Yes, that phone call from the head: the inspectors are coming. Fortuitously (or possibly not) I had no meetings outside of Birmingham and along with the chair and vice chair was scheduled to be in school anyway to finish off the governing body’s self-evaluation. Good preparation for chatting to the inspectors.
You’d think that as Policy Manager of the NGA meeting the inspectors should be a piece of cake. Although given my latest baking effort, which gave a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘soggy bottom’ (full blown bog would be nearer the mark!), this isn’t perhaps the best analogy to use. I like to think I know my school, but come on, this isn’t any old questioner, it’s a real live (I think) Ofsted inspector.
The inspection was not unexpected. In October 2012 the school had been judged to require improvement (RI) and so we knew it was imminent – we were prepared and thought we were good. Key stage 2 results are good (95% or higher), but in fairness, attainment is not and never has been our issue. Progress, now that’s another matter. We are a junior school - and I have a certificate to prove I carry all the usual junior school grievances about key stage 1 outcomes. And yes, I know secondary schools say something similar about key stage 2 results, but they would wouldn’t they. None of this cuts any ice with Ofsted. If you want to be judged at least good the children need to make not just expected progress, but more than expected progress. And while there’s a little voice saying that this is the same warped logic that leads politicians to suggest that more than 50% of children should be above average, it’s where we’re at.
And so to The Inspector. The three of us speaking to him were experienced governors and know the strengths and weaknesses of the school (backwards forwards inside out) and were ready to provide evidence about the school’s improvement. It wasn’t a great experience; every positive comment we made was knocked back with a seemingly negative repost. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies – at least he didn’t express a belief that we should be getting our evidence about the quality of teaching by observing lessons. I expected challenge, but this felt different, I was left with the impression that the inspector had been trying to trip us up. I am sure he would dispute this and I doubt it was his intention, but still the perception lingers.
So ended day one of the inspection, and the atmosphere in the school was terrible – we were all convinced that the outcome wouldn’t be good. But every cloud and all that… Day 2 turned out to be, different. We had apparently satisfied the inspector that our talk of improvement was matched by the evidence. There was positivity and he even took the time to go and enjoy the Year 5s in full blow (the entire year group has the opportunity to learn brass for a year).
And so to the feedback - the inspector swiftly put us out of our misery – “in my opinion this school is now good.” Thank goodness. He then went through the various judgements: grade 2s all round, although the paragraph on safeguarding says outstanding, because our children feel safe, understand how to stay safe and have every confidence that if they are troubled the school will do something.
Going into the staff room to tell the assembled staff (teaching and non-teaching) was great – they worked so hard for this result and fully deserve it – and I am firmly convinced that had the outcome not been good we would have had a mass exodus of disillusioned folk.
The inspection came too late to be published before the summer break and so it’s been a long wait for it to be official. Would I feel more prepared next time? Probably, because contrary to the Monty Python adage, I would be expecting the Spanish Inquisition, not just an Ofsted inspector.