Ofsted – Behind the Scenes

The expectation of an Ofsted is stressful so what’s it really like when you get that phone call and know that the inspectors will be on your doorstep at 8am the next morning?

In November last year, one of Excalibur’s schools, Burbage Primary School, was visited by Ofsted. We caught up with Zoe Garbutt, Principal at Burbage, to get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at what the experience was like, and to get her thoughts on how schools can best prepare for an inspection.

Gearing up for an Ofsted inspection can be daunting – given the disruption of the pandemic, how prepared did you feel?

Our school has been expecting an Ofsted inspection for some time. It’s been a while since another school from the trust has been inspected, but it is always hard to predict when to expect a visit. With Ofsted inspections being paused over the pandemic, it certainly has meant that those who are ‘due’ to be visited have experienced a mix of emotions, the waiting is the worst!

This year has seen some significant changes in the Ofsted handbook, particularly for MATs. What were your expectations following the publication of the changes? Did you anticipate the process being significantly different from previous years?

Yes, I did anticipate it being quite different to previous years as the framework has changed so much – and I was right, it was! 

It will be interesting to see what happens next. Another Excalibur school was inspected shortly after us. Does this mean Excalibur’s on the radar for a MAT inspection? It will be interesting to see how many more of our schools they inspect.

Did your experience of the inspection on the day live up to your expectations?

Mostly, yes. The process of the inspection followed the handbook to the letter, and it was well-organised and ran to time. In some ways, as Principal, I felt a little redundant on the first day as it was mainly information gathering. This inspection was the first I have had as Principal so I went into the inspection knowing I was going to learn a lot along the way!

I was allowed to shadow one of the inspectors during the day, so I saw the teaching and pupil voice conversations first-hand. There were times when I wasn’t included, those times were the strangest.

Was there anything about the process that stood out to you in particular, for instance something you weren’t expecting?

Before the inspection, I had a phone call with Ofsted. I was most worried about this part, in particular wondering what would be asked, and the prospect of it being 90 minutes was daunting. 

In reality, our conversation was over in under an hour. I needn’t have worried about not remembering things; there was plenty of time to get my Academy Improvement Plan and everything I needed out in front of me following the initial call. I was also pleased that I was able to secure the deep dives I had wanted as there was some flexibility built into the day, which was encouraging.

I didn’t know that at the end of the day ‘team meetings’ the Principal is not allowed to speak. I found that hard when things were being said about the school that I wanted to correct or add evidence to. I felt that it should have been explained to me in advance.

Do you feel that the changes to the Ofsted framework prepared you for the inspection?

Yes, I don’t think there was anything on the day that handbook hadn’t prepared us for. Although I fully support data not being at the heart of inspections as it previously was, there were times when I was itching to be able to show progress that way. The focus was very much on the teaching, the books and the children’s understanding, which is what I was anticipating.

One of the big focuses for Ofsted is the quality of teaching provided, how do you make sure you demonstrate that during an inspection? Were there any significant challenges?

“There was a surprising amount of flexibility with some of the planning on day one. For example, I was asked to organise for the inspector to see an assembly in KS1 and one in KS2. Fortunately, this took place on a day when we usually have class assemblies, so I was able to organise that and spread the load across my staff. I could also make sure that those who I knew would be observed in other areas were spared from being watched again. 

We are a fairly small team, so I wanted everyone to be part of the inspection but also wanted to make sure nobody felt overloaded. The amount of teaching that was observed was decided by the inspectors, but the whole staff were expecting to have inspectors come in and out. This wasn’t the case, however, as the inspectors stuck with the plan.”

Being part of Excalibur, what kind of support did Burbage Primary receive from the Trust?

The Trust supported us right through the process, beginning a full two years before the inspection. It was very encouraging to have the Trust on hand to provide guidance and advice whenever needed, and having our Head of Primary present throughout the inspection was really helpful and reassuring, particularly as it was my first inspection as Principal.”

These past two years in education have been unprecedented and inevitably have had a huge impact on the classroom and young people’s education. Ofsted have said that they are taking the impact of COVID into account during their inspections, but how do they do this? Was this part of the inspection day?

“The inspectors were keen to know of things that we have changed since the lockdowns. For us, this included the introduction of the daily mile and how we have put PSHE at the heart of our assemblies on a daily basis. There had been positive comments from parents about our online learning, so they were looking for our books to be of a high standard – it felt like COVID-19 and the lockdowns could not be used as an excuse or a reason for children to not be where they should be. 

For us, although we have worked incredibly hard on our curriculum, there are some aspects we haven’t yet finished as the ‘window’ to curriculum development is open until March. As a small school, during lockdowns it was hard to progress as our teachers were giving their everything to deliver high quality online learning, as well as teaching the children that were in school. I felt the expectation was that it should have all been finished, which it will be by March!

The other aspects that the inspectors were interested in were our plans for ‘catch up’, the use of the tutoring hours, and our reasoning for making some of the decisions that we have.”

And finally, what lessons do you take away from your experience of the Ofsted inspection? Were there any areas you felt you did particularly well on, or areas you would like to do differently in the future?

“I felt that the organisation of it went well and because my staff are excellent communicators, we knew what the focus was and were able to make sure we could evidence our strengths.

I felt slightly frustrated that some of our new subject leaders who had only been in post for a matter of weeks were expected to have experience of leading their subject, which is not always possible. Staff changes happen in schools and I felt it was unrealistic to expect experienced leaders across all the deep dive subject areas. Although some of my leaders lack experience in their new subject areas, they are gripping subject leadership brilliantly – the expectations of what they should know and should have achieved in such a short space of time were very high.”

We’re delighted to announce that, following the inspection, Burbage has been rated as GOOD in all five categories by Ofsted – huge congratulations to all involved!

Read the full report here

To find out more about Burbage or any of the schools in Excalibur Academies Trust, contact us on [email protected].