award from Ofsted. Straight from the Headteacher himself, Chris Dyson.

Read below to find out:

How to prepare for an Ofsted inspection?
What Ofsted were looking for on the day
A breakdown of the two day inspection
Why we should work with Ofsted

How to prepare for an Ofsted inspection

There’s a million ways to start flustering yourself when Ofsted come knocking. For me, it’s a case of breathe, relax, and take these steps to prepare (if you’re haven’t already!)

  1. First thing, update your website! Two weeks before you get the call, the inspector has probably looked at your website. It’s such a small thing to do, but it makes a great first impression.
  2. The next thing I would suggest is to get a handle on your RAISEonline data (now ASP). Remember, RAISE/ASP only shows where pupils are at currently, it doesn’t show the progress they made to get there. So prepare your RAISE/ASP data in a way that demonstrates progress made. This is what they’re really looking for: progress, not attainment.
  3. Also, if you’re thinking long term preparation, you need to make sure your staff are used to having visitors. Then they won’t feel intimidated on the day. Of course, don’t drop in on everyone all the time, but make sure you do it frequently enough that staff are ‘comfortable’ being observed.
  4. You also need to really take stock of your school’s’ strengths and weaknesses. You can’t fool Ofsted, but you can turn what might be perceived as a weakness, into a strength.
  5. Make sure all SLT are very familiar with your SEF. Ofsted will ask senior staff the same questions that they ask the Headteacher, and you should all be reading from the same hymn sheet. In our school, SLT and I work on everything together, then we give a ‘watered down’ version to teachers, as they have enough on.
  6. For SENCO, remember you don’t need to show that attainment is as good as all the other pupils. It won’t be. You just need to be able to show that progress is made and that it is good.
  7. Another thing I think is really worth bearing in mind is wellbeing. It’s more important than Ofsted. And they know that, they pick up on it.
  8. Finally, make sure everyone is on the same page and following the same path. Ofsted check everything is truthful by asking the same questions to SLT and then class teachers. Be

    honest, be clear, and be confident.

What did the Ofsted inspector look for during the inspection?

From what I experienced, Ofsted predominantly looked at 5 key things:

  1. First and foremost, they want to see excellent child protection and safeguarding policies. Child safety is number one.
  2. They also wanted to see a clear marking and feedback policy. They’re not hugely interested in what this is, they just want to see that it is consistent across your school.
  3. Then they want to see your behaviour policy.
  4. A big one they look at is the School Evaluation Form (SEF). Some people do it once a year, I do mine as a working document. So if the call ever comes, it reflects the exact position the school is in now.
  5. Of course, Ofsted also want to see your School Improvement Plan (SIP) and – equally – how it is shared with staff. In our school, senior leaders need to know the ins and outs of the SIP. However, other staff just get an overview – I don’t want to waste their time on hundreds of pages. Beyond SLT, staff just need to understand the key priorities for that term, and year, so they know what we’re aiming at. They don’t need to know what is on page four of the plan.

Generally, I don’t have ‘Ofsted’ files, because everything is up to date. I even sent them our new ASP data (generated from using my own prospective online data) to show how our results Outstanding results last year were matched by the results this year.

People say don’t do it for Ofsted, but really you’re doing it for your school. As a Headteacher, I need to know where the gaps are so we can get better. Simple.

Ofsted are highly intelligent, they’ve been Outstanding leaders themselves. Frankly, they know what is Outstanding and they know what is baloney.

A breakdown of a two day inspection

I’m probably the only Headteacher who wanted a two day inspection in the country! But we have high aspirations in this school. Our KS2 progress scores are the best in the country.

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Given that we’re the most deprived primary school in Leeds, that’s a testament to the fact deprivation doesn’t have to be a barrier to learning.

I believe a lot of our success rests on hard work and high aspirations for pupils. As such, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t have high aspirations for myself and staff. So that’s why I wanted a two day inspection, we were determined to get that Outstanding.

First point of contact: Getting ‘the call’

Well, for starters, when the phone call came (September 11th) it felt like the best day ever. I was flying drones with the Year 2 class and my radio started blaring, “has anyone seen Chris?! Ofsted are on the phone!”

Now I had prepared for this. I’d read Paul Garvy’s ‘Taking Control: How to Prepare Your School for Ofsted Inspection’ (which I highly recommend reading).

His book explains that the inspectors fill out a form based on what your first reaction is like, so I went in over the top with confidence.

I was so busy explaining that I’d been looking forward to this call for three years and showcasing all the great stuff we do that the inspector actually told me to slow down!

The initial call turned out to just be all of the simple stuff: how many pupils do you have on role, etc. After that data was sent, the chief inspector rang me back and we set up the inspection.

We were so ready – the classroom walls over the summer were re-vamped. They were so interactive, and inspiring. The classrooms looked brilliant! Then we waited…

'Kensuke's Kingdom' corner at Parklands Leeds Primary School
‘Kensuke’s Kingdom’ corner at Parklands Leeds Primary School

Ofsted inspection: Day 1

The inspector came in the morning, at one minute to eight. I gave them a huge welcome (no hug…not until day two!) Initially she wanted to know about our background and to understand where the school is at now vs where it was before.

