Monday, 2 February 2015

What to do after Ofsted?

I've taken longer than initially planned to write this first post, a post that was going to be about ICT and writing. However, there are some things that you have to get off your chest.

In the run up to the tinsel and hoop crazed period that consumes all primary schools in December, we got the call; Ofsted. It came as no surprise, we were ready; as ready as could be any way. We'd been anticipating a visit after our conversion to academy status in the previous academic year.

Needless to say we wanted the call to come, enjoying a Christmas holiday, without the uncertainty of an impending visit from the judges without wigs, was something that all staff and stakeholders in the school were looking forward to.

The inspection was a resounding success; a tribute and testament to the hard work and enthusiasm that every individual at the school puts into every session of everyday. One thing that I look back on from the inspection is a question asked during the feedback from an observation: "Why, in your opinion, have you (the school) made rapid progress?"

It didn't take long to answer, "As an academy we are free to take risks, we're not shackled by LEA policies or directives. Our CPD encourages us to improve as individuals through reflective practice that directly impacts on the school development objectives, we're encouraged to take risks and share good practice with others."

The lead inspector seemed, quite satisfied with the response, lots of ink was added to the paper, adorning the clipboard, precariously perched on the desk. It was refreshing to hear that this response, or similar to it, had been echoed from other members of staff during the inspection.

The other question that remains fully rooted in my mind didn't come from the Ofsted team. It came from the attendant on the desk at the local swimming pool. The first morning of the inspection and my class are meeting me at the pool for registration. I arrived slightly earlier than usual, and approached the desk to be met with:

"Good morning, are you aware that we will be closing the top section of the pool this morning? A dive team are arriving...." 

There was a dropped beat in my chest, my thoughts turned to the idea of a inspector arriving at any moment, and the endless amount of possibilities of problems that could arise if an observation occurred under such circumstances - not to mention the knock on effects and stress that such an event would cause for the other classes within my team who would be swimming throughout the morning. The pool management team were very understanding, and the dive team were quickly rescheduled to have no impact on the swim sessions.

We needed the Ofsted team to see how much progress we had made again. To see how far we had come. This small event on the first morning of the inspection gave perspective and a reminder to how quickly things could change.

I joined the school as a new member to the Senior Leadership Team in September 2012, it was a move into a school twice the size as my previous and with many different challenges. It was my first leadership post, one I was excited to start. Transition and change go hand in hand, but one thing that had remained constant at the school from day one of my appointment was the possibility of an Ofsted visit at any time. Sure enough I experienced my first Ofsted as part of the Senior Leadership Team in early November 2012, a true baptism of fire. This Ofsted was a real battle, late night paper chasing, data analysis and troop rallying. We were all relieved to emerge from that inspection; relieved and disappointed.

The school had gone through a rapid period of change. Many of the systems and structures that formed the basis of teaching and learning in the school were under review or had only recently been implemented. Nevertheless, the staff were determined. There was, and still is, a strong family and team ethos, everyone wanted to show how much progress we, as a school, were making. However, at that time the inspection team couldn't see an established trend in the data. New systems and strategies hadn't had time to demonstrate measurable progress in standardised assessments (how will Ofsted manage without levels Mr Gove?).

Conversion to an academy in January 2013 was one of the first stepping stones forward as an establishment from the 2012 inspection. In a short period the general mindset within the school changed, we began to take more risks. We offered an ever growing and richer curriculum. We were confident that we were on the right road. We could see the positive impact our curriculum was having on our pupils. We also knew that another Ofsted inspection was going to happen at any moment. This ominous looming was a feeling that we continued to feel, for another twenty two months; until now.

Now that feeling isn't there, there's a different feeling. I'm just not sure what to call it yet. What to do when you have been judged as 'Outstanding'... We've had more phone calls, emails and tweets wanting to hear how we did it, what can we share? People asking what next?

For me, the next steps at the moment are:

- Continue to take risks, learn from the mistakes, share them as well as the successes.
- Continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with others.
- Share steps and progress on this blog, seek feedback, criticism and support with next steps.


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