When your school receives ‘the call’ from Ofsted, it’s easy to start racing at 100mph. Many school leaders tell us that they feel overwhelmed with how much needs to be prepared in less than 24 hours.
With so much information out there – the school inspection handbook alone is 80-pages long – you might feel you don’t have time to do all the research you need in order to feel ready for an inspection, so it’s worth knowing this document well.
So, here we have broken down just how much information you will need to have to hand. We’ve created a handy checklist to review what you already have, plus anything you might be missing.
Before Ofsted even contacts you about their visit, they will have started to gather information. Making sure public-facing facts and figures about your school are updated regularly is good practice and will allow you to feel confident that inspectors are reviewing the right information when the time comes.
Chris Dyson, Headteacher of Parklands Leeds Primary, advises schools to ensure that their website is always up to date:
"First thing, update your website! Two weeks before you get the call, the inspector has probably looked at your website. It’s such a small thing to do, but it makes a great first impression."
The lead inspector will prepare for the inspection by gaining an overview of the school’s recent performance and any changes since the last inspection. The more transparent you are with information ahead of their inspection, the more trust will be built before they even set foot in your school. It will also help to avoid any delays or confusion, and there will be fewer documents to prepare on the day.
Information Ofsted will be looking at prior to your inspection
1. The previous inspection report
2. The findings of any recent Ofsted survey and/or monitoring letters
3. Responses from Parent View, Ofsted's online survey available for parents
4. Issues raised by, or findings from, the investigation of any qualifying complaints about the school
5. Information available from the provider information portal (PIP), including any warning notices issued
6. The executive summary and areas for development of the most recent Ofsted inspection report on the relevant local authority’s child protection arrangements.
Which documents do you currently have?:
Information that should be on the school’s website
7. Current government requirements for maintained schools and academy funding agreements and non-statutory guidance, including:
8. Information from the inspection data summary report (IDSR)
9. The ’Analyse school performance’ (ASP), including attendance and exclusions
10. The Level 3 Value Added (L3VA) report
11. Any other information publicly available or available from relevant stakeholders, such as your regional schools commissioner (RSC), local authorities, the Department for Education (DfE) and the police.
Ofsted will normally contact your school by phone to announce the inspection during the afternoon of the working day beforehand. During the initial notification phone call, the inspection support administrator will check a few basic facts about your school. These include:
This call will usually go straight to the headteacher, but if they are unavailable, Ofsted will ask to speak to the most senior member of staff available – so make sure your deputy and assistant headteachers are prepared to answer these preliminary questions.
Once this call is finished, Ofsted will send confirmation to the school by email, which is followed by the lead inspector contacting the headteacher by phone to ask more in-depth questions.
Nigel Whittle, a secondary school headteacher, sees this call as an opportunity to start the process on the right foot:
"The initial pre-inspection telephone call with the lead inspector is essential. It is your opportunity to begin building a frank and open relationship with the lead in a way that provides them with reassurance that you know your school, the journey it is on and that you are on top of all of the detail."
This conversation is usually quite short and focused, despite the list below appearing long. As a school leader, you’ll already have this information, but keeping it in one place will make the process feel easier – fix your roof while the sun is shining!
The lead inspector will ask a series of questions – which ones could you answer/act upon if the call came today?:
1. Could you inform parents of the inspection and inform them that Parent View is the main vehicle for gathering their views?
2. Could you issue Ofsted’s letter to parents containing the link to Parent View, both electronically and a paper copy sent home via pupils?
3. Do you have a special educational needs resource bases?
4. Does the school have any pupils who attend off-site alternative provision, either full-time or part-time?
5. What is the registration status of any alternative providers that you use?
6. Are there any off-site units that cater for pupils with behaviour or attendance difficulties, either run by your school or in partnership with other schools?
7. What is the number of pupils and the range of the needs catered for by the specially resourced provision?
8. What are these pupils’ timetables, and when they are taught within mainstream classes (with and without support)?
9. When do these pupils receive specialist support in separate resourced provision?
10. What type(s) of language/communication systems are used? If the specialist provision is for deaf pupils, it is important to establish whether a British Sign Language interpreter is required when meeting with the pupils.
11. What are the staffing arrangements and outreach services provided by the resourced provision like?
Observations and meetings
12. Would the headteacher like to participate in observations of teaching and learning and to sit in on the main inspection team meetings?
13. Can you make arrangements for meetings with key staff?
Governance and support
14. What is the governance structure of the school or academy?
15. Can you reference, particularly for academies and multi-academy trusts, the range of functions delegated to local governing bodies or other committees?
16. Can we make arrangements for a meeting with the chair of the governing body/ chair of the board of trustees, and as many governors as possible?
17. Can as many governors as possible attend the final feedback meeting?
18. Can we plan either a face-to-face meeting or a phone call with a representative from the local authority, academy chain, multi-academy trust board, sponsor or other relevant responsible body?
19. Can we request a representative from the local authority, academy chain, multi-academy trust board, sponsor or other relevant responsible body to be present at the final inspection feedback meeting?
20. Can the chief executive officer/their delegate, or equivalent of the multi-academy trust be present at the final team meeting and at the final feedback to the school?
21. Have you received support from other schools or services, including those within the same multi-academy trust?(it will be important to establish the extent and the impact of this.)
22. Can we request that relevant school documents are made available as soon as possible from the start of the inspection?
23. Can you have a summary of any school self-evaluation or equivalent available at the start of the inspection?
Following the call, it’s time to make preparations. Where will the inspectors be based during the visit? What are senior leaders expected to do? How will you inform parents? Paul Ainsworth, academy advisor for a large Multi-Academy Trust and previous headteacher of a secondary school, recommends having a plan in place long before the call comes:
"Many schools have standard operating procedures for what they should do when they receive the call, who to contact, in what order and what actions to take.
Why not create your own from a personal perspective? Think, if your school received an Ofsted call tomorrow, what issues would you face and what order would you tackle them in?"
Most school inspections follow a similar pattern and do not normally last longer than two days. Things to remember about the visit itself include:
During their visit, inspectors will consider performance information presented by the school for current pupils across year groups and previous cohorts. Inspectors must spend as much time as possible gathering evidence about the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in lessons and other learning activities.
Inspectors will be considering a wide range of information – which methods do you currently feel your school is prepared for?:
1. Scrutinising pupils’ work
2. Talking to pupils about their work
3. Gauging their understanding and their engagement in learning
4. Obtaining pupils’ perceptions of the typical quality of teaching in a range of subjects
5. Evaluating evidence relating to the achievement of pupils in the school, including disadvantaged pupils, the most able pupils, and pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities.
6. The quality of learning within mainstream lessons
7. On-site separate provision
8. Evidence of learning in off-site alternative provision
9. Discussions with pupils and staff
10. Listening to pupils read (with particular focus on hearing lower-attaining pupils read)
11. Looking at examples of pupils’ work to seek out evidence for progression in knowledge, understanding and skills
12. Scrutinising the school’s records and documentation relating, for example, to pupils’ academic and vocational achievement and the welfare and safety of pupils in alternative provision.
By working your way through this checklist, you can feel more organised and prepared for each step of your next Ofsted inspection, armed with knowledge about what will be expected at each stage of the journey.
Remember, inspectors aren’t there to trip you up, but if you make sure relevant information is close at hand before you get that call, you’ll feel better equipped to deal with the inevitable pressures of an inspection, once it’s announced.
Matt is the CEO of Learning Ladders and a former school teacher.