• Focusing on staff CPD can help staff to shine during an Ofsted inspection.
• Schools could carry out a mock Ofsted inspection to educate staff on what to expect and to improve confidence.
• The school’s vision should be all about the curriculum rather than anything broader.
• The national curriculum is not enough in itself, and schools need to demonstrate their unique approach to ensuring a depth of learning.
Schools have been on a steep trajectory of learning since the new Education inspection framework (EIF) came into force. In the summer term 2019 the three I’s – intent, implementation and impact – became the steer for a renewed emphasis on curriculum. The background was the belief that curriculums in schools had become too narrow. Schools were focusing on results rather than offering their students a broad and balanced curriculum. ‘Off-rolling’ became a familiar term as it became apparent that some schools were taking pupils off roll to avoid negative inspections and results. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable and culturally poor students were missing the foundation subjects in favour of English and mathematics lessons to narrow the increasing attainment gap.
In the autumn term, the first wave of schools tested under the new framework were unprepared for what was required. The Ofsted inspectors themselves only trained during the latter part of the summer break. A colleague, whose school had an inspection in the second week of the new academic year, described inspectors frantically flipping through ring-bound mini-books containing the entire national curriculum (NC) at a glance.
Now the dust has settled on the framework this article focuses on one of the controllable aspects of preparing for an inspection: the continuing professional development (CPD) which can give staff the confidence they need to shine, including what training headteachers themselves can undertake.
At St. Mary Magdalen’s I commissioned an Ofsted-style review in October 2019 to act as a training exercise. It served as fantastic CPD for the whole school. I highly recommend it. Because of gaps in my knowledge as to the new requirements of the EIF, I attended a two-day Ofsted training course led by my school improvement partner.
It was clear that the self-evaluation form (SEF) should be succinct and arranged into the four new sections following on from the school’s context: quality of education; behaviour and attitudes; personal development; and leadership and management.
Quality of education
Under ‘quality of education’ and the ‘intent’ of the curriculum, schools should have an ambitious curriculum for ALL pupils, coherently planned and sequenced. In my mock interview, during the review, I fell short on the question about our vision. It should have been all about the curriculum rather than a broader vision.
The questions that helped me to articulate the vision following on from the training were:
• Why this?
• Why now?
• What next?
Progress was described as, ‘How do you ensure that your pupils know more, remember more (sticky knowledge) and understand more?’ A clear statement about metacognition is useful. How do pupils transfer knowledge acquired to their long-term memory?
Clearing up the confusion as to whether the NC is enough in itself: it is not. Schools need to demonstrate their unique approach to ensuring a depth of learning and not just a race through the NC programmes of study. The non-negotiables in your particular school context are: the pupils’ starting points, their end-points, and what comes in between.
A helpful way of understanding ‘cultural capital’ was given on the training in the form of the question, ‘How is the most vulnerable pupils’ understanding enhanced to help them to meet more in the middle with their peers?’ This could be through, for example, increasing their vocabulary. A useful quote in relation to this is, ‘To win the game, know the rules and legitimise the players’.
Behaviour and attitudes
The inspectors will be looking for self-regulation in the pupils, rather than over policing by staff. Attendance for the different groups will be scrutinised. A clear policy needs to be in place regarding how the school is targeting positive attendance. There is no greater steer as to the quality of education than outstanding attendance and good behaviour.
How are we helping children to be resilient in their learning? Are character building and positive learning behaviours actively taught as part of the curriculum offer?
Leadership and governance
To get an outstanding judgement, all levels of leadership need to be strong. Middle leaders’ training can help the subject leaders to be able to articulate and rehearse their vision for their area of the curriculum. Many are creating knowledge maps, and networking opportunities on such training days could see teachers usefully sharing and pooling their ideas.
Governors should be encouraged to attend their own bespoke training, in particular covering how to be a strategic partner and how to hold the school to account.
All staff can benefit from training in phonics. Early reading has an important focus in the EIF. A core priority for any school should be to design the curriculum so that pupils are taught to read at an age-appropriate level. Schools need to articulate clearly their expectations for phonics progress for the Early Years and then on through the year groups. For example, by the end of EYFS, pupils should be secure with phase 2 and 3 sounds. This means that they can read and write with these sounds. Many will also be able to use phase 4 sounds in reading, even if not yet secure in writing them consistently. This is a key focus in phonics decoding and speeding up the learning to ensure a high degree of challenge.
There needs to be a careful match between progress in phonics and reading schemes. Many of us broadened the reading scheme books with an injection of ‘real’ books. This worked against us in our review.
The other important aspect of the judgement on reading is how a love of reading is being systematically developed. At St. Mary Magdalen’s we use the Power of Reading programme created by Centre for Literacy for Primary Education (CLPE). The staff are enthusiastic about it and this enthuses the children too. We attend the Barnes Literature Festival, giving the children the opportunity to hear well-known local authors, such as Roger McGough and Julia Macdonald, talk about their craft and how they got started.
Our library is the learning hub of the school, beautifully designed to promote vocabulary as well as reading. Our volunteer parents run our online lending service and pupil-elected librarians take care of the class libraries.
On birthdays, children are encouraged to bring in a book rather than cakes, to dedicate to the library. Bookplates celebrate this kind gift with the child’s name and birth date. A true legacy.
World Book Day comes to life, not only with everybody dressing as a character, but also by designing a book in a jar.
About the author
Helen Frostick is currently the headteacher of St. Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames, London. She is a National Leader of Education (NLE) for the National College of School Leadership, with responsibility for supporting schools in challenging circumstances. Helen regularly speaks at national conferences and specialises in pupil premium and safeguarding.