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Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence

Published: Sunday, 09 July 2017

Tony Powell outlines a step-by-step approach to support schools in achieving the accolade of ‘outstanding’ as defined by Ofsted.

 Summary

  • The best starting point is to review the mission statement and the school’s values, because these drive the strategic direction. 
  • Consistency is essential and ideals, values and ambitions can only be implemented consistently through agreed policies and procedures.
  • Schools should prepare for inspection by integrating the Ofsted methodology into their own procedures.
  • Formulate and follow an action plan to achieve ‘outstanding’.

I have worked with many newly appointed headteachers who, over time and by dint of sheer hard work, have ‘transformed’ their schools. If ‘transform’ implies rapid, then this is a viewpoint which fails to capture the day-by-day reality of these schools. The obvious way to be recognised as an outstanding school is by giving your pupils an outstanding education so that they achieve outstanding outcomes. There are no magic wands and excellent headteachers understand this. Just work hard for years and years doing the right things and you will get there. However, note the use of inverted commas in the title. These indicate that ‘outstanding’ here has a special meaning. This article aims to support schools to achieve the accolade of ‘outstanding’ as defined by Ofsted.

There is still no magic wand nor even a magic formula. The step-by-step approach described here cannot be followed strictly in a living school where many things need to be done at the same time. It is a question of prioritising effort and making sure a stage is embedded before moving to the next. The sequence I have tried to capture here is what an outstanding headteacher might articulate years afterwards.

Get the leadership right first

The best starting point is to review the mission statement and the school’s values, because these drive the strategic direction. Bring together as many stakeholders as possible and devote quality time to this. Have at least one full day and organise tasks and teams to maximise involvement, especially of the recalcitrant. This collegiate exercise and the mission statement should capture the moral high ground, which justifies future action.

Look at least ten years into the future and take a very wide view of educational outcomes. We need only list spiritual, moral, social, cultural, physical and emotional development, promoting fundamental British values, citizenship and community cohesion, and preparation for the world of work to realise how important the formative school years are. These wide ambitions must be retained because they are every pupil’s entitlement. However, each school’s mission is to achieve them within the context of their community and distinctive nature.

Headteachers can only lead properly if they are sincere, so don’t be satisfied with a snappy phrase such as ‘focused on excellence’. This will only become a reality when it is part of the conversation of the school, and that entails you repeating it constantly. For this reason, don’t be reluctant to lead in the formulation of the mission statement.

Aim for a hard-working staff with high morale. They know they work harder than other schools but they know they are good and confident in their ability as a team.

Create the management structure

Consistency is essential and ideals, values and ambitions can only be implemented consistently through agreed policies and procedures. Policies are not difficult to draw up and too much detail is often counter-productive. I remember a Year 11 boy in my form coming to school with his head inexpertly shaved and bizarrely patchy blue. Surprisingly, this did not contravene our uniform policy. Far better to have a set of principles derived from the mission statement and linked to roles and responsibilities. How does shaving your head and painting it blue help our school to focus on excellence?

Consistency also demands common timetables, templates and proformas. In the toolkit section, you will find a template for plotting a timetable for self-evaluation, improvement planning and performance management. Use this to identify when these important tasks need to be carried out. If you do not, you will react to events and be blown off the improvement course.

Adopt the Ofsted methodology

The Ofsted methodology for inspection was drawn up by Her Majesty’s Inspectors based on years of experience and expertise. The creation of Ofsted brought thousands of part-time inspectors into the system and the possibility of chaos in the implementation of universal inspection. This is why the handbooks and methodology are so detailed. Fortunately, the methodology works for school self-evaluation also.

Schools should prepare for inspection by integrating the Ofsted methodology into their own procedures. Use the grade descriptors to evaluate the quality of all aspects of work and amend all the Ofsted templates, such as evidence forms, for use in the school.

Match the school’s leadership and management structure, including those for governance, against the key areas in the inspection handbooks. Over time, school governors and managers will lead on aspects of work such as personal development and behaviour so that when inspection comes they know exactly what inspectors are looking for and present their evaluations backed up by the same evidence inspectors will gather.

The achieving outstanding action plan

  • Use the previous inspection report as a baseline, because inspectors will accept this as accurate.
  • Analyse and agree judgements from across the report, not just the key issues, and amplify and interpret these if necessary.
  • Identify the causal links between strengths and weaknesses and outcomes for pupils. Categorise causal links into elements of educational provision:
  1. Care, guidance and support
  2. Curriculum
  3. Teaching and learning.
  • Consider any ambiguous areas and ask yourself how the next inspector will interpret these. What will you need to explain?
  • Allocate lead responsibility for key areas and allocate these as performance management objectives.
  • Compare judgements against grade descriptors for ‘outstanding’ and identify improvements needed.
  • Revise the SES (dated for reference) as the baseline for all future development.
  • Identify areas for improvement as priorities for the school improvement plan.
  • Set targets for improvements in outcomes for pupils – academic and personal development and well-being.
  • Devise action plans to achieve targets and meet descriptors for ‘outstanding’. Categorise actions into elements of educational provision:
  1. Care, guidance and support
  2. Curriculum
  3. Teaching and learning.
  • Draw up a timetable for evaluating all aspects of the school’s work before the next inspection.
  • Implement action plans.
  • Monitor and amend plans if necessary.
  • Evaluate progress against the self-evaluation timetable.
  • Systematically revise each section of the SES until ‘outstanding’ is achieved.
  • Organise the evidence base into files.
  • Prepare for interviews.

Toolkit

Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in this article into action:

 About the author

Tony Powell is an experienced Additional Inspector and LA adviser. He writes extensively on education management, but his main work is in supporting schools to develop systems for self-evaluation, school improvement and continuing professional development. Tony can be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..