You know that week in schools when there is a widely held belief that Ofsted will not come, the last week of a term? Well don’t believe it, because they very definitely do!
Regular readers of my blog will know that it had been a long and arduous half term for one reason or another. We had suffered the death of a much loved pupil which put an enormous strain on the school. Just as we had come to terms with that our Head teacher’s father became ill and then sadly died. Quite naturally our Head teacher was visibly shaken by the awful news and made immediate plans to go to Scotland for the funeral. The funeral and memorial service were to last 2 days and the drive was to take 7 hours each way. A gruelling trip by anyone’s standards.
Our SLT consists of our HT and myself and another AHT, Joanne. We don’t have a Deputy and Joanne and I share that work load. It’s a good system and we 3 girls work well together. It’s a whole lot of work for 3 people even for a small school but it works. We agreed that we were unlikely to receive Ofsted as it was the last week before the Easter holidays. We waved her off on the Friday.
Monday at noon, the phone rang! Bang on time the inspector called. No HT in place, she was 7 hours away with no possibility of a return. Joanne and I had to run the show. Did we panic? Did we stress a little? You bet we did! We were defending a two times Outstanding status with our newly appointed HT (previously our DHT) off the premises. The previous Head had been in place for 23 years and was much loved. A hard act to follow. Joanne and I are also new to Assistant Head post and had certainly never done Ofsted in such a senior position. The pressure we felt was indescribable. We didn’t want to let our Head down after all her hard work, we didn’t want to let our diligent teachers and TAs down, but most of all our children. We certainly didn’t want to let them down.
We asked about the possibility of a deferment. The answer was no. A school should run smoothly without its Head teacher, True enough, but that doesn’t cover running an inspection with high stakes to play for. The level of responsibility was weighing heavily on Joanne and I. But we had no choice. We had to go for it. We reasoned that our HT had been working closely with us and had taught us, guided us, and advised us. Surely we could do this or else her efforts had been wasted. So we took the bull by the horns and concentrated our efforts on a successful Ofsted. He was to arrive at 8 15 on April Fool’s Day. Let me tell you now it was no joke!
We telephoned our LA to inform them of the situation and within 15 minutes our School Improvement lady arrived. She had been working with our school recently and knows how we operate. She wasn’t able to take the place of our HT but she was there for support and to instil confidence. We are jolly grateful to her. She stayed by our side throughout the whole inspection and was a fabulous person to have on board.
Day one arrived and Joanne and I sat and chatted to the inspector for an hour at least. We discussed everything you can think of. We chatted about behaviour, CPD, lesson observations, middle leaders, senior leaders, SDP and the all important SEF. We discussed the last inspection and talked through the action plan arising from it. We wondered if we were doing it correctly. We had no idea. We just had to follow our instincts and work to the highest standard we could. A timetable for observations was established and the inspector set off on his travels around the school. All we could do was keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.
Our Head was beside herself during the day. She felt that she should have been there but clearly couldn’t be. She texted and emailed and rang us regularly. Despite the distance between us and the circumstances of her father’s funeral she couldn’t have been more supportive. I am quite sure that on occasions she actually read my mind from all those miles away! I began to text or email a question and the answer would arrive before I had posted the message. Joanne and I presented as a fantastic double act. We knew our own areas, some questions were Joanne’s remit and some were mine, but all questions were answered to the best of our ability.
During the day the inspector asked for several pieces of information. Our HT had her files all perfectly set out and labelled for easy retrieval of information. Every credit to her. We were swiftly able to lay our hands on lesson observations, CPD, policies and anything you can think of. This was very reassuring for us as time went on.
Every single teacher and Teaching Assistant rose to the challenge. Every person did over and above what was expected of them. We have a hard working team and it was difficult to see how they could move up a gear but they did. It is fair to say that we ran a normal day but we sharpened our timings. Break possibly finished a minute or two early to ensure a prompt start to the next lesson. Other than that we didn’t change anything. We did what we always do. We followed our HT’s philosophy of ‘Inspire, Challenge and Believe’ and it showed. She might not have been physically with us but she was there in spirit.
