The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Getting to grips with Ofsted inspection

Love it (and some do) or hate it, Ofsted inspection is a feature of the landscape in the world of education. With a new Ofsted framework due to take effect from September 2015 Optimus expert, Elizabeth Holmes, caught up with Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Schools, to find out exactly how an Ofsted inspection might best be approached. What could we accomplish if we knew we could not fail? Eleanor Roosevelt

We often hear about an impending inspection being used as an excuse for focusing a school on what it thinks Ofsted wants to see. How would you like schools to approach an Ofsted inspection?

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Schools Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Schools


Put simply, the best leaders and practitioners do not ask themselves, ‘What do I need to do to get a good Ofsted judgement?' or 'How should I prepare for an Ofsted inspection?’ Rather, they think about what they need to do to ensure that every child or young person in their school or college gets a decent education and the chance to fulfil their potential. At Ofsted, we were determined to dispel some fairly common misunderstandings of what we expect when inspecting a school or college and we were keen to curb unnecessary workload pressures on teachers. Therefore, I would urge teachers to read ‘Ofsted mythbusting’: dispelling the rumours around inspection.

We absolutely do not grade the quality of teaching or pupil outcomes in individual lessons

This short document contains simple facts such as how we do not require schools to show us individual or previous lesson plans; details of the pay grade of individual teachers; or evidence for inspection beyond that is set out in the inspection handbook. Contrary to some rumours, we don’t expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. We also don’t expect the performance and pupil-tracking data and school or college self-evaluations to be presented in a specific format; they should be as used by the school or college. And something we’ve often mentioned, but I’ll repeat, we absolutely do not grade the quality of teaching or pupil outcomes in individual lessons.

That’s very helpful. So, we know what to do when Ofsted is blamed for increases in workload.

Leadership teams that need to justify their practices around marking, pupil feedback and lesson planning, observation and grading should do this on their own merits. They should not be citing Ofsted as the reason for doing these things.

What do you think is the best way for a teacher to view inspection?

We do not want teachers to prepare for inspection. We cannot stress this often enough. Teachers should teach as they do every day. We are not expecting anything different from what normally happens on a school day.

I have often found an inspection to be a great opportunity for professional development, even if a little stressful.

Granted inspection can be a stressful experience. I know this because as a former teacher I have been through it myself many times, but it can also be a very insightful process that helps schools improve.

8 out of 10 headteachers find inspection helped them to improve by providing an accurate analysis of their strengths and weaknesses

Teachers and school leaders should approach inspection with less fear; inspectors are not there to catch you out. We want to have an open and honest dialogue with schools, ensuring that the school understands where it is at, highlighting what it is doing well and where it can improve. Inspections help to drive improvement. Our survey of schools after they have experienced inspection shows that 8 out of 10 headteachers find inspection helped them to improve by providing an accurate analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. And the vast majority of school leaders (98%) say that they will use the inspection recommendations to move the school and teaching forward.

The potential for development through inspection is clearly very great. Perhaps this is a feature of inspection that we really shouldn’t ignore.

As this comment from a new headteacher shows, inspection can give the confidence needed to secure improvement: ‘As a new headteacher, the inspection was very helpful to confirm that the impact and actions put in place were the correct path. Inspectors gave confidence to the leadership team that we were taking effective action and validated our judgements, evidence and improvement plans. Inspectors discussed inspection openly and gave feedback along the way to provide challenge and reassurance to a new leadership team.’

Further reading

Ensure you and your team are prepared for an Ofsted inspection with the following resources:

Having trouble accessing the resources above? Why not find out how Optimus supports schools with their CPD provision and request a demo of In-House Training and Knowledge Centre or take a free trial.


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