Personally I don’t think Ofsted should be back to full inspections at the moment - we are in the process of recovering from the greatest crisis to hit schools since WWII and some compassion around that would be appreciated. However, we are where we are.
My main takeaway from participating in three inspections using the 2019 Inspection Handbook is that whilst the focus is most certainly the quality of education as seen in curriculum intent, implementation and impact, there is still a very welcome meta narrative that is infused throughout the inspection process. It seems to me that this narrative is best summed up in the questions … Do you care about your pupils? and Are you passionate about their learning?
Do you care?
Of course that question is never explicitly asked. No inspector ever asked a head of Science - do you care about these pupils? Do you care about your subject? Do you care about your departmental staff? But a quick skim-read of recent Ofsted inspection reports will uncover statements like;
A caring culture permeates the school. Pupils feel cared for by staff. Staff feel that leaders care about their well-being;
There are warm relationships between staff and pupils and wide-ranging support services;
Heads of department are enthusiastic and passionate about their subjects;
One pupil told inspectors that teachers at this school ‘make you feel good about yourself’.
Ofsted feel it’s important that we care. And that is important, crucial in fact. It speaks to the culture of a school, the atmosphere, the feel that a school permeates from the welcome on reception, to the way in which school leaders speak about their pupils, to the way in which classroom delivery suggests that teachers and support staff care, to the way in which the site is maintained. All of these things can shout we care about our pupils.
So our first goal in securing a successful Ofsted outcome is convincing the team that at every turn they are going to find a school that cares.
Are you passionate?
The second strand to the meta narrative is the idea that at every turn inspectors will find a school that is passionate about pupils’ learning. The word passionate is much overused nowadays (reference frequent comments on Dragon’s Den such as I’m passionate about cupcakes). We really have something to be passionate about - inspiring pupils to thrive in life. That means that we go to great lengths to ensure that those who fall behind, catch up. Those subjects that are weakest receive support. Those pupils without access to a chromebook for homeworking, get one. That those who have had a difficult start in life are supported to overcome their barriers to learning.
Such passion manifests itself in a real sense of moral purpose and a belief in what we do, to the point that we wouldn’t sleep unless we had told every inspector about all that we do to enable pupils to succeed, to thrive in life, to the point that we schedule as many meetings as we can with the team to ram home the fact that we are driven to deliver something that really matters.
Curriculum? Outcomes? Safeguarding? Attendance? I would argue that they are all vitally important - and if they are motivated to be delivered with care and passion the inspection result will be good at worst.