Then they looked at safeguarding (this is always the first thing they look at properly). They looked at our single register, our safeguarding policies, and our child protection files. Simply to check everything is up to date and accurate.

Note: If you fail child protection, you’re automatically placed into inadequate. Child protection is – and has to be – number one. If a child is not safe, your school is not fit for purpose.

Next, they picked a few random members of staff to check references, safer recruitment, and to have a chat. That took us to quarter to ten.

Over that day, we worked with Ofsted from 8am – 6pm, solid. For me, the main focus was to take the pressure off all my teachers, I bought pizzas and put on big smiles.

After all, the inspectors are coming to see senior leaders run a school. They’re not coming to assess lessons. So if your lesson goes pear shaped because the tech doesn’t work – it won’t affect the grade in any way, don’t worry!

Though there’s no denying an Ofsted inspection can be stressful, overall we tried to treat it the same as any other day. Except it was a day that gave us the chance to showcase the brilliant things we’ve done in our school.

For more on why you shouldn’t formally observe lessons (hint: Ofsted don’t either!) read ‘Why I Ditched Lesson Observations – Clare Sealy‘.

Ofsted inspection: Day 2

Day 2 was one of the hardest days my school has had. Senior leaders and myself worked from 8am to 9pm, and spent a lot of time sat thinking “when does Ofsted need to see us next”. It would be patronising to pretend it wasn’t a stressful experience.

That being said, day two followed in the same vein as day one. Albeit with heavy scrutiny of our data.

For instance, in our SEF form, I put us down for a ‘2’ for teaching quality. I did this because I hadn’t seen the 6 maternity cover teachers actually teach. The Ofsted inspector immediately noted that I would need a 1 here to get Outstanding (as she knew we were aiming for this).

She said I would need to update this on the stop to have any chance, and that I’d been to hard on our school. They then considered the 2 an ‘end of last term’ score (as we were inspected on the first day of Autumn term). The 1 then became our start of term score.

So while there was very heavy scrutiny, Ofsted did really listen and try to understand the context of our data.

By the end of the day the inspector sat down with my on a sofa and said:

‘Listen, there’s just your books left to look at. And I’m going to be honest with you…I’d love for you to be Outstanding, but we’re not quite sure you are. We just need to see your books now, then we’ll make the decision’.

We then had a Science meeting and looked at our books, then an English meeting, then a Maths meeting, and so on. I genuinely believe it was the power of those books that pushed us into Outstanding. They loved them.

An example of the work completed by a pupil at Parklands Leeds Primary School
An example of the work completed by a pupil at Parklands Leeds Primary School

Of course, all Ofsted inspections are different so that won’t be the same for everyone, but they looked at ours intently.

For a brilliant read on how to implement a minimal marking system, read this blog from Clare Sealy.

Why Ofsted loved our books

This is an easy one. Every single book showed three things: consistency, sensible marking and progression. They could clearly see from our books the progression made by pupils.

Age related expectations were in there, feedback from learning (or notes that verbal feedback was given). Year 1, 3, and 5 all looked showed different levels of learning despite covering the same topics. Which is what they should show!

Plus, we didn’t just take in our best three, we took the entire lot in. Then, because of our honesty, they let us choose our best three.

I really think that if you try to hide anything, they will find out. Think about it, if you’re an inspector you most want to see the things people don’t want to show you.

Why we should work with Ofsted

Obviously Ofsted are a divisive subject. But really, my view of Ofsted is that we simply got to work with them. I’ve always had really positive experiences with them as a teacher, leader, Deputy Head and now Headteacher.

That’s because, in all my experiences with them, I take away the positives. They’re not outside eyes here to crucify you, instead they’re here to tell you where to go next. I try to see it as free CPD.

I know people have had negative experiences with them, but I bet there’s very few schools who think they are Outstanding and end up RI. That would show you don’t know your school.

Three years ago, I know we would have gotten inadequate. I also knew the reasons for that and we worked on them together as a school.

The biggest piece of advice on Ofsted I can give to anyone would be: it’s not us and them. When you’re inspected, answer everything in an honest way. If you don’t know anything, go and find out the answer. You can’t give them baloney.

Honestly, Ofsted is the best CPD for me as a Headteacher. We expect our pupils to stretch and push themselves every day. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t expect the same for myself and my staff. Treat it like any other (albeit more stressful!) day, and do what you do best. Teach.

Liked this? Read more on school leadership issues in our blog: Confessions of a Primary School Headteacher – The Secret to School Leadership.

Chris Dyson , Parklands Leeds Primary School , Headteacher

Chris is the Headteacher of the 'best school in the world', and is a big believer in the power of wellbeing. He occasionally writes for Third Space, and contributes to our Masterclass Webinar series.