I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of the 2 days I will just tell you how the inspection went. The inspector was completely up to date with current Ofsted guidelines. This was a relief to us. Lessons observed were not graded individually, but feedback was given to Joanne and myself. Evidence for progress over time was triangulated with the observation, book scrutiny and data rather than showing evidence of progress within a lesson. The inspector spoke to many children and gauged their views and he consulted Parent View. One parent had asked to speak to the inspector and he was happy to ring her. I’m pleased to say she sang our praises. He went outside at break and observed how the children interacted with each other and spoke to some of the student council. He spent an hour talking to me about data. How was I showing progress for our very poorly children? How was I sure our teachers had high expectations for all children including those on low P Levels? How was I bench marking them nationally? Did we moderate externally? I was drained after that conversation but I also felt that our school had just proved how robust our assessment system actually is. Joanne was similarly grilled on her role within the 6 th form and about Enterprise. She also experienced a long interview and had the chance to explain all about the many external accreditations taken by our young people. All in all day one was exhausting.
Day two began with a chat about subject leadership, coaching, peer mentoring, in house observations, Teaching School and much more. No stone was left unturned. Some things had changed from the last inspection. There was no chat with subject leaders about their role. If there is a problem with subject leadership it is the fault of SLT, we should have spotted it. This is now true for most things, SLT are directly accountable. The only people who were interviewed were Joanne and I, two governors and our office manager. The governors are extremely dedicated and at the top of their game I’m happy to say. The office manager knows her stuff about safeguarding and the single central register and was happy to prove it. So far so good!
Our Head was hoping to be back for the final feedback, scheduled for one o’clock. While nervously waiting for her to return I stood in the dinning hall with the inspector. He wasn’t observing by this time, we were just chatting. The children were curious and chatted to him like he was a friend. They showed him how they help each other at all times, able bodied supporting poorly children. It was actually rather lovely. But where was our Head? She had set off hours ago! It turns out she’d suffered a puncture. She’s never had a puncture before at all. She wasn’t meant to be there. I’m quite convinced if it.
We made a decision to receive the final feedback without her. He began with the words ‘This is an outstanding school’. I’m not entirely sure what he said for the next minute or two as the sense of relief I felt took over. My mouth was dry and I was close to tears. We had done it! We had achieved our outstanding and we knew our Head would be proud of us. All areas of the school were mentioned, the cleaning, the admin, the dining hall, TAs, teachers and a special mention for the leadership team. The inspector said it was a strength of the school that we felt empowered and confident to do an inspection without our HT. But that’s how much she has guided and supported us. I have never before seen a school described as ‘stunning’ and I’m proud to be associated with that description of a school. Every credit to our Head teacher. She has guided our school community towards a successful outstanding Ofsted. Everyone in school played a part. We have created this ‘stunning’ school for the children, they deserve nothing but the best and we hope that’s what they have.
All in all it was a fair and thorough inspection. The inspector was approachable and that helped. Don’t misunderstand, we knew we had been inspected. Every aspect of my school was scrutinised. It feels good now though. We knew we were an outstanding school, we just had to prove it and we did. It was almost enjoyable. I say almost because I don’t want to repeat it in a hurry.
On a personal note I had support from @Mishwood1. I sent her a panic stricken DM as soon as I knew he was coming and she immediately sent her mobile and home phone number with the instruction to ring if I needed her. Thank you Mary. That level of support is invaluable.
Lastly, in my school we run a football card each week and the winner is announced on Monday mornings at a school briefing. It’s a lovely start to the week and someone ends up with £40 to spend. That week our Head teacher won the card. By Wednesday tea time when she finally arrived back at school she must have felt like she had won the lottery rather than the football card.