Whether you’re the headteacher at a primary school or principal at a sixth form college, the word “Ofsted” can plunge you into a stressful frenzy at a second’s notice. An Ofsted inspection can catch you off guard—after all, that’s the point! If schools and colleges were to have months of warning before an inspection, it would be impossible for the inspector to know whether they’re seeing a true representation of the day-to-day running of the school. Even so, it is possible to prepare for an Ofsted inspection in some ways and know what to expect, even if you can’t know when to expect it.
Ofsted during COVID-19 restrictions
Although it was the original plan to recommence Ofsted inspections during autumn and winter 2020 (‘interim visits’ and monitoring visits were reintroduced on 28th September), the second national lockdown made it inadvisable for inspectors to visit English schools in person, unless in the case of an emergency. Instead, Ofsted visits over November and December will be carried out remotely (as of 5th November). Full, in-person inspections are expected to begin again during January, but naturally, no plans can yet be set in stone.
With schools and colleges set to reopen from March 8th, Ofsted inspections are set to resume too. It’s wise to get prepared and be ready for a surge of Ofsted inspections when lockdown restrictions are once again lifted. That’s where our preparation tips come in!
1. First impressions count
When Ofsted inspection day comes, your inspector will probably start making judgements about your school or college the moment they walk through the door. They may even get an idea of what they expect your grade to be from this fleeting first impression. One inspector disclosed: “I’ve walked into a lot of schools, 4-6 a week, and I get to see the differences that let me judge, quickly and pretty accurately, where a school is. Your school is giving out these messages without realising it.”
You may not have the need or budget to redecorate your entire building, but be sure that it is clean, tidy and welcoming, as a positive first impression really does go a long way.
2. Websites do wonders
Before ever stepping foot in your school or college, an inspector will get a feel of your educational institution via your website—this is another case of building good first impressions! Be sure that your website is up to date, easy to use, and meets all of the statutory requirements. This is also an important tool for your staff, your students, their parents, and potential families considering your institution, so make sure it’s up to scratch.
3. Read up!
Even though you can’t know when Ofsted will pay you a visit, you can know what to expect. By having a thorough read of the framework for Ofsted inspections and staying up to date with the procedures (the current framework was only introduced in the 2019/20 academic year), you will do yourself a huge favour. As the old saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail!
4. Inspect your provision
One of the best ways to prepare for an Ofsted inspection is to inspect your provision and make some clear and objective judgements about what you could improve upon. Try your best to keep bias and emotion out of it, you need to be honest to yourself about what is working well or where there is room for improvement.
5. Get on the same page
Make sure that you and your staff are always on the same page and that you’re listening to them and seeking areas for improvement together. You won’t know when an inspection is coming, so it would be wise to conduct regular training sessions and meetings. In these training sessions, ensure that each member of staff feels confident in answering any questions that an Ofsted inspector could throw at them—contradictory answers from different members of staff is always an Ofsted red flag!
6. Prepare for multiple visits
If your organisation offers various education offers (such as day cares or nurseries), you will have to prepare for separate Ofsted evaluations. For example, a day care inspection would be conducted completely separately to an adjoining college Ofsted report, so the outcomes could be very different.
7. Have records to hand
Good organisation will go a long way when it comes to your Ofsted report, and having any relevant records or paperwork to hand will give off a great impression, not to mention it will hurry up the process. Potential items of paperwork you might need during the report include:
- records of accidents, exclusions, children taken off roll
- incidents of poor behaviour (if applicable)
- incidents of discriminatory behaviour, including racist incidents
- complaints policies and records
- safeguarding/child protection policies – records of safeguarding incidents and referrals if applicable and details of children subject to social care/children’s services intervention/support/multi-agency plans
- statutory policies relating to health and safety.
8. Be honest
Honesty is always important during an inspection — if something hasn’t gone your way, it’s always better to admit it than attempt to pull the wool over the inspector’s eyes and be found out later.
9. Push for positivity
After your inspection has been and gone, you will receive a draft letter or report (this should usually arrive within a week or so) If there’s anything within the draft that you don’t feel was representative of the inspection, it’s always worth politely querying it. For example, if the inspector declared something to be ‘outstanding’ during the visit then has since apparently downgraded the ranking to ‘excellent’ it is worth asking why. There’s a chance that it was an error after all.
10. Don’t panic!
Last but most certainly not least: try not to panic. Of course, you care about your institution and above all else you want your report to reflect the hard work that you put in, but rest assured, your work and dedication is sure to sign through! As long as your focus on running the school or college that will get the best results for your students, rather than jumping through hoops for the sake of Ofsted, the report is sure to reflect your success.
Once in-person Ofsted visits are back up and running again, you’ll be as prepared as you possibly can be. Until then, good luck!