Holte Visual and Performing Arts College, in the Lozells area of Birmingham, was judged to be ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted in one of the early inspections under the new framework in September 2012.
Emma Johnson, KS3 & KS4 School Improvement Manager from Holte, took the opportunity to refelct on her recent Ofsted experience and share some of her thoughts with middle leaders at the Teaching Leaders event: ‘The new Ofsted framework: a perspective for middle leaders’. Here she shares her thoughts further across the TL network…
The main part of the event was facilitated by Simon Blackburn, our Teaching Leaders Development Coach and also a Lead Ofsted Inspector. It was interesting to hear what happens in the run-up to your school receiving ‘the call’, and before the inspection team descend – and good to know the work the inspectors are putting in while we nervously await their arrival!
“What’s the impact? How do you know?”
Many elements of the new framework are becoming familiar: satisfactory no longer exists, and, as Simon put it, “progress is king”.
The focus of this evening, though, was specifically on what Ofsted are looking for from middle leaders. Many of Simon’s key points resonated with our experience, particularly the focus on evidence. Whether we were talking about middle leaders monitoring the quality of teaching & learning in our departments, or discussion the CPD undertaken in our departments, Simon repeatedly emphasised two key questions: “What’s the impact?” and “How do you know?”.
In our case, at the mid-point in our inspection, our Head delegated the task of presenting key evidence on several aspects of the school’s work on a single side of A4, that she could present to the inspection team in an easily-digestible format. It was an achievable way of making sure that a judgement wouldn’t be made simply because we hadn’t been able to share the most relevant evidence with the inspectors.
“We should work towards being outstanding for ourselves and our pupils”
In the Q and A session that followed, we were asked about life after Ofsted, and in particular about how we individually and Holte in general have kept the motivation levels up having achieved our ‘Outstanding’. The short answer is that our school’s leadership have a relentless focus on continued improvement, and keep us on our toes. And of course, we all recognise that there is still plenty of room for developing even further, and we keep on pushing for those improvements for our students.
That question brought about a really great reflection from Feroz about the Ofsted obsession that can set in for all of us at times. He said “We shouldn’t be working towards Ofsted’s grading of ‘Outstanding’, but should be working towards being outstanding for ourselves and for our pupils. We should already have that pride, and not be waiting for the Ofsted outcome to feel that pride.”
That took me back to our discussions earlier in the session around what you do, as a middle leader, the day before an inspection. Of course, you prepare, you talk to your team, you support where it’s needed, but what also came through loud and clear in the conversations was: you don’t change your plans. As Simon put it, those plans were based on your professional judgement, on the scheme of work that your students are engaged in, and on the progress they need to make during the lesson. You should stand by that professional judgement – and if you’re working to be outstanding for yourself and your pupils as Feroz put it, why on earth wouldn’t you be proud to carry on as normal?
“Your chance to ‘sell your school’!”
We also discussed the fact that Ofsted look to middle leaders for consistency of vision, and that their departments’ improvement plans are closely aligned with that of the school. In our case, our Head was confident enough in all of our school’s staff to share this consistently that she invited anyone to spend time talking to the inspection team. This level of trust enabled colleagues to feel able to show the inspectors aspects of the school that they might otherwise have missed. As Feroz, a former pupil of Holte, put it, “If you get the chance to ‘sell you school’, take it!”.
A final thought… On one of Simon’s slides, he picked out words that his fellow inspectors use to describe the best middle leadership. Amongst them were highly effective, rigorous, reflective, high expectations, accountability, inspirational, unswervingly ambitious, consistency, vision, relentless. In fact, it’s all the things that Teaching Leaders Fellows across the country model day in, day out.
This